Article on Jyotsna Bhatt in The Mumbai Mirror
Jyotsna Bhatt was born in 1940 in Mandvi, Kutch. During her adolescence, she was encouraged by her uncle Kantisen shroff to pursue art and enrolled to study sculpture under the tutelage of Prof. Sankho Chaudhuri at the faculty of Fine Arts at Baroda's MS University in 1958. Her exposure to ceramics as a sculpture student was where she found her true calling as an artist, leading her to evolve into one of India’s most reputed ceramicists. However, it was her time in New York with Prof.Jolyon Hofsteadat at the Brooklyn Museum Art School that impacted her profoundly, and which provided a direction to her art practice and fashioned her aesthetic sensibility more precisely.
In 1972, she chose to join her alma mater as a teacher and under her determined insistence and guidance created a vibrant environment of learning with in the ceramic studios at the faculty of Fine Arts. Extremely exacting herself, Jyotsna's ceramic art was created from a sound comprehension of structural form. Her sculptural training allowed her to disassociate herself from the utilitarian concepts that often dog studio potters, and be simultaneously equally free of having to justify her artistic credentials to fit prevailing trends. She was in that sense unique. She celebrated her feminine spirit with unhindered abandon, always working small scale and caring to pay homage to the material of her choice — clay - the material she loved and worked solely with all her life. The plasticity this material offered allowed her to articulate the influences of nature and animal forms most exquisitely.
For those of us who were fortunate to be her students, and later shared a bond of friendship with her, watching her work on the wheel was like seeing a magician conjure from the sleight of hand an unexpected phenomenon of visual delight. Under her nimble fingers she would create geometric forms of spheres or cylinders that looked deceptively simple. These would then be deconstructed by cutting them and then reassembled to transform into other visual forms. She says of her own work that she would twist, tilt, stretch and push till the form visually satisfied her. These four simple words amass a universe of possibilities and articulate the vision of her creative philosophy so succinctly.
What pershapss is less written about is her understand feminist imprint a quiet legacy of everyday living the resomnates the principles of self-determination. A woman who lived her life belonging not by conventional means nor by extreme radical positions, but by the renegotiations within a patriarchal world where she stood unquestionably equal to all.
Jyotsna's eyes were always arresting in their gaze, holding your self-accountability alert in her presence. Despite her rather frail and slight physical countenance, she possessed an inner strength that saw her work as an artist with disciplined rigour and unwavering belief in her practice. In a world of bling and razzmatazz, her art incorporated elements of subtle consideration, drawn from her own love of japanese pottery, where the glazed or wood-fired open-bodied sculptural or animal clay forms she created were to be lived with, in contemplation and personal reverie.
Her partnership with her husband Jyoti Bhatt, the renowned artist, photographer, print-maker and teacher was strong friendship that spanned fifty-five years of shared explorations and discoveries. Mother to her daughter Jai,Jyotsna showcased in all her relationships her wisdom to straddle life with no fuss or frills and embrace her reality at all times with infinite compassion, empathy and a healthy dose of humour as well.
Beloved to all her students and her countless admirers in the art world, this lady of dignity and fortitude can never be replaced. Just as Jyotsna took shapeless bits of clay and brought shape and form to them through her skill and knowledge, so too did she give shape and form to hundreds of her students who were always embraced by her patience and instilled with her grace of belief in them. Her untimely and sudden demise at her home in Vadodara leaves a palpable void for the art community who mourn the loss of this remarkable artist and teacher, whose quiet presence held so many lessons from which to imbibe. Perhaps her life truly is a testament of who she chose of the earth and to the earth returned.
The writer is a veteran artist based in Baroda.