After working for ten years as a textile designer, Bharti Prajapati returned to a longtime passion — painting. Now an established contemporary Indian artist, Bharti frequently depicts women from villages in India, whom she first encountered while studying at the prestigious National Institute of Design. She often portrays these rural women joyfully dancing as a group, their hands opening and folding to receive and pass on energy. These tribals inspired her overall outlook on art and life, as they treated craft and design as intrinsic parts of their day-to-day. Immersing herself in this ‘real India’ helped Bharti to understand her roots, culture and heritage, and today she strives to share this insight through her paintings.
I first met Bharti in 2013 during the launch of her ‘Devi’ series at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. Since then, having been exposed to her repertoire and curated her work at gallery Laasya Art, I have been particularly drawn to her ‘Earth’ and ‘One Tribe’ series. Her paintings are rooted in Indian culture and traditions, yet very contemporary in their treatment. The depiction of colorful textiles in her paintings make them truly stunning, and her use of oil paint adds another element of richness and depth.
I recently interviewed Bharti to better understand the stories behind her paintings and her process, and below are excerpts from our conversation.
Sonia: Bharti, how would you describe yourself as both a person and an artist?
Bharti: I would say both introspective and extroverted, a dichotomy of two things happening at the same time. I am always thinking creatively, on multiple levels. As an artist, I would say I am very much rooted, very passionate about my ideas.
Briefly describe to me your journey as an artist, starting with your studies in textile design.
Attending the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad was a turning point for me. Along with our studies, they made sure we knew our country and our culture, tradition and roots. The programs were designed such that we had to go to the villages, work with the craftsmen there and understand what was happening. We primarily visited Kutch Gujarat but also Telangana, Tirvandrum in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. This is where I discovered that India is where design has evolved and the birthplace of contemporary art and design is our roots and culture and folk art. It was all totally new for me, but I absorbed it. This is where my love for art and the people and the country came from.
Tell me a bit about your muse, your inspiration and your thought process.
I started painting instinctively for the love of it. I loved what was happening around me in the villages — the way people wore art and craft, and freshly painted on their walls for weddings. Whole families lived together with art and design. I thought, what is complete living if this isn’t complete living? Why do we isolate design and art, and the other forms of creativity? In the villages, they are evolving design, from grandmother to granddaughter. The woman especially became my muse, because I thought, here is a woman who is not only living a normal life but she is also a creative woman, she is a hard working woman, she is a strong woman. She is making this whole house herself and everything into her own tiny little universe and there are so many stories. Finding this artistic focus was a slow process. I started with landscapes, painting the whole totality of the places, but slowly I got more and more pulled to these women. They have now achieved the status of goddess — she is there all by herself in her complete glory, looking very good with an attitude and with pride.
Tell me a bit about your most recent body of work, the Earth series.
Again, there are women. I am also drawing on the elements of the universe, known as the Pancha Tattva in Hindu mythology. I have used these five elements of nature — space, air, fire, water and earth — as symbols in my paintings, such as water in clouds are blue color. For fire, I use yellows and oranges. I also depict a black, starry sky to represent space and the destructive part of a life cycle. Every destruction is a beginning of a new creation. And the elements are how we are connected to the universe, the binding point. I am trying to portray all this in the Earth series, by using a lot of metaphors and symbolism rooted in Hindu mythology.
Do you always work in series like this?
When I am working on a theme, I prefer to work on a collection for a couple of years, rather than individual paintings. So my themes keep changing but they have a common thread. I come to a point where I know this is a finished collection, and it takes ideally from 4 to 5 years to work on one single theme. Once another idea has been brewing inside me, that means it is time to take a step into a new theme.
Many people are interested in art but feel too busy to immerse themselves. What is your advice on how to integrate art into our lives, even if it’s in a small way?
I think each and every being is creative. Even a simple line is drawn differently by different people. I think we as a society are afraid, because when I lived in the villages I saw that their walls were very fearlessly decorated. There is no inhibition, no thought to how it looks or who will say what. You don’t need to be a professional, you don’t need to know anything perfectly. Everything has become so professionalized now, so probably the beginning is to let the children do whatever they want to do and make them feel very proud about it, and then it carries on to the next generation.
Being an artist is a difficult profession. You are a reputable artist in India today. What advice would you give to young artists starting out?
I would say, pursue your passion. But there are two sides to being an artist. My art, which I have created from my introspect and put on a canvas, is 50% of it. The other 50% is being viewed and interpreted in others’ own individual manner. It is a complete cycle. If you’re looking at art as a profession, there has to be somebody else looking at your piece of art in the same manner as you are thinking about it and connect with it. Creativity is about the connect. Either you connect or you don’t, and it’s only when you connect that it moves.
Thank you very much, Bharti!
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan