Aliya Ladhabhoy 

Stark white walls serve as the perfect canvas for painting indigo hued birds and a herd of deer amidst lush green trees, discovered Sahiba Madan, founder of Kalakaari Haath, an architecture, design and illustration studio. While Madan always liked hand illustrations and often turned to it for projects in architecture college, it was a last-minute freelance assignment that led her to explore mystical Gond art-inspired illustrations as a tool to enhance spaces.
“One day, a senior from my college asked me to help him decorate a sample flat. Given the tight deadline and cost constraints, we decided that hand-painted illustrations on the walls would uplift the overall décor. Back then, I was researching Gond paintings, a tribal art form from Madhya Pradesh.
Taking inspiration from the style, I created large murals for different spaces in the home,” shared Madan.She received an overwhelming response and decided to look at space as an infinite canvas. “Art can be intimidating while illustrations are more approachable,” stated Madan, adding, “It allows you to communicate a concept.”
Madan began to use illustrations to create a mood. One of the breakthrough projects which Madan worked on was a women’s health care hospital in Surat. She took a broader theme such as life on earth, in water and beyond to create dreamy illustrations. These were splashed across doctors’ rooms, the operating rooms and even the washrooms! The décor was rustic like one would find in a home, rather than the pristine white environs of other hospitals.
For Madan, hand-painted illustrations soon gave way to wall decals. “I couldn’t spend days at a site and paint alone. To manage time and cost, I looked at materials through which we could resolve logistical problems. We arrived at wall decals. It is like a tattoo which can be applied to any surface, but it can’t be reused once it is taken off.” Soon Madan expanded her team and the design studio was working on multiple sites across the country.
When decals of two pigeons which were supposed to be part of a bigger artwork became extras, Madan happened to place them near a switchboard and put a photo of it on Instagram.
“People went crazy over it. You can stick it anywhere around the house. We took a long time to launch it as a product because we thought people were only interested in the larger decals. These stickers are the most successful product right now. It also has a DIY feel and is reasonably priced from Rs. 500 onwards,” Madan informs.
The design studio dabbles in projects across design disciplines – home décor, furniture and more. “Design is so fluid. With a little technical information, you can find your way into any field of design. We are always trying to explore different disciplines.”
Madan and her team are currently finding interesting ways to adapt the same concept in different mediums — such as three-dimensional versions of their Gond illustrations as platters and key holders. They have also relaunched their wallpaper range at better price points.
The tribal art form of Madhya Pradesh continues to influence Madan’s work. “I personally like using pen as a medium and it was one of the reasons why I was drawn to the art form. It is line and pattern intensive and is such a challenging style. What I find most beautiful about Gond art is that nothing is literal — a deer’s antelopes will develop into a tree or an illustration of an adult elephant will have baby elephants intertwined with it. It reveals complex layers which is a beautiful form of storytelling,” shares the young entrepreneur.
While Madan is happy that her work creates greater awareness about the tribal art form, her ultimate goal is to educate traditional Gond artists to expand their creative application with wall tattoos, while she herself can take up the role of a curator.

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