This genius artist, who pioneered the Jangarh Kalam school of art, was found hanging in his room under mysterious circumstances while on a visit to Japan. His shocking death led to many artists asking for probe into what led “an out-standing Indian artist has been driven to the alleged suicide”.
On the fateful day of July 3 in 2001, an unlikely genius Indian who pioneered a school of art mysteriously passed away in a land thousands of kilometres from home. Jangarh Singh Shyam, an artist who rose from extreme poverty to earn global recognition. But he passed away at just around 39-40 years of age with his success story arguably incomplete. He was found hanging in his room under mysterious circumstances. Jangarh was in Japan creating artwork from a relatively unknown Mithila Museum in a small island called Niigata in Japan.
The authorities at the museum informed Jangarh’s family the next day that he had died by suicide. He was a resident artist in Tokamachi city and would travel to the island museum everyday to work. His death sent shockwaves across the Indian artist community. Prominent names like MF Husain, Suresh Sharma, Jyotindra Jain and Manjit Bawa reportedly urged both Indian and Japanese governments to probe into what led “an out-standing Indian artist has been driven to the alleged suicide”. Several books and films have tried to decipher the reasons since Jangarh’s passing away, but his death still remains shrouded in mystery.
Jangarh Singh Shyam is known as the originator of the Jangarh Kalam school of art. Perhaps India’s most famous tribal artist, he hailed from the Pardhan Gond community belonging to Patangarh in Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori district. Jangarh’s creative talents were already known within his circles but his genius was “discovered” by artist J Swaminathan and his team of scouts looking for artwork for the Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal in 1981. He worked at the Bharat Bhavan and exhibited his work across the globe from Delhi and Tokyo to New York and Paris. The MP government honoured him with the Shikhar Samman in 1986. He also created murals at the MP Vidhan Bhavan.
Jangarh’s association with Japan started in the 1980s. It was through an art enthusiast called Tokio Hasegawa who operated the Mithila Museum. Jangarh had been in Japan on his third visit when he died. He was reportedly on a three month assignment till July 6, which was extended by another three weeks till July 27. Jangarh reportedly loved creating art for the Mithila Museum but suffered from loneliness. Post his death, it was also speculated that he may have been pushed to work beyond the limits he preferred. Jangarh, museum authorities said, had become reclusive after communication back home on June 30. He then reportedly had a phone call with his wife on July 2, before being found hanging in his room the next day.
Authorities said they found antidepressant medication among his possessions. In Japan, he had a friend named Sakurako. She had helped him during his visits to the country and had visited Bhopal too on multiple occasions. He reportedly worked in Japan on shockingly meagre wages of Rs 12,000 ($300) per month. All the work he created was supposed to be museum’s property.