Verrier Elwin ’s Collection and Definition of Adivasi Art

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“Verrier Elwin‟s home in Patangarh village, 1952”
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(Photo copyright Ashok Elwin, Douglas 2018: 13, Fig. 8)
“Verrier Elwin‟s home in Patangarh village, 1952” - (Photo copyright Ashok Elwin, Douglas 2018: 13, Fig. 8)
The article returns to the first book fully devoted to The Tribal Art of Middle India. Published in 1951, by the missionary turned ethnologist Verrier Elwin.

Abstract I The article returns to the first book fully devoted to The Tribal Art of Middle India. Published in 1951, by the missionary turned ethnologist Verrier Elwin, this book provides both the first list and the first definition of what would be labelled thereafter „tribal art‟ in India. Hence, the book has a second title: A Personal Record, so by re-locating the author‟s claims in the context of India‟s post-independence and under the influence of functionalist and culturalist anthropology, we give a deeper understanding of Elwin‟s aim as well as of his limitations.

“Black seed is sown in a white field: when the crop is cut, it sings…
– A song written on white paper”
(dhandhā or riddle, Elwin and Hivale 1935: 147)

Adivasi art is a specific topic in India, and in order to understand its “institutionalization” in catalogue and museum, I turn to the first books devoted to this type of art: The Tribal Art of Middle India, and The Art of North-East Frontier of India. These books were both published in the 1950s by the same author: Verrier Elwin, a missionary turned ethnographer at the precise moment that the discipline was being professionalized in India (Vidyarthi 1978). I will show that these books constitute a true illustration of tribal creativity, in a strategy of recognition of the specificities of these groups within a recently independent India (1947). In other words, art definition has also deeper meaning and consequences, which remain valuable to the present…

Journal Article
From Literature to Visual Arts: Verrier Elwin’s Collection and Definition of Adivasi Art
Author: Raphaël Rousseleau
Journal of Adivasi and Indigenous Studies
Vol. X, No. 2, August 2020: 30–43 / Published by: Joais.in
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About the author

Dr. Raphaël Rousseleau (r_rousseleau@hotmail.com) is a Social Anthropologist (PhD EHESS, Paris), Professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. He studied particularly the rituals and ethno-history of the Jodia Porja (Odisha), but he also works and publishes widely on more general topics such as Adivasi art, religion and civilization.

Courtesy

Journal of Adivasi and Indigenous Studies (JAIS)
(A bi-annual peer-reviewed online journal posted on Academia.edu)
Vol. X, No. 2, August 2020: 30-43
© 2020 JAIS, ISSN (online) 2394-5524

Key words: tribal art of India, Adivasi, Verrier Elwin, William G. Archer, functionalist, anthropology.

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