FOLK ART — a dying legacy

I discovered some age-old traditions of beauty enriched by shared community values, religion, geographical location, ideologies, and influences, in the nostalgic elegance of folk art.

Madhubani Art in a project by Hólos Architecture + Design

It’s a dissipating art that needs revival, commissioning and preservation. Sure, a creative, contemporary take on tradition is always welcome for the purpose of advancement; after all, it has plenty to teach and treasure. Folk art fosters a connection to the creativity of the people, and the culture of a given time period. It enlightens us with insights into the skilled artisans’ supposed lifestyle through assessment of the methods, materials, and at times, depictions of their creations.

Through my travels, I have had the pleasure of being exposed to some different styles of folk art, and to my amazement, they are each extremely versatile in manner even if, in many cases, they belong to the same country. In this article, I want to share some of my favorite styles of folk art I have discovered, and some ways in which I have incorporated them into my interior design projects in an effort to return to them the commendation they truly deserve.

One of the most rewarding aspects of design, is the freedom to express yourself in numerous creative ways. As I have previously mentioned in my writings, your home is your canvas and a true reflection of who you are, your heritage, your interests, your family, and your travels. So take charge, and don’t be afraid to create something unique!

1. Warli Art

Said to be the oldest art style originating in India, dating back as early as 10th Century A.D., it is a minimalist depiction by tribal women of the way of life for the Warli tribe that resided in the mountainous regions of what is now the Maharashtra and Gujarat state border.

Warli art appears very graceful, making combinations of simple geometric shapes such as circles, triangles, and squares, to portray rural scenes such as farming, hunting, fishing, cooking, sowing, harvesting, the famous Tarpa dance, as well as other essential day-to-day rituals. As elementary as the shapes utilized may seem, they are placed in perfect proportion and equilibrium to symbolize the balance of life, the universe, and the couple. The circle is used for its symbolism of eternity. Traditionally created on the exterior and interior mud or cow dung walls of a house, Warli art is executed using only two colors — first of the background, and second of the paint which is always white, and made from ground rice.

The simplicity of Warli style art is where its appeal lies. It’s a reminder of the simple and joyous way of life of the past, and transports us back to a time, setting, and sentiment, unparalleled by any piece of modern art. Using this minimalist form of art in a modern home’s décor, is a perfect tribute to simplicity.

2. Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani, which translates to forest of honey, is another Indian folk art style characterized by bold colors, traditional geometric and floral patterns, double-line borders, and abstract figures. It dates back about 2500 years, and is typically also known as the Mithila painting style given its origin in the Mithila region of Bihar. It was conventionally created using a variety of natural dyes and pigments derived from vegetables, black soot, red clay, pollen, and other creative sources, implemented using twigs, and homemade brushes for filling and hatching.

Madhubani art comes in various themes predominantly depicting Hindu mythological events, but also showcases animals, marine life, flora and fauna. This graceful art style has been passed down generations and is now practiced widely by many artisans in India, which is keeping this beautiful tradition alive and increasing its popularity not only in India, but worldwide. What is eye-catching about this style is the bright colors and intricate patterns that can instantly add radiance to any dull space, which is why Madhubani paintings make a perfect keepsake for any home.

3. African Masks

Although there are cultural and regional differences across the continent of Africa, one thing that is mutual is the make and use of traditional African masks. African masks for many years have played an essential role in African rituals and ceremonies, and in uniting man to nature.

Masks were used to represent the spirit of animals or ancestors, mythological figures, principals, and moral values. Animals such as the antelope, lion, giraffe, and buffalo were common themes as they depicted virtue. Other facial details such as open eyes, half-closed eyes, a long chin, and a broad forehead, represent admirable traits such as calmness, strength, and power.

African masks are highly styled and come in many different shapes, materials, and colors. The variety and amazing craftsmanship behind the African mask have made it a sought-after by many décor shops. The mask provides a window into the soul of a rich culture and can be a great conversation piece in any home.

4. Wycinanki

Wycinanki is the Polish folk art of paper cutting which was most likely inspired from Jewish culture, and started with sheepskin shearing. Originating in the mid-1800s, it involves freehand symmetrical cutting of colorful paper — typically red, yellow, blue, green, and gold — to form beautiful motifs such as flowers, peacocks, roosters, and medallions. Overtime, this art has been reproduced into machine embroidery, paintings, illustrations and other art forms. A colorful Wycinanki inspired illustration like the one below by Dianara Mirtalipova can add life and character to your home décor.

Art by Dianara Mirtalipova on mirdianara.com

5. Moroccan Pottery

If you are interested in decorating your wall with something other than a painting or photograph, an ensemble of handmade Moroccan ceramic plates might be just the perfect thing for you. They are available in a range of colors, however, traditional Moroccan art favors the color blue. Popular home décor articles such as rugs, poufs, lanterns, and ceramics have been heavily inspired by Moroccan motifs lately.

Moroccan pottery, influenced by Spanish and Moorish culture, has been practiced for many years and passed down generations. Vases and plates are covered in intricate geometric patterns inspired by Islamic art that avoids representational motifs and favors contemplative abstract patterns instead.

What’s your favorite folk art? We would love to hear! Please share with us in the comments section.


Rushika H.P. is a licensed architect and principal of Hólos Architecture + Design in Florida. She focuses on pure, functional, and beautiful architectural & interior design solutions for the modern home and is passionate about furniture design, graphic design, photography and travel. For more design tips and trends, subscribe here!