It is with great regret that we have heard the sad news that Jason Imam, son of Bulu Imam, the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award winner 2011, has passed away. He was an exceptional person and an exceptional artist and he will be very sadly missed.
The art which Jason specialized in was the art of sgraffito cutting through layers of light and dark mud to create images in the same way ancient Greek pottery (i.e. Balck on Red/ Red on Black) used to be made before firing. This is an ancient form of house decoration by the tribals in the forest villages of central India, peculiar to the Jharkhand region where Jason lived. It is used to decorate the rooms of houses where marriages take place with black and white forms, and from which it derives its name ‘Khovar’ which means ‘Marriage room’ (Kho=cave, and Var= Bridegroom). A similar form of art called Sohrai is practiced during the harvest festival and painted with earth colours. In Jason’s art varied earth colours are used in the traditional black and white comb-cutting. This art is connected with the pre-historic Meso-chalcolithic rockart of the region. This entire area of North Jharkhand has been very badly threatened by opencast coal mining in the North Karanpura valley of the Damodar river, displacing hundreds of tribal villages. Since 1993 a campaign through the art spearheaded by the Tribal Women Artists Cooperative under the aegis of INTACH has been holding exhibitions around the world to highlight the violation of human rights and destruction of the environment and also to draw toattention to the plight of rockart and cultural heritage in the region. Over fifty exhibitions have been held in important art venues around the world. With the assistance of INTACH one of the rockart sites named Isco in the valley has received consideration recently by UNESCO as a potential world heritage site, and a dozen other sites have been taken note of by ICOMOS, Paris, as threatened world heritage site. Jason’s art has helped in highlighting the art, and brought a new dimension to the tribal paintings in the contemporary scene. Much was expected of his work which has been widely exhibited in Australia, Europe, Canada and North America, India and the UK. He worked extensively on wood and metal also, and spent a month at the Australian Museum in Sydney where his work was widely appreciated.
In 2003 he built a mud house by himself with the help of the tribal women artists and designed and decorated it in a unique manner and lived in it until his untimely death recently on 11th February, 2013. This house has long been the attention of architects of sustainable architecture and had been visited by teams from IIT Roorkee BIT Mesra, and NIFT Mumbai. It is a unique expression of the traditional village house and western lifestyle. It is completely built in mud and some of the furniture is in earth work. The decorations in the house are extremely eclectic and expressions of his personality. He had guided several eminent art researchers and film-makers in the field. He had been long associated with artists and curators, and the late Keekoo Gandhi and Manjit Bawa, and Rajeev Sethi were admirers of his work. He maintained a close association with the villages and the artists and when he was very ill visited many of them at risk to his own health which we now understand were journeys of farewell. His love for dogs and children was legendary and in the Christmas before he died he spent his last savings on celebrating with children and loved ones. His loss will be felt throughout the tribal community of Jharkhand of which he was one of the most profound artistic voices. His preserved artworks and vast collections of village objects, and the mud house he built will be testaments of beauty and tribute to his genius. My wife Elizabeth, his mother, is an Oraon tribal and he inherited her tribal genes which gave him his deep insight in the ordinary things of life.
He had been sick for nearly half a year. He was so special that it is unnecessary to try to even describe his illness or how he reacted to it. He kept his humour and generosity to the very last moment. He was not married and had no children. Every son is precious to his parents. Ours is no exception. Jason was a creative phenomenon in his own right and earned the respect of both his peers and seniors in important art venues around the world. He placed our tribal art of Jharkhand in a new dimension and much more was expected but time cut his work short. The abilities of his mind and hand will perhaps never be reborn again. Whatever of his vast output remains will be carefully preserved and displayed along with the outstanding house he built from mud with his own hands as a living symbol of himself. He was passionately devoted to the LITTLE THINGS which pass unnoticed and he immortalized these in small arrangements. His art was a celebration of the tiny fragments that make up our whole universe in its diversity. Collections of seeds, stones, wood, insects, even the preservation of cobwebs and stray assortments remind us of an amazing worship of the LITTLE THINGS. A complete disregard for materialism and what money buys was intrinsic to his mindset. As a father I feel that I have lost a greater part of myself than I ever knew, and my strength is in his mother who produced such genius. I can go on and on but I think I have expressed myself enough to share both my gratitude for your thoughts and the pain of my feelings in this hour of deepest grief. His brothers Justin (elder), Julian (younger), Gustav (youngest) and his three sisters Juliet, Cherry and June are left to mourn him with his mother Elizabeth, Philomina and myself. We are fully aware of our own iconic statement as a family devoted to tribal expressions of art and which in this passing phase is a moment of history moving before us which will be recorded and later interpreted but must never lose the authenticity of the ORDINARY, of what I have called the LITTLE, the greatest truths of the simple which create the deepest as well as loftiest expressions of Art and Genius in this ephemeral world and of which Jason was an out-flowing of the eternal spirit. He rests in peace in each of the hearts who knew him and loved him and his work. He left us during the spring festival of the mother goddess Saraswati devoted to learning when the moon is in its resplendent pregnant stage of womanhood immortalized in our Mesolithic rockart as Kokkethai, as well as in his own paintings inspired by a lifetime’s experience of the most unusual kind in the forests and villages studying and documenting the prehistory of the Chotanagpur plateau. The day of his leaving us , 11th February 2013, at the closing of the Maha-Kumbh Mela, was the fulfillment of a destiny for one born on the Deepavali festival of 3rd November 1975. He was only thirty-eight years old when this cycle was completed. OM .TAD EKAM.
Bulu Imam is Jason’s father. He is also a cultural activist and joint recipient of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011.