In the tribal villages of Hazaribagh in northeastern India, indigenous Adivasi women paint their mud homes with rambling, figurative murals. A matrimonial ritual that takes place each spring, the paintings last only as long as the dry season. Come the summer months, seasonal monsoons then wash the paintings away, with the cycle starting again the following year. There’s something incredibly profound and beautiful about the intentional impermanence of this art.
We first discovered these paintings — called khovar — in the pages of World of Interiors, in an article featuring the remarkable work of German-French photographer Deidi von Schaewen, who has spent a considerable amount of time in the region capturing life in the villages.
Via Deidi and World of Interiors, we connected with Bulu Imam, an environmental activist and Gandhi International Peace Award UK recipient, focused on maintaining tribal heritage in northeastern India. While working in the 1990s to preserve Mesolithic rock art in the North Karanpura Valley, Bulu discovered a link between prehistoric paintings and the Adivasi women’s ritualistic murals. Spurred by a deep commitment to preserving the Adivasi tradition’s ancient ancestry, he founded the Tribal Women’s Artists Cooperative (TWAC) to keep their practices alive.
The story and the imagery pulled us in, but it was the beauty of the process that captured our imagination. To make a design, the artist first paints a layer of kali matti (black mud), creating a dark canvas on the wall. Next, she applies a coat of pale kaolin clay. Using her fingers or a comb, she scrapes away the white mud to reveal the charcoal clay underneath. The hand-brushed silhouettes have a free-flowing quality — the mark of fingers sweeping across the clay.
Drawn to the exaggerated scale and the boldness of the designs, we worked with Bulu and TWAC to commission the women to paint a series of custom artworks, which we translated into our Khovar Collection. For fabrics, we print their designs on heavyweight natural linen. For wallpaper, we custom print the patterns on clay-coated paper. We love that this collection respects the Adivasi tradition while extracting some permanence from it.
Only a handful of villages still carry on khovar. Deforestation, mining, and a lack of government protections lead to fewer ritual paintings every year. With Bulu Imam, we understand how imperative it is to keep this practice alive. For each yard of fabric and wallpaper sold, TWAC — our partner in this collection — receives a royalty.
Bound to its origins, the Khovar Collection ties the women of Hazaribagh to the people who collect their work. By reaching beyond boundaries, across people and continents, we have forged a partnership that brings the beauty of khovar to a broader audience.
leaf, flower, vine