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Jul 14 2020

Obituary: Jyotsna Bhatt (1940–2020)

by Kaitlin Hao

JYOTSNA BHATT, who passed away on Saturday, is known for her innovative approach to ceramics. Image from the Jyoti Bhatt Archive, Asia Art Archive Collection. Courtesy the artist and Asia Art Archive.

Pioneering Indian ceramic artist Jyotsna Bhatt passed away on July 11 at the age of 80 after suffering a stroke.  

Bhatt was a key contributor to the field of contemporary ceramics in India when few artists were interested in the medium, and was known for her commitment to mentoring younger talents. Her practice had deep ties to nature, apparent not only in her chosen subject matters, which included various animals, and the forms and patterns that inspired her, but also in the materials she used. She often incorporated alkaline earths and minerals, in addition to employing deep-earth hues for her glazes. 

Born in Mandvi, in what is now the northwestern state of Gujarat, Bhatt studied at Mumbai’s Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art for a year before enrolling in 1958 to study sculpture at the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) in Baroda, now Vadodara, where she was tutored by the notable sculptor Sankho Chaudhuri. During her university days, she discovered her passion for ceramics and also met her husband, the artist and photographer Jyoti Bhatt. In the mid-1960s, she traveled to the United States to join her husband who was there on a Fulbright Scholarship, eventually attending the Brooklyn Museum Art School to continue her ceramic studies under Jolyon Hofsted. Shortly thereafter, the couple returned to India to settle in Vadodara, where they became faculty members of MSU from 1972 onwards. Bhatt retired as head of the department of ceramics in 2002.

One of Bhatt’s last exhibitions, “Ceramics,” held in 2017 at Galerie 88 in Kolkata, evidenced not only her mastery over the clay medium, specifically the stoneware method, but also her playful approach to natural subject matter. The solo show included sculptures of recumbent smiling cats, as well as dishes adorned with crowing roosters and wide-eyed owls. Speaking of her work, the artist commented during the exhibition opening that “All methods and technical possibilities interest me, and I like to experiment with all technical possibilities—wheel, slab, coil. I have tried all the methods.”

On July 12, Asia Art Archive paid tribute to the artist on its Facebook page, saying that it was “deeply saddened by her passing” and that “Jyotsna Bhatt was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of ceramics by deploying innovative techniques to produce her nature-inspired forms.” 

In a comment made to The Indian Express, artist Nilima Sheikh said: “She was a gentle and generous person, who made wonderful work. A nodal figure for artists working in ceramics, her works received wide recognition and she would often travel to conduct workshops across the country.”

Kaitlin Hao is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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