Texas Tough: Amita Bhatt – Depends Who You Ask

Amita tells her tale.

Amita tells her tale.

A group of individuals gathers for an informal “Black Box” lunch at Blue Star. What next?

First up: Amita Bhatt.  Initially, the paper rustling and chip crunching was a little distracting – not for long.

As Amita tentatively launched into her story you were carried away, as if by Scheherezade. We were surrounded by her 9′ x 12′ drawings  – charcoal on rough canvas. Humble materials and unforgiving media relating a complex and quizzical view of the world. She described the scene in Mumbai of the early 90’s.  She found herself in the middle of the worst violence the country had seen since the partition of India, involved with the mafia and one of the most deadly men in the country.  To say the least, it was a difficult time and she was nearly killed twice. In an attempt to escape this violence she moved to the US in 1994. And this is where the search for meaning began to unfold.

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Her art comes “from everything” – mythology, that which exists in multiple cultures as well as those mythologies she creates with her own imagery. Her work, certainly from the beginning and continuing today, was an attempt to find a way to disengage from the very emotional response that she had in dealing with all the violence. A feverish search for understanding. She shared her exploration of philosophy, albeit brief considering the constraints of our context. The concepts of dealing with “how things are and not why things are.”  Tantric vs. Hinduism: One path that says yes to everything the other forbids, the goal of enlightenment shared by both. And more. It is clear that Amita has spent her adult life attempting to explore what makes us human, for better or worse, by mining all that is accessible. All these disparate figures emerge in her works.

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When I first glimpsed the work in the opening night hubbub that is a Blue Star opening, it seemed spare and complex all at once. The air was cool and relatively quiet in comparison to the crush and noisy excitement of discovery. I immediately drew a connection with the works of Heironymus Bosch, the 15th century painter who implemented fantastical and horrific imagery in his renderings of morality lessons. Not an imitation in any way. No. A very distinct identity at work here. She chooses to work in black and white in this series because it is all about the shades of gray in her world view.  Each panel takes 10 days to a month to produce. As Amita says, each must “sit with thoughts.” The inspiration can be very random and seems very much a stream of consciousness process. A flow with no pre-planning. There is humor, parody, ambiguity, confusion about right and wrong and “who decides.”  Tantric imagery is traditionally rendered as very “flat,” and so this is as well. The panels are hung in no particular order and the arrangement changes with the venue.

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In her exploration for meaning, she says that exposure to the news makes her feelings very dark, but she does have hope. “Political hegemony is breaking down a little bit.” Amita has faith in spirituality but questions all religions – “I don’t know how much good it has really done. I like the idea of religion, but we haven’t done that much with it. I question all of it and what we’ve turned religion into.”

I like the idea of questioning everything. Knowledge is power, and this work is very powerful in its self-conscious searching and reaching. There is no claim of knowing the answers. Just a sure probing of all that moves across her path. A woman unfolding.

See this work until August 24, 2013. Blue Star Contemporary.

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