Along with familiar feelings of pride and patriotism while watching the annual parade, the crisp morning of India’s 72nd Republic Day also brought the news of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Padma awards. Among the 107 awardees of the Padma Shri this year is the acclaimed Bhil artist, Bhuri Bai. As the fourth highest civilian award in our Republic, the much-coveted Padma Shri award is conferred upon individuals for their distinguished services in various fields, such as art, science, literature, public affairs, trade, and more. Thus, this honourable recognition of Bhuri Bai’s extraordinary journey as an indigenous artist and her contribution to the genre is timely and significant.
Even timelier is MAP’s latest exhibition, Bhuri Bai: My Life is an Artist, which charts the life of the artist in an autobiographical manner, right from her childhood to her move to Bhopal at the age of 17, her meeting with Swaminathan, and her many other experiences as a contemporary artist.
Hailing from a remote village called Pithol in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district, Bhuri Bai began her artistic journey by painting on the walls of her house. Much like most tribal communities in India, the Bhil sect has its unique set of rituals, traditions, and celebrations, one of which is the practice of the Pithora mural painting. Historically, these murals were painted solely by male head priests on the walls of the houses in the village. Bhuri Bai would closely follow these artistic rituals as a child. She slowly began to paint over the mud walls of her own house, and as she grew older, during her free time as a construction worker at Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal. It was here that the acclaimed artist, J. Swaminathan, discovered Bhuri Bai’s talent and encouraged her to pursue her passion professionally. A chance encounter and a leap of faith led Bhuri Bai to the next monumental chapter in her life and career. Not only is Bhuri Bai among the first in her community to paint on paper and canvas, but also the first woman to gain recognition for her independent talent as an artist.
MAP’s latest online exhibition on the artist is significant not only for its celebration of her talent, but also in its curatorial approach. As an artist, Bhuri Bai is well known and her works have received tremendous international acclaim; however, her story has often been narrated by either critics or curators on her behalf, with almost no personal involvement of the artist. This exhibition seeks to reverse that and has in fact been put together in complete collaboration with Bhuri Bai, with numerous conversations and recordings of the artist forming the basis of the exhibition’s narrative.
Don’t miss this chance to explore the life and work of our country’s most recent Padma Shri awardee. View the exhibition here!