Artistic expression on socio-political subjects is a creative way to make a society aware, believes visual artist and fashion designer Shelly Jyoti, whose multidisciplinary exhibition "Revisiting Gandhi" explores through textile, art, spoken poetry and short films the Mahatmas ideologies of ‘Swadharma, ‘Swaraj and 'Sarvodaya'.
The "Revisiting Gandhi: The Art of Shelly Jyoti (2009-18)" retrospective has been mounted at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) as part of its ‘Gandhi Parv', and showcases four of her textile-based works inspired by Gandhian principles and writings.
Jyoti, who said her work focusses on Gandhi's ideology of nation building for creating moral and peaceful societies, has been focusing on the Father of the Nation through her works for over a decade, starting 2008.
Her first installation "Indigo Narratives" draws upon the 19th century revolt against ndigo farmer in eastern India and Gandhi's Champaran Satyagraha.
It focusses on the socio-political situation of farmers "forced to grow indigo crops for British/Eurocentric needs and who lived life of oppression, drudgery and subjugation for hundreds of years," the artist-curator told IANS in an email interview.
The query she wanted to raise with her work is: Do we need another Mahatma to fight for 21st century farmers?
"In another work 'Salt - The Great March', I examine alternative societies with Gandhian ideals of ‘sarvodaya' and ‘swadharma'. I investigated: Can ‘swadharma' become a movement for uplifting societal values that are disintegrating?"
Her third work, a khadi installation of ‘topis', jackets, and flags -- "The Khadi March: Just Five Meters" -- probes the concept further, along with raising questions on Khadi.
Her concern? "Five meters of Khadi, the basic length needed to cover oneself."
The Delhi-based artist explored the idea of how an urban population could kickstart another social movement by buying five meters once a year as a ‘swadharma' towards the country.
"It was a call to action for the urban to engage with weavers, spinners, and handicraft makers," said Jyoti, who has received support from IGNCA and the Gujarat Lalit Kala Akademi for her curatorial attempts.
For her last installation, "Bound by Duty: Swaraj and Collectiveness", she turned to Gandhi's seminal work "Hind Swaraj".
"It was to seek answers to my own dilemmas. In his work, Gandhi reflects on self and social transformation through a critique of modern civilisation," she explained.
Interestingly, how Jyoti depicts collectiveness is through schools of fish -- as evident in the ‘ajrakh' scrolls she painted and exhibited.
"As an artist, my inspiration is those small organisms, who when in trillions collaborate together undersea, displace water to create ocean currents and waves," she said.
In her visual language, this is where her symbolism of ‘collective impact' or ‘collectiveness' finds genesis.
"Although righteous action must begin at an individual level, Gandhi made clear that 'dharma' cannot be performed simply for the self, but rather must be aimed at the service of others. Thus, 'Hind Swaraj' could not be achieved by a single fish in isolation, but rather through a deep and meaningful connection established and maintained by a community," she said.
On the confluence of art, society and polity, the widely-exhibited artist said that art is reflection of society at any given time.
"Passing down history with the next generation through art narratives, is connecting past with the present," she said, adding that an artist's idea of protest is to find expression in a democracy.
"Artists who are political agitators are creative individuals, who reach out to masses creatively for kindling awareness. This form of art is meaningful in any healthily growing society."
Her retrospective is open for public viewing till October 21 at the IGNCA here.