I lost a dear friend. We had been together the same evening that a fatal stroke brought Jyotsna Bhatt's life to an abrupt end, without the slightest warning to allow me time to be more emotionally prepared. She has been my teacher - attempting through her grace and patience to make the clumsy attempts of my enthusiasm as a young student, find coherent shape and form in the clay that she had such personal skill over. Her perceptive insight however allowed students like myself the joy to discover, however ineptly, the confidence to believe that we could create - and to build our skills not in the shadows of her prowess but in the reality of our abilities.
You had merely to meet her gaze to understand her strength of character. Born into a privileged family where she did not need to define her economic independence, Jyotsnaben chose instead to be an artist, training in sculpture and then finding her niche as a renowned ceramicist- carving her identity and life as she determined it for herself. Even within this space of alternative belonging, she completely shunned the world of big and elaborate statements as an artist, and created intimate ceramic works that contributes to the data-base of feminist endeavours by her unapologetic engagement with a world of feminine sensibilities.
I first met Jyotsnaben in the summer of 1976, when I enrolled as seventeen year old undergraduate student to study painting at the faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. The college climate was one that was steeped in heightened post colonial discourses that were fashioning alternative theoretical enquiries and formulating new narratives into the contemporary history of Indian art . In hindsight one can recognise that the art practice of an artist like Jyotsna Bhatt got eclipsed within this intellectual milieu simply because she chose not to prescribe to prevailing trends to fit in. Today in retrospect one realises the folly of such blinkered perspectives that did not include these feminist histories as significant in those days of recording contemporary art history. However this was absolutely no deterrent to Jyotsna's own artistic journey of enquiry. She was least concerned about conforming nor seeking sanctioned belonging as an artist. From the folk traditions of Kutch and Saurashtra or from the Japanese and Korean traditions of pottery, she amassed an eclectic premise of personal belonging within histories that she found empathy with. She cared little for focus or attention and preferred instead to absorb herself in hours of work at her potters wheel or at her work table, letting her fingers create the vocabulary of discourse with the world.
We were bonded through an empathy as women whose choices in life held quiet resistance and nonconformity. Her dignified presence infused me as a student to hold my courage at all times. I will deeply miss you Jyotsnaben - your passing away leaves a void in my life that will not be easy to fill my love.