Planet Picture Book

Beasts of India

A stunning collection of animal prints from original paintings by Indian tribal and folk artists. Originally published in 2003, this is the updated edition.

Beasts of India is not a typical picture book but rather a book of pictures that showcase different Indian tribal and folk art traditions. Each spread opens to reveal an animal on the right-hand side set against a plain or patterned backdrop; the page on the left simply states the animal’s name and the art style represented. A useful index at the end of the book provides more detail about the prints, including art styles, themes and artist names.

Index aside, the book is beautifully accessible to readers of all ages. My daughters (aged 3 and 6) and I love to turn the pages to see which animal is next; we each have our favourites! Tigers, snakes, deer and elephants are just some of the native species featured. It’s interesting (and fun!) to look at how similar animals are depicted in different art styles and by different artists. Some pictures are bold, brightly coloured and heavily outlined, such as a giant green and yellow snake in the Madhubani folk art style, while the Gond artwork features fine lines and intricate repeated patterns. You really start to get a feel for the unique artistic traditions as you work your way through the collection.

And the appeal of this title extends beyond the stunning content to its actual form. Beasts of India is a handmade book, one of a gorgeous collection published by Tara Books. Each page has been individually screen printed on thick handmade paper and the book has been bound by hand too. It is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship that brings the paintings to life for the individual reader. You can almost feel the colour on the page. You can smell it. It’s real. And, in my view, you don’t get much better than that.

Beasts of India is a beauty of a book in form and content. It’s one of the first books I bought from Tara Books and it’s definitely not the last! Watch this space, in fact, as I’ll be reviewing another title from this fabulous publishing house very soon.

The Book
Beasts of India by Kanchana Arni and Gita Wolf with various artists (Tara Books, 2003; this edition, 2017)

The Editors
Kanchana Arni has taught art and craft at schools in India and Thailand. She also worked as curator and acquisitions manager in a folk art gallery in New Delhi. She has collaborated on a number of tribal and folk art books.

Gita Wolf founded Tara Books in Chennai, India in 1994 after an earlier career as an academic. She has a keen interest in exploring and experimenting with the form of the book and its status as a revered cultural object. She has also written over 20 books for adults and children.

The Illustrators
Beasts of India features paintings by Indian tribal and folk artists. A list of artists’ names (where known) is provided in the book’s index.

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