ARTIST BHARTI PRAJAPATI’S SERIES ON PAANCH TATTVA, OR THE FIVE ELEMENTS
The canvases of artist Bharti Prajapati are deeply rooted in the heritage of India, yet her treatment is simultaneously fresh and contemporary. Her primary inspiration remains the tribal women of the Kutch desert and their surroundings of earthen pots, sand dunes and goats. She takes particular care to convey their intricate textile traditions, which is how many tribals of the region support themselves. This comes from Bharti’s own love of textiles, which she studied for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees and worked professionally as a textile designer for 10 years before becoming a full-time artist. She references a variety of Indian fabrics, such as bandhani, tie-and-dye and mirror work, creating another level of richness in her work.
Having worked with Bharti for many years now, her Earth Story series is still one of the closest to my heart — it beautifully combines the elements of ‘Paanch Tattva,’ or the five elements of water, earth, fire, air and space, and then compares these to the life stages of women. For instance, the element of water is associated with the purity of young women. The artist explains this more beautifully in her own words!
So, I recently asked Bharti to write about the multilayered symbolism in her paintings, and she generously replied with the following.
Earth Story — Paanch Tattva, or the Five Elements
by Bharti Prajapati
My series of paintings Earth Story seeks to narrate the intrinsic bond between the Five Elements, or the ‘Paanch Tattva’ consisting of earth, water, fire, air and space, with all living creatures. These five elements are present in our body, on the earth below and in the cosmos above. Earth Story is about the wonderful coexistence and interaction between the living beings and their surroundings.
Our planet has nurtured and sustained life abundantly with its immense wealth of elements. ‘Earth’ is forever giving and nourishing its beings; vital life-giving ‘Water’ flows in rivers through lengths and breadths; ‘Fire’ plays an important role in creation of new life; the ‘Air’ we breathe is yet another invisible element we are surrounded with; and lastly, ‘Space’ fills the vast universe above us. We experience and interact with the Five Elements at every moment in our lives.
This inclusive coexistence and interdependency has created a beautiful story around us. In fact, our celebrations in art, design and cultural traditions are often inspired by nature and these elements. Not only are my paintings about the elements and their connection with us, but I also recreate the patterns, colors and forms from our folk arts which are already inspired by them.
The color palette in each painting corresponds to the element depicted. Various shades of blue symbolize water, such as in my painting Ganga (the holy river), while the painting Suryamukhi (‘sunflower’) features a very warm palette with yellows and oranges to symbolize fire. I have used pink in my painting Vasant (‘spring’) to recall the flowering trees of spring. Like a fragrance, Mother Earth spreads her love for her family, and so the sweet aroma of flowers was what I thought represented this element the best.
The earth element strongly influenced my paintings Mitti (‘mud’) and Bhumi (‘earth’), so there I used the many shades of the land. The rustic patterns are inspired by folk art on wall paintings in rural Indian communities and represent seeds sprouting from the ground.
The last and most mystical element, space, was a challenge to depict in my painting Nakshatra (‘star’). I ultimately chose the night sky with a beautiful assembly of stars, as the magnitude and vast openness of the sky above is what space is truly about.
There is a further connection between the element symbolized and the age of the women in the paintings — younger girls are depicted with water, while older women are depicted with earth. The ‘Vasant’ and ‘Ganga’ elements allude to the vibrancy of youth, like flowing rivers. The mature stages of life recall the ‘Mitti’ element for stability, ‘Nakshatra’ for space for wisdom, and ‘Fire’ for the life a woman nourishes in her womb.
The women in my paintings are never alone but instead depicted in groups, often dancing. The energy flows from one to another, following the rhythm of the music and passing on the positive vibrations. The hands are in sync with the tune, and the long necks add to the visual arc of the body, creating a sense of dynamic motion. After the dance, the women are mentally recharged even if physically tired. This comes from my own experience, too!
As humans, we are empowered to encompass all the living creatures — animals, birds and plants, which bond around us — to form a beautiful inclusive family. Nature, along with its moods and patterns, is imbibed in our physical and physiological evolution. By forming a collage of colors and forms constantly visible around us, and discovering how we recreate them in our lifestyle, the Earth Story series intends to capture this essence of totality.
Thank you so much, Bharti.
To explore the artist’s exquisite stylistic sensibility and her incredible balance of colors, please visit https://laasyaart.com/bharti-prajapati/ to browse our curated collection of contemporary paintings by Indian artist Bharti Prajapati. You can also read her past interview on the blog and her guest post on inviting creativity into our daily lives. If you would like to make an appointment to see these works in person at our Indian art gallery in Palo Alto, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 650-770-9088.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan