Bombay: To move forward with the past, Warli artists turn to the art of tattooing


“I am a cook, a footballer, I dance and I have worked in the cinema. It’s my identity. But above all, I am Warli. So, this is the culmination of everything that I am,” 27-year-old Ankush Telawade says, showing off his custom Warli paint tattoo on his arm.

Telawade was part of a team that began teaching the art of tattooing to Warli painters in Palghar in 2018. The initiative, launched by the KBN Gholap Foundation as part of Jawhar tourism, aims to advance the famous painting Warli.

“We started with temporary tattoos with the ink used by artists in Goa. A group of tourists got tattoos on their bodies and that’s when we decided to work to make these artists permanent tattoo artists,” says Vaibhav Gholap from the foundation.

Telawade, the father of a two-year-old girl, says: “I’ve always wanted to do something different. Even though I wanted a tattoo, I wanted it to mean who I am.

“Warli is an ancient art form and represents who we were. Giving modern meaning to a design from the past is something different,” he adds. “Painting is part of our culture. So many of our sacred rituals involve drawing on the walls. We paint on paper when we were children, and on fabric too,” explains Abhijeet Bambare (27), a chemistry teacher at a college in Jawhar.

Bambare is ready to learn the art of tattooing, once the workshop starts in a few months. “It was my student who helped conceptualize the tattoo with Telawade. It’s an interesting concept,” he adds.

Telawade says Warli tattoo artists will add to the art form. “Art forms have outlasted mediums in the past. We all know about Warli paintings, they have been customized into clothes and other items. How about tattoos? Designing miniature forms of these patterns is a challenge,” he says.

Irregular electricity supply and remoteness from towns pose a challenge. “The machines need a stable power supply, which can be a problem. We had to walk to Nashik or Thane to get ink and needles,” says Telawade.


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