INDIAN AND HIMALAYAN FOLK AND TRIBAL ARTS
NAXALBARI A STRATEGIC CENTRE OF THE 90’S FOR THE INDIAN AND NEPALESE TRIBAL ANTIQUES FROM BIHAR BENGAL TERAI
Bengal, Bihar and Assam became centres of indian tribal trade when Orissa’s Khond figurines dried up and bronzes from Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, became too expensive.
RAVANA MASK, Terai, collected in the mid 80’s this fine and genuine item from an iconographic point of view it’s similar with the one edited in the catalogue Als Die Gotter Noch Waren Masken und Skulpturen aus dem Himalaya (Museum im Ritterhaus Offenburg 2002 – Pierre Zink collection). Courtesy of Ethnoeidos photo archive.
So Naxalbari became in the early 90’s a strategic center of the West Bengal’s for the tribal antiques from Bihar, Bengal and Terai, located few kilometers to Kakarvitta in Nepal and 13 hour journey to Katmandu the central transit point for the Indo-Himalayan art.
The resident dealers of Naxalbari collected in a decade especially carvings of the Santhal people, among these the marriage litters Palanquin Panels, dismanted and sold separately, Santhal masks, the sigle-string lutes Dhodro Banam, and Rajbanshi masks a semi-tribal group called in Nepal Koch, and linked with the Hinduised iconography.
Genuine items were normally turned to the Katmandu market ; Delhi and Jodhpur were the destinations for the replica objects through the hands of the Gujarati paratroopers, many who have also monopolised the tribal trade in other states.
In the mid 90’s all around Naxalbari many families involved in making hundreds of wooden reproducions
In this way this production of fakes makes antiques hunting more complex, also for the fact that in lack of documentation of the right iconography of the local tribal art (and in lack of university scholars), only very few people have emerged as ethnographic savants, able to decode genuinity and provenance of the artifacts.
The Tribal Art of Middle India, 1951, by Verrier Elwin it is probably one of the very few notable books devoted to this matter (we can add also Unknown India Ritual Art in Tribe and Village,1968, by Stella Kramrich).
The most prized objects in the Katmandu market were obviusly the ones that were chiseled and faked the most.
Forgers are able to hoax the age to the wood by applying bees wax and oil and rubbing it till it shines like coagulated blood, or with a sort of ‘baptism’ in potassium permanganate, shock treatment in diluited acid and a final mummification with a wax polish.