Big Bets on Bhatt

Somnath Bhatt, 23, born and raised in Ahmedabad, is the toast of the western art world as his work gets selected by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

Indian contemporary artist Somnath Bhatt’s range of work and interest cannot be easily captured. Art, design, curation, art theory, and more. Maybe that is the reason his work is appreciated by many and he has been invited to art shows in the US, Canada, UK, Norway and UAE this year. Somnath’s earliest work began on his grandmother’s walls. He would draw before he could even speak. The drawings began on floors and grew up with him. His primary education took place at one of India’s longest standing experimental school, Shreyas, in Ahmedabad, which draws from both Montessori and Tagore traditions of education nurturing self-expression and self-actualization. He was only 17 and just finished his school when in 2012 he put up an exhibition in Ahmedabad on the life of India’s first woman labour leader Ansuya Sarabhai depicting so far neglected leadership role of this remarkable woman and her life’s work. The exhibition titled “Motaben” was one of its kinds that tried to capture “beyond nationalleaders of India’s freedom struggle”- leaders who have played critical role, but remained away from the national visibility. Later, the exhibition was invited to India International Centre (IIC) in Delhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Shilp Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai. Somnath draws his inspiration from the city of Ahmedabad, where he has lived all his life before moving to the USA to study at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). “Ahmedabad lives in so many times and so many spaces simultaneously offering a rich diversity to experience and expression”, Somnath said. At RISD, Somnath studied graphic design and after graduation, moved to New York but continued to draw from his life in India. He enjoys crafting details out of his spontaneous expressions on items that one may overlook rather easily: may it be what one sees out of his home window or the lotus flower on the hair bun of his grandmother.

 

Somnath, with two other artists, co-curated a show in New York titled, “Soon: South Asian Evocations and Becomings”. The show, overcrowded with new and established artists used future-oriented dialogues as a starting point and featured the works of emerging South Asian artists in print, video, photography, sound, and mixed media. The show was admired for banal to ornamental and pessimistic to the optimistic works that balanced complexity and contradiction with an eye on future. The artists whose works were featured at the show included Gudiya, Ilaveniljayapalan, Zarina Muhammed, Seema Mattu, Moshtari Hillal, Eashan Chaufla, Mohammed Fayaz and Aruni Dharmakirti, among others. “There is a lot to bring from my homeland India and unfold in the USA, interms of both, art and artists. It is necessary to create rich and many-faced dialogues”, he said while concluding the show. Somnath has enjoyed finding art in design and design in art overcoming the separation that is widely accepted by both the artists and designers. For example, he used famous designer Adrian Frutiger’s work itself to create a postcard series on the one hand and on the other, drawing inspiration from the Kumbh Mela. He took up weaving a rug all in ash grey with only a few small lines of vermilion. Somnath’s art has attracted interest in the US and Canada and he has been invited to show his work in Winnipeg, Canada, in March at an all artist-run space simply known as Window. He has also been invited to show his work at Dubai Art Book Fair 2018 with focus on South Asian artists. He will also be releasing a book of his drawings at the LA Art Book Fair in February in the US.

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