Off the Beaten Track

in Vol. 25 - January Issue - Year 2024
New Start with Old Beginnings
Cave wall painting

Cave wall painting

For more than 40,000 years, the limestone walls of Lubang Jeriji Saleh, cave complex in Indonesian Borneo Island, hold and witness the oldest known figurative painting in the world. The painting is depiction of a bull, over 5 feet across made from reddish-orange ochre or iron oxide paint on the cave’s limestone walls.  

And if the experts are to be further believed, some other cave wall paintings, finger stencils, have stayed around for more than 52,000 years in the caves of surrounding islands. In later phases, stencils in mulberry color along with intricate motifs, human figures, and geometric designs were also created. 

Art has fascinated the human race through epochs, the basic need of expression that is so innate to human beings. Although this recent discovery has offered little information on the geographical origins of the art and the people who created it. Thinking of it, I just wonder who this prehistoric ‘artist’ (a man or a woman) was like, who chose the unconventional form at an unusual place to immortalize his idea.

It remains unknown, if there is a meaning to the paintings, nevertheless they remain to be the oldest pictorial record of storytelling. Some conjectures have been made as to the meanings these paintings have had to the people that made them, prehistoric artists may have painted to give practical information, or have mystical purpose of practice of a ritual. Or, was it just the contemporary graffiti art! 

The inquiry into the evolution and journey of art is thought-provoking. We know how deeply art has shaped our world; it is difficult to imagine the world without it. Furthermore, we can’t help but draw parallel with the present-day state of art exploration.     

Unlike today’s world, their world was so different. So strong would be the force in the depth of prehistoric artists’ heart that it found a way so divine. And the joy of achievement it would have brought him would be so extraordinary, he would want to share with the entire world a glimpse of the genius creation. Or, maybe it was a sacred activity with no such fanfare. 

Would there be critics who analyzed the work or skeptics who opposed this creativity because there was nothing like this they ever saw? Would there be someone in awe of this work, inspire from it? Try and find a meaning in life. Or, were people too busy with their basic survival?

A few thousand years later, commercial invasion of ‘art’ has greatly altered the way it was created and seen. The oldest documented transaction involving a piece of art was almost two and a half thousand years ago in Greece.  

Today, the evolution journey of art continues to find new ways and forms of expression through various-isms. The ‘art work’ or paintings are being created in incomprehensible, unintelligible, unfathomable and inexplicable ways. It promises to continue to grow into the future even more rigorously with the new-age technology.  

But let us not forget at the core, that art is created primarily as the basic need of expression that is so innate to human beings. How much money it is able to generate is peripheral. When you acquire a certain skill, you become a good craftsman, but creation or being an artist is something different. 

Whatever our profession is, we have an artist in each one of us, who is wondering at the world’s fascinations. Whenever we feel at the core the need to express, through any type of art or creativity, let us not be stopped or be intimidated by the external. Start like the prehistoric artists, just throw some colors on the cave walls of our heart, and who knows, after an eternity, it might again inspire someone for a new start but with the old beginnings!

MFN Trainer and Head of 

Operations of Daksha: rishabh.shah@daksha.net