Artist Jyoti Bhatt says rural artists have more spontaneity and ease with art

When he photographs the folk artists in India’s heartlands, he finds them to be contemporary artists who don’t just verbalize and put their art on a pedestal, but live with their art. “Across the villages, people live with art and they are constantly recreating. Though I had art school training for 10 years and have been practising for nearly 50 years, urban painters like me don’t have the ease and spontaneity that they have,” observes the 79-year old artist Jyoti Bhatt, best known for his work in printmaking and his photographs documenting rural art.

His exhibition, “Jyoti Bhatt — Photographs from Rural India”, currently on view at Tasveer, captures his journey across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar. The series of photographs is aimed at documenting not just the forms themselves, but how they are integrated in their lives.

“They show how the art is connected to the wall, which is connected to the house, which in turn is connected to its people. I wanted to show that kind of inter-relationship. Their art is part of society. What they miss, they paint on the walls whether it is the dying peacocks or the tigers , they paint their inherited memories.”

“The main idea is to record the art forms before they vanish. By the time people realize their value, they may not even be there because villages today are getting more money from industrialists who set up their factories in the rural areas. So their mud houses are turning into brick or stone houses on which they don’t want to paint because they feel that painting on them would be a sign of primitiveness. Though the brick and stone houses are ugly, the villagers feel they display their monetary status.”

Jyoti says he has focused on two basic art forms in series, art forms on walls and floors. “It’s because I studied painting that I could appreciate certain forms easily without bias. Most of this art is alive because the women didn’t change as much the men.”

One of the highlights of the photographs, as has been noted, is that his subjects are always aware that they are being photographed.

“I think it helps that they are aware because when they look at the camera, viewers will feel that they are looking at them. They can see their anthropological charm and a good photograph should bring out the characteristics of the subject whether emotional or psychological. If the subject is aware then there is a collaboration between the photographer and the subject.”

And so whenever he photographed the artwork, Jyoti recalls that he almost always asked for the artists to stand next to their work. “Then the size and scale of the artwork becomes visible. Without the human interest, the work may sometimes look dull or less interesting. The viewers are human and so their first choice of subject is a human.”

The only objective behind the series for Jyoti was to record the medium since it was the only way he could save it. “I could have continued to paint, but I found this more interesting and rewarding. I lost money, but I found satisfaction which is more important. India hasn’t lost anything because I didn’t paint. But somebody will be grateful that I made this because soon these art forms won’t be there.”

Jyoti hopes the younger photographs will be inspired to take up the task of doing this. “Everyday we are losing more of our art, there are more villagers giving up farming to go to the cities. Also there are people in power who tell the villagers what to do to make money, which changes their attitude. Then they no longer do it for love, they do it for money and this affects the work.”

“Jyoti Bhatt - Photographs from Rural India” will be on view until January 10 at Tasveer, Sua House, 26/1 Kasturba Cross Road. For details, contact Annu Dey at or call 9481886913.