Art News & Views

Mother and Child: A Screenplay

by  Jyoti Bhatt

Let me put down this story in parts the way a filmmaker may do.

Scene # 1, Period: Hot Summer of 1956.

After taking my examination for Post-Diploma, Painting, at M S University of Baroda, I travelled in Saurashtra on foot for about 15 days. I did not have a camera then. I made a large number of sketches including the one showing the 'Mother and Child' from the exterior wall of a seafarer's hut at a coastal village of Mahuva (Dist. Bhavnagar). It must be a depiction of a tiger or panther embedded in the psyche of villagers. I have never found a cat, just a house cat, depicted in their wall drawings or embroidered images.

Scene # 2, 1960/61, Place: Fine Arts College, M S Uni., Baroda.

I was appointed as a teacher in the Painting department (1959) of M S Uni. I made this print at the Graphic Department. (This print is the first stage, but then I had made a second 'block' for adding some surface texture and tonal variations.)

Scene #3, 1963 (rainy season), Place: Office of American Center at Mumbai.

I had applied for Fulbright Grant and after going through some primary routine tests, was asked to appear there for a further scrutiny. I was asked a lot of questions but no one seemed to be interested in seeing my works. Taking this print there with me in a crowd was very difficult. So, I suggested to the interviewing committee to see my work. When I showed this print, an Indian artist on the committee remarked: “But, isn't this a copy of Picasso?” This was a bit too annoying to accept. So I told (I can't remember the exact words but it was quite close to this:) “It is our misfortune that we know a few things about Western art, cubism and Picasso from some books on our shelves, but have no idea about our own culture and the language and its traditionally depicted or expressed visual vocabulary. The African Sculptures that Picasso had seen inspired him to gift 'Cubism' to the art world. Had he seen this and many such other Indian images, he might have created a much more lyrical form of Cubism. However, in this print I have tried to express the spirit that Picasso was able to see in African images. But, apart from that, this print is based solely on my sketch of a wall drawing from a village in Gujarat, made by an illiterate village girl or woman who has no idea about Picasso, France or Africa. I have borrowed only the concept of the original sketch. My contribution to this was then to transform it into a print by providing some of the graphic qualities -- mainly the sharp lines achieved by cutting the surface of a linoleum piece with a sharp tool."

Scene # 4: Period: 1964-66.

Jyoti got the Grant, went to the US and studied printmaking for two years.

My script for the short film ends here.


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