Artist Shelly Jyoti’s latest offering is a take on marine ecology

by Team ACF
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Mahatma Gandhi’s timeless ideologies have been at the core of Delhi-based visual artist Shelly Jyoti’s art practice for more than a decade now. Using khadi as her canvas, Ajrakh printing and dyeing as her palette and intricate needlework her brush strokes, Jyoti continues her exploration of Bapu’s concept of Swaraj in a solo show titled Bound by Duty: An Idea of Swaraj and Collectiveness.

Using the motif of fish, both as individual entity and as a collective force, Jyoti explores the biggest challenge that faces mankind today – the disconnect between economic development and ecological well-being. Read on…


It is quite interesting how you have used the motifs of marine life to put the spotlight on the imminent danger it faces from drastic ecological changes. However, what I am keen to know is why you focused largely on fishes and aquatic life?

The biggest challenge today is that there is a disconnect between economic development and ecological well-being, as ecology is understood both as man’s outer and inner environment. Economic progress of the kind being pursued in India and elsewhere in the world has become an end in itself. It is divorced from ethics, and righteousness. It stands in conflict with man’s responsibility towards his own community and other communities of the world.

I am inspired by the micro-organisms in water, such as trillions of tiny fishes collaborating together, displacing water to create oceanic currents, waves and turbulence in undersea environment. I examine the idea of ‘collectiveness’ and ‘collective impact’ that can bring about social change and spiritually self-aware communities. Hence fishes became a metaphor to narrate my story.

The exhibition also features two site-specific installations. How do they add to the extant narrative?

The installation titled The print: Hind swaraj, is a two panel 36×96 inches each on artist matte canvas with matte liquid laminate coating with archival pigment inks.

The objective to create this installation is to reach out to masses with a text that was written 100 years ago and exploring the contemporary relevance 100 years later. I turned to Gandhi’s most important work Hind Swaraj1 to seek answers to my own dilemmas. Inspired by the idea of social responsibility, I hoped to understand the meaning and importance of the relationship between self, societies and social transformation in our fast-paced technology driven world. I was seeking a response to the idea of swadharma as a notion of patriotism.

You have always sought inspiration from Gandhi and his beliefs. Also, your preoccupation with textiles has become your prominent insignia. Can you elaborate a bit on your relationship with textiles and how you relook at them every time you work on an exhibition?

As a designer, my passion for Indian textiles also propelled me to explore the Ajrakh textile traditions, Ajrakh means indigo in Arabic. I created my first artworks experiencing and learning about the magical reverse block printing technique with natural colours that can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization. I met Junaid bhai Khatri, son of Dr Ismail Bhai Khatri who assisted me in my indigo project. The journey of indigo in my work began in 2008 and has remained one of my primary means of artistic expression.

After my indigo narratives show, when I was exploring Indigo in India’s freedom struggle and also indigo as a plant colour and dye, I realised the need of documenting these blocks through my art scrolls. I only use blocks that are 300-400 year block patterns. My next project ‘Salt March’, I created artworks with solidarity as my theme. Until the coming few shows, I fell in love with Ajrakh on khadi processes and became my medium of expression.

How much time did you take to develop the concept and finish the body of works?

I started reading with Hind swaraj in 2016-17. It took me two years to absorb the book reading related essays, articles and papers of various scholars. My most time goes in researching on the subject thoroughly and artistic production happens later. My research brings clarity in the execution of my project.

What role does art play in promoting a cause? Since your exhibition always carries a weighty message for viewers.

At any given time, art is reflection of society. Art plays an important role in conveying the social concerns .Sharing history through art narrative to the next generation is connecting past with the present. It is a good way of bringing relevance and sharing values and experiences across time and space. Art is also an expression of self, if an artist feels strongly on socio -political subject, art becomes an idea of expression to reach masses. This form of art is meaningful in any healthy growing society and is important as societies needs a good confluence of art, society and polity.

(The show can be viewed at the Kamala Chattopadhya Hall, India International Centre, New Delhi, till September 27, 2019, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The show will then move to Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai from November 27 to December 4, 2019. )

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