The Secret Life of Trees: Stunning Sylvan Drawings by Indigenous Artists Based on Indian Mythology

Reverie and considering our relationship to nature in between the branches and the birds.

By Maria Popova

The Tell-Tale TreeA decade after the Indian craftsmen neighborhood and independent publisher Tara Books developed the impressive handmade work of art The Night Life of Trees– detailed portraits of tree-spirits based on ancient Gond folklore, painted by 3 of the most popular living Gond artists and silk-screened by hand using conventional Indian dyes– these marvelous sylvan visions come ablaze once again in a set of black-and-white prints, consummately comprehensive and alive, silk-screened on handmade paper made from locally sourced cotton waste.

The Antler TreeThe Leaf TreeThe prints, like everything Tara Books make, support their community of artists, craftspeople, and writers, some of whom are illiterate, many self-taught, a lot of ladies, and all dedicated to the conservation and celebration of the ancient folk art traditions that have actually rooted numberless generations into a respect of the natural world and our relationship with it.

Since we climbed down from the trees, we have been looking up to them to understand ourselves and our location in the universe. “Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a gorgeous, strong tree,” Hermann Hesse wrote a century back in his sublime sylvan love letter, verifying that “when we have actually found out how to listen to trees, then the speed and the brevity and the childish hastiness of our ideas attain a matchless joy.”

Centuries, centuries prior to Hesse– before Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Prize for her courageously enacted conviction that “a tree is a bit of the future,” prior to researchers revealed the amazing language of trees, before Western artists saw in tree shapes a Rorschach test for what we are– the indigenous artists and writers of the Gond people in central India have been reverencing the secret lives of trees as websites into the inner life of nature, into the wildness of our own nature, into a supra-natural universe of myth and magic.

The Allegory TreeThe Blackbird TreeLeap across cultures and dates to match these visual venerations with Mary Olivers prayerful tree poem and Pablo Nerudas prose serenade to the forest, then revisit other treasures from Tara Books: Sun and Moon, a collection of Indian celestial myths shown by ten of the nations finest indigenous artists; Creation, a visual cosmogony of origin myths by one of the Gond artists behind The Night Life of Trees; Waterlife, a splendid illustrated encyclopedia of marine animals from Indian folklore; Beasts of India, a bestiary of native animals depicted in various tribal customs; and the boundlessly gladsome Hope Is a Girl Selling Fruit.