Bhuri Bai of Pitol was the first Bhil artist to use paper and canvas for her painting. J Swaminathan, the then Director of Bharat Bhawan asked her to paint on a paper, Bhuri Bai began her journey as a contemporary Bhil artist. That day, Bhuri Bai painted her family’s ancestral horse and was thrilled to see the effect of the poster colour as it touched the white paper. “In the village, we had to work so hard to extract colour from plants and clay. And here I was given so many shades of colour and a ready made brush!” Initially Bhuri Bai had found it a little strange to paint in a sitting position. But the magic of painting soon drew her in.
Bhuri Bai now works as an artist in the Adivasi Lok Kala Academy in Bhopal. She is a recipient of the highest award Shikhar Sanman (1986-1987) from the Government of Madhya Pradesh. In 1998, the Madhya Pradesh Government honoured her with the Ahalya Sanman.
Bhuri Bai says, each time she starts to paint, she casts her mind back to various aspects of Bhil life and culture and when a particular theme becomes dominant, she brings it to life on her canvas. And her paintings have captured every aspect of Bhil life – the animals in the forest, the serenity of the forest and its trees, and gatla (memory pillars), the Bhil deities, attire, ornaments and gudna (tattoos), huts and granaries, the haat, festivals and dances and oral narratives. Bhuri Bai has recently started painting aeroplanes, television, car and buses along with trees and animals. And they all seem at ease with one another.