Worth a thousand words

February 16, 2006|by ROWAN COPLEY

What is art? In today's post-modernist, post-cubist world, art is pretty much whatever you want it to be.

There are standards, of course. If a piece of art looks cool, says something, or is very creatively made, then it will probably be considered a good piece of art. But what if your art is a record in and of itself?

That is how I approached Shippensburg University's "Birth of the Painted World," a showcase of art by the Warli tribe of India. The focus of the show is the work of Jivya Mashe and his son Sadashiva Mashe, but to a lesser extent, the show presents the culture of the Warli.

Having no written language, the Warli record their complicated oral tradition of myths and stories (some of which are written in translated form at the exhibit) through the medium of art. With his highly abstract and stylized art - which some might call stick figure-esque - Mashe is doing more than simply creating art for its aesthetic value; he's recording his culture's religious stories. It's like stained glass windows in medieval European cathedrals, created to help illiterate peasants understand the moral lessons and stories in the Bible.


Just like the stained glass windows, the paintings by Jivya Mashe have a stylized beauty to them. Most of the paintings are on a tan brownish background, the figures painted in white. There are a lot of repeating figures: men and women made of triangles, cute little tigers, intricate palm trees, houses, even a train in one of the paintings (it was interesting to see the impact technology has had on this ancient tribe).

The Warlis have been making this kind of art for thousands of years; the tribe's roots in the Maharashtra region of India go back more than 4,000 years, according to www.birthofthepainted, a Web site about the exhibit.

Rowan Copley is a member of The Herald-Mail's teen section writing team.

If you go ...

WHAT: "Birth of the Painted World"

WHERE: Shippensburg University, Kauffman Gallery, 1871 Old Main Drive.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday; and 9 a.m. to noon Friday. Show continues through Saturday, Feb. 25.

COST: Free.

MORE: Call 1-717-477-1530 or go to

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