Goats wander along a dusty street in this south Indian city once known as Madras. Around a corner, down an alley and away from the rushing trucks, bicycles, and motorized rickshaws, is a small, gleaming glass-walled building lined inside with bookshelves.
Itâ€™s the home of Tara Books, created by visionary publisher Gita Wolf. Over the past 10 years, she has collaborated with women tribal artists to create award-winning publications. In doing so, sheâ€™s helped the women step across the gulf that divides preliterate societies from the modern world of arts and letters.
For example, flowing white designs from the mud-walled huts of the Meena tribe in Rajasthan tell the story of a wily jackal in the book â€œGobble You Up!â€
Women of the tribe originally painted intricate pictures in lime on the brown walls and floors of their homes. The art rarely had been seen outside villages because the designs were short-lived and the women stayed close to home.
Artist Sunita (who uses only one name) learned the practice from her mother and sister and worked with Ms. Wolf to tell a story on paper. The resulting childrenâ€™s book designed by Rathna Ramanathan was published in 2013 and won a Blue Elephant from the Kyoorius Design Awards.
â€œWe are the first to have brought these art forms into books,â€ Wolf says.
Books about tribal art exist, but the artists had not moved into creating their own books.
â€œBefore us, no one had used them as artists to tell their own story,â€ Wolf says.