Humans have inhabited the subcontinent of India for thousands of years. Archeologists have located the earliest known artwork in caves of central India. These simple renderings of animals and humans date to around 5,500 BCE. During the third and second millennia BCE, the Indus Valley civilization flourished. It was one of the world’s largest urban cultures at that time. Since then, peoples have brought various cultural and material practices to the area. The Art of India: Folk Art Collection is composed of art objects that show the variety of traditional Indian influences.
Many of the art objects are from the Banjara people, historically known as traveling merchants who carried goods on cattle throughout India and even to South Africa, Afghanistan, Khaibar, Italy, China, Tibet, Arabsthan, and Brahmdesh. As small groups of Banjara became specialized in trading specific goods and developed their own trade routes, they took on the names related to the items they sold. Today, nomadic traders live in various locations throughout India in communities called tanda, which are most often located in nature, away from villages. Most of the Banjara communities are nomadic and poor, but they are important centers of ancient folk art traditions.
Classic examples of folk art tradition are Madhubani paintings, which originated in the city of Mithila, in the state of Bihar, India. The colorful, ornate, and curvilinear style of Madhubani is expressive rather than representational. Women originated this art form with wall and floor paintings on homes to mark religious ceremonies. One of the most common themes was marriage. The old paints were made from crushed wet rice and natural pigments. Over time, artists began to paint on hand-made mulberry paper and silk fabric as a way to share their paintings and help support themselves.
Other items in the UIMA School Programs Art of India: Folk Art Collection include objects associated with the decorative arts. These objects include textiles, wood printing blocks, and embroidered leather shoes.