Rita Jhunjhunwala is ready to organize her fourth personal exhibition BHEEGI LAKEEREIN. This exhibition is a confluence of Rita’s paintings and poems which is curated by art historian, author and curator, Dr. Alka Pande. The 40 poems chosen for ‘Bheegi Lakeerein’ cover four decades of Rita’s life. In a frank interaction with The statesman corresponding Shweta KumariJhunjhunwala shared his journey and work.
1. Tell our readers about your first one-of-a-kind solo exhibition Bheegein Lakerein, where you represented 40 of your poems written over four decades, with each poem represented by a painting.
I have done 20 solo exhibitions/exhibitions so far and many group exhibitions, but so far I have only exhibited my paintings. This is the first and probably the last time that I also present my poems. My poems and paintings are in tandem with each other. Each painting represents a poem, so I think it will be a unique confluence of my life works. The poems were written by me over the last 4 decades and the paintings are fairly recent and were done within the last 2 years. The paintings are my confined babies and the poems are my thoughts through the different phases of my life for decades.
2. What is the idea and inspiration behind this collection?
From the beginning, I used to write down my thoughts whenever I have an excess of emotions or my mind is in chaos, I just write a poem or a verse in some form, and I release them. I once wrote a poem about my grandmother whom I adore, adore and admire. At the same time I made a portrait of her, it gave me the idea to illustrate my chosen poems on canvas, from there it just flowed, it had to happen one day because I‘I am above all a painter.
3. The collection allows you to follow various techniques and mediums with many textures such as fabrics, paper, gold leaf, charcoal, elements of nature, etc. Please elaborate more on this and what they represent.
A poem is a train of thought written in lyrical form, and catching its good vibe on canvas is a tricky project. So you know, spontaneously, I used different textures, different supports, to capture his good mood and I‘I used a gold leaf, I‘I used handmade paper, newsprint, I‘I dabbed and used dry brush strokes with black ink on paper and pasted this. I‘i used fabric and charcoal and many textures and it comes spontaneously for example if i need to show sunshine and joy i naturally use gold leaf and when i need to show some softness, so maybe a fabric comes into play and for the stiffness of charcoal, stiff paper to show some darkness or something unhappy, to reflect some sadness. I didn’t choose it by design, but just to achieve that effect I used different textures like fabric, foil, paper, charcoal, gauze, etc. It is therefore a mixture of different textures and painting techniques.
4. Tell us about the coffee table book by Bheegein Lakerein which is soon to be published.
The Bheeg BookI Lakerein which will soon be published is taking shape and will be a simple book with 40 poems with corresponding paintings and we plan to release the books in both Hindi, which will contain the original poems, and English in which the poems are transcribed by Ramashree Alladi.
5. Tell us briefly about your family and your journey as an artist.
I was born in Kolkata and graduated from the University of Calcutta in 1977 with merit and government scholarship, and then received extensive training from prominent national artists and art teachers. My family was very radical and non-conservative and they all always encouraged independent thinking.
After my marriage in 1978, my father-in-law inspired and encouraged me to pursue art as a profession. My first solo exhibition was in 1981 at Sridharani Triveni Kala Sangam Gallery and after that I never stopped painting and just evolved in that field.
I‘I had 20 solo exhibitions and many group exhibitions all over India and in all metros and internationally in Switzerland, France, Italy, UK, China etc. I received the Soviet Nehru Prize for painting from the President of India and was sent to the USSR. In 1984 I was selected as a finalist for the Grand Prix international painter of France.
In 1985 I received a medal in Rome, Italy and I was selected as a finalist in Cannes, then I received a painting prize at the Rotary club of Delhi. In 2004, my painting was installed in Rashtrapati Bhawan by the then President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam.
In 2010 I received the Bhikuram Jain foundation award, in 2013 I received the Sangkitshamala award in Kolkata and in 2018 I received the Aparajita award, so more or less that has been my journey.
6. In the past, Buddha, the lotus flower and Benaras figured prominently in your works. Tell us more about it.
I have explored many subjects during my journey as an artist, I‘worked a lot on Rajasthan in the 90s, when I went to Rajasthan I just succumbed to his magic, the colorful turbans, the swirling skirts, the sunbeams hitting the sandstone until they shine like gold, the haunting forts and Havelis, the shifting dunes playing hide and seek with the ethereal shadows , it all took my breath away and I couldn’t‘I do not have enough. In 2004, I did an exhibition on Buddha, the prince who devoted himself entirely to the cause of realizing the higher purpose of existence, and for me, Buddha represented peace.
I have been fascinated by the lotus as a subject that I have explored for many years and aside from its beauty, the philosophy behind it – that it rises above troubled waters and remains untouched, and when he’s born in the dirt he rises above it’s a lesson to be learned.
So I was obsessed with lotuses and water lilies for years, then I went to Benares – the first rays of dawn bathing the ghats in molten gold, dust meeting the mighty Ganges on the vermilion-strewn horizon of silhouettes of boats and barges and in between those eternal moments, a microcosmic cauldron of overflowing sights, sounds, smells, mystical experiences, I could just‘I couldn’t resist it so I worked a lot on Benaras and also I did a show called ‘Immortals‘ which was a tribute to all the great people of India from different fields whom I admire, who through their relentless sacrifice, hard work and inner talent left the world much better, much richer than they didn’t find it. These are the basic topics I have explored so far.
7. How does being a Marwari influence your art?
Honestly I never thought of it like that but now that you asked I think Marwari‘I’m a go-getter and so am I. When I do something, I give myself 100% and that’s true even in the field of art. As the cliché goes that they are the Baniya community, but nowadays, as Marwari men and women emerge in other areas of modern society, they are doing extremely well in every direction. I think they have a lot of passion and courage.