Rita Jhunjhunwala’s passion for writing inspired her to curate a collection of paintings that are represented by 40 poems penned by her over four decades.
Rita Jhunjhunwala’s one-of-a-kind solo exhibition Bheegein Lakerein at the Living Traditional Centre (LTC) in New Delhi put the spotlight on her penchant for art and words on canvas. It all started with her passion for writing that inspired her to curate a collection of paintings represented by 40 of her poems penned over four decades. Every poem is represented by a painting. Her collection of poems is also getting published in the form of a coffee-table book called Bheegein Lakerein by Om Books International. Born as Rita Kanani in a radical and non-conservative family of Kolkata that encouraged her to think independently, she completed her graduation from Calcutta University in 1977 with meritorious distinction and bagged a government scholarship. Following which she underwent training under eminent national artists and art professors like Indra Duggar, Ashish Mitra and Chitra Mazumdar from Calcutta Art College, and Vimal Das Gupta from Delhi Art College. After her marrige to Ravi Jhunjhunwala in 1978 in Delhi, her father-in-law encouraged her to take up art as a profession. Her first solo show happened in 1981 at the Sridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam and then, there was no stopping her. She just moved on in the field from then onwards. Jhunjhunwala has done 20 solo shows, exhibitions and group shows all over India as well as in Switzerland, France, Italy, the UK and China. “So far, I have just been exhibiting my paintings. This is the first and probably the last time that I am showcasing my poems as well. My poems and paintings are both in tandem with each other. Each painting represents a poem so it is a unique confluence of my life works. The poems have been written by me over the past four decades and the paintings are comparatively recent. The paintings are my lockdown babies and the poems are my thoughts through the different phases of my life for decades,” she elaborates.
MARWAR talks to Jhunjhunwala about the idea behind her artistic inspirations and her journey as an artist over the years.
What is the idea and inspiration behind the collection?
Since the beginning, I have been penning down my thoughts. Whenever I have an excess flow of emotions or my mind feels the chaos, I take it out as prose or verse in some form. Once I did a poem on my grandmother whom I adore, worship and really admire. Alongside, I made a portrait of her. That gave me the idea of illustrating my selected poems on canvas. From there, it just flowed. It had to happen sometime as I am primarily a painter.
You follow various techniques with textures and elements of nature. Please elaborate.
A poem is a train of thoughts worded in a lyrical form, and to catch its right vibe on canvas is a tricky project. I used different textures and media like gold foil, handmade paper and newspaper, to catch the right mood. I stamped and used dry brush strokes with black ink on paper, and used fabric, charcoal and it just came spontaneously. For instance, I use gold foil for sunlight and sheer effect; when I have to show softness then a fabric comes into play; for stiffness I use charcoal, and stiff paper to show darkness. So the mix of textures and techniques was not by design but only to catch the effect.
Tell us about your coffee-table book Bheegein Lakerein?
Bheegein Lakerein, that is taking shape now, is a book of 40 poems with corresponding paintings. We are planning to publish it in Hindi-which will have the original poems-and in English in which the poems are being translated by Ramashree Alladi.
Can you share your journey as an artist?
So far I have had 20 solo shows and numerous group shows-nationally and internationally. I received the Soviet Land Nehru Award for painting by the President of India, and was sent to the USSR. In 1984, I was selected as a finalist for the 31st Grand Pre-International Painter de Rouvre, France. In 1985, I received a medal in Rome, and was selected as a finalist at Cannes. I have also received an award for painting at the Rotary Club in New Delhi. In 2004, my painting was installed in the Rashtrapati Bhawan by then President of India Dr Abdul Kalam. In 2010, I got the Bhikuram Jain Foundation Award. In 2013, I was felicitated with the Sangeet Shyamala Award and the Aparajita Award in 2018.
Subjects like Rajasthan, Benares, Buddha, the lotus flower prominently in your artwork. Please explain.
I have explored varied subjects as an artist during my journey. When I went to Rajasthan in the 1990s, I succumbed to its magic-colourful turbans, swirling skirts, sunrays hitting the sandstone till they shone like gold, haunting forts, havelis, and the shifting sand dunes playing hide and seek with the ethereal shadows. All of this left me breathless. In 2004, I did an exhibition on Buddha, the prince who dedicated himself to the cause of realising thehigher purpose of existence. For me, Buddha represents peace. I was also taken up with lotus as a subject. Apart from its beauty, I love the philosophy behind it-it rises from the murky waters and still remains untainted. I was obsessed with lotus and water lilies for years. In Benaras, I witnessed the first rays of dawn bathing the ghats with molten gold, the dust meeting the mighty Ganges at the vermillion horizon dotted with the silhouettes of boats and badges and in between those perennial moments, a microcosmic cauldron of overflowing sights, sounds, smells and mystical experiences. I could not resist these, so I worked on Benaras. I also did a show called Immortals, a tribute to the great people of India who, through their relentless sacrifice, hard work and inner talent, left the world better and richer. These are the basic subjects that I have explored in my artwork so far.
How do your Marwar roots influence your art?
Marwaris are go-getters and so am I. When I do something, I give my 100 per cent and that is true even in the field of art. We see Marwari men and women emerging on top in various fields in the modern society. They have a lot of passion and grit and are doing exceedingly well in all directions.