Beasts of India: Stunning Illustrations of Indigenous Animals Depicted in Various Tribal Art Traditions
A vibrant menagerie at the nexus of nature and culture.
By Maria Popova
In his insightful inquiry into why we look at animals, John Berger lauded non-human creatures as “the objects of our ever-extending knowledge.” They have animated our earliest cave drawings and populated our finest poetry. As the science historians Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman have observed, “we are animals; we think with animals.”
It is hardly surprising, then, that animals have figured into our cosmogonies and mythologies since the human mind first inclined toward understanding its own existence. That ancient, abiding relationship comes alive with uncommon splendor in Beasts of India (public library) — an extraordinary illustrated menagerie of indigenous animals, painted by indigenous artists in a variety of tribal art traditions and screen-printed by hand with traditional Indian dyes onto handmade paper. The result is another stunning handmade masterpiece from Tara Books — the terrestrial counterpart to their beautiful Waterlife, depicting marine creatures from the Indian fauna — printed in a limited edition of 3000 numbered copies, each including a framable screen-print of one animal from the book.
Tiger, lion, deer, snake, bull, boar, ant-eater, buffalo, monkey, elephant, crocodile, and dog leap from the pages in wildly different representations in India’s major tribal art styles, the vibrancy of which no screen can adequately convey — some drawn in pen and ink, some traditionally painted onto palm leaves with natural earth colors, others onto cotton fabric using sharp bamboo socks padded with hair or cotton. What emerges is a portrait of the millennia-old dialogue between nature and culture, emanating Oliver Sacks’s conviction that nature is our gateway into deep time.
Complement the breathtaking Beasts of India with other treasures from Tara Books — an illustrated celebration of water based on Indian folklore, The Night Life of Trees, indigenous representations of celestial myths, and an illustrated cosmogony of Indian mythology — then revisit artist JooHee Yoon’s wonderful Beastly Verse.
Illustrations courtesy of Tara Books; photographs by Maria Popova
Published September 20, 2018