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An exhibition celebrating Jyoti Bhatt’s life and art

A prominent figure in the Indian contemporary art scene, Jyoti Bhatt is known for his paintings, prints and photographs. His mission as a painter and a graphic artist is to preserve and to seek inspiration from the fast-disappearing folk art traditions of rural India. His works - paintings (acrylic, ink, pen) prints, photographs, illustrations ' are on view at Delhi art gallery. A book celebrating his art and life authored by Vivan Sundaram has also been released on eve of the exhibition.

The exhibition is an effort to recognize contribution made by Jyotibhai, as the artist is fondly called, to keep India's rich art tradition alive. He even stopped painting for the cause to which he devoted himself wholeheartedly. In the decade since he actually got back to painting though, he states he has been able to get back his confidence as a painter.

In fact, it was more than five decades ago that Jyoti Bhatt launched his artistic voyage. He worked as a painter from 1954 to 1969, and taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. He studied painting and printmaking at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, under stalwarts like N. S. Bendre, Sankho Chaudhari and K. G. Subramanayan. In the 70s, he learnt the intaglio method of printing and screen painting.

But by then, the urge to document India's vanishing art traditions had overtaken him. Since the 70s, he started documenting living art in rural homes, rapidly disappearing owing to changing lifestyles. Deeply impressed by Anand Coomaraswamy's book 'Mediaeval Sinhalese Art', Bhatt realized that folk art has many strands, which reinforce one another.

The artist has also worked in tandem with sculptor Raghu Kaneria. Their famous works together have been on women artists in tribal hamlets. The former states that he has never regretted stopping painting and taking up photography as an art form. "The photo-documentation work is equally creative. Also, my work has brought into spotlight those umpteen tribal artists who were deprived of any recognition or reward, he states.

Jyoti Bhatt is the founder member of the Center of Photography, Baroda. He has spent years recording the rural art with great understanding and aesthetic sensibility. According to him, these are the art forms that the tribal community creates to live with. Each work of art provides an avenue of creativity, and refines human sensibilities and responses. According to him, it is essential to preserve the originality of the art forms.

His research also encompasses analyzing the changes are coming about and coming to term with their consequences. "Living within a creative network, an individual artist attains a special stature and refinement. The disappearance of the network, with the breakdown of traditional cultures, is bound to cause cultural impoverishment," he says.

Jyoti Bhatt has also studied extensively 'Wall and Floor Decorations' that are brilliant for their usage of bright colors, narrative format, vivid depiction of their surroundings and divine imagery. How religion came to be involved in the paintings is a mystery to him. He traced the link to hundreds of religious rituals women perform, involving some drawing or image. Artists draw inspiration from mythological tales and the paintings are believed to protect tribal families from evil forces, he says, adding that for the tribal folk, God is not an abstract concept; they see Him in these paintings.

He sums up to say: "We are still strangers to our vast country and its diverse traditions. The idea behind the documentation presentation is to make the city people aware of our rich cultural heritage. Each one of us can play a role in preserving it."

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