Shelly Jyoti: Beyond the call of duty

Strength in numbers: Shelly Jyoti  

Fish swim, sometimes in the same direction, and sometimes in opposite directions, across naturally-dyed khadi cloth, intricate borders ‘containing’ them to the fabric. “I was reading an article which said when a trillion of fish collaborate, they displace water to create oceanic currents. So here I am, examining the idea of collectiveness that can bring about a social change,” says Shelly Jyoti, an artist whose work is centred on Indian historical iconographic elements. The fish appear as shoals, never as a single motif.

Shelly Jyoti’s Ajrakh work on khadi

Shelly Jyoti’s Ajrakh work on khadi  

To mark the 150 birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the artist contemporises Bapu’s philosophy of a collectivist society. Bound by Duty: An Idea of Swaraj and Collectiveness, is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s anti-imperialist work Hind Swaraj. The 32 art scrolls — in sizes as diverse as 36 feet long to 80 feet long — work at many levels. The use of khadi has a direct connect with the practice of spinning our own yarn, pertinent at a time when the world is reconsidering its use of mass-produced articles of clothing. The Ajrakh print points to the revival of niche indigenous crafts, while the use of fish is symbolic of fertility and abundance (though perhaps the artist did not mean for it to be seen this way). It indicates that the time is right for Indian craft (often the poor cousin of our art) to be seen in a new light.

Shelly Jyoti: Beyond the call of duty

But Shelly hopes that it will not be confined to the gallery, but will go out and mingle amongst us. She seeks to make it meaningful for an urban audience, so we introspect and connect with rural populations that often feel isolated: weavers, printers, artisans, and all those who eke out a livelihood using their hands. “I am talking about supporting 70% of our rural population,” she says, adding that it’s especially important that we recognise ‘hand work’ at a time when technology has taken over.

Travelling from Gurugram to Bhuj to work with Junaid Ismail Khatri, a tenth generation Ajrakh craftsperson, she created art scrolls at Khatri’s studio. “I conceptualise, visualise, design and execute both in form and colour. Junaid gives his technical support to the Ajrakh process,” says Shelly, who got a Masters degree in English from Punjab University, before training in designing and clothing technology at NIFT, in Delhi in 1995. “I created my first artworks experiencing and learning about the magical reverse block printing technique with natural colours, in 2008. It has remained one of my primary means of artistic expression.”

Shelly Jyoti: Beyond the call of duty

The process of production is now set: “Before I leave for Bhuj, all my artworks are ready on big imperial sheets with full details of blocks in my art sketches.” Each artwork has a story to tell. The discerning have to make out the meaning from geometric patterns, painstakingly created inside contours of fish. By bringing together khadi, Ajrakh and skill of craftspeople, she gives her own interpretation in a visual form

At the Kamladevi Complex in IIC, she points to the contours of each fish as they ‘glide’ across the wall. Each geometric line balances the flow. Everyone should experience self control and have a sense of duty, says Shelly, who follows the work of academics and thinkers like Tridip Surhud and Makarand Paranjape.

“Mahatma Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj was a critique of modernity. Gandhi was also working on an evolved, ethical sense for creating an alternative perspective of a better world. My own story of creating a better, moral, and peaceful society, has been going on for 10 years. Naturally, Gandhi becomes my focus,” she says, adding that her shows are notions of patriotism.

She speaks of her experience with children, who cannot tell the exact date of Independence: “They reply that it is either 15 August or 26 January. On these days, they listen to patriotic songs, wear new clothes.” With this exhibition and others like it, “I am telling 30 crore urban Indians, ‘How about buying five meters of handspun, handwoven cloth once a year?” It’s Gandhi’s message in a nutshell.

She has been supported by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission that gave her the cloth, and by Good Earth. While KVIC supplied the artist fabric, Good Earth is part sponsor of this travelling exhibition.

At the India International Centre, New Delhi, on until September 27th; in Mumbai at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, from November 27-December 4

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 7:25:38 PM |

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