Modern art painting is characterized by constant transformation. Each transformation represents itself more closely to nature and its sublime manifestation of beauty. This created different phases in the long history of painting during the modern period. The post-colonial period in Indian art witnessed similar phases of innovation and alteration. These phases were initiated by an artist or group of artists inspired by diverse ideologies. One such phase emerged in the artists urge to find inspiration in primitive or tribal art. Jagdish Swaminathan, a renowned Indian artist and radical visionary, stressed the need to find beauty out of natural spontaneity in the decorative and ritual arts of central Indian tribal groups. Swaminathan’s visionary idea took concrete shape in the foundation and work of Bharat Bhavan. Bharat Bhavan, a premier cultural arts center was established in the city of Bhopal the capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Bharat Bhavan’s long 31 year journey into the visual arts of painting, printmaking and sculpture has been marked by the coalescing of different art streams, a distinct and unique achievement for this institution which was described as the “cultural Capital of India” at the time of its inauguration. Bharat Bhavan has served a unique function of providing artistic space free from the inhibitions of syllabus-oriented art practices. The contemporary artistic environment at the time of its establishment has molded the trajectory of its three decades long journey. The artistic environment during the 1960’s and 1970’s was characterized by the dilemma regarding the definition of art for the non-European world. The emergence of a new generation of artists after independence who were exposed to canons of western art by their European academic syllabus, were anxious to find new meaning in art indigenous to their own traditions. The Western world began discovering the true meaning of art in the local traditions of indigenous communities and in the primary psychological impulses of the artist (abstract expressionism). Indian artists also turned towards indigenous cultural themes for their artistic expression. Bharat Bhavan played an important role in this transition as it provided access to the rich heritage of folk and tribal art of India, bridging past traditions with present techniques in a modern environment.
In the last three decades the periodical gathering of artists at Bharat Bhavan from different parts of the country and society; urban, rural and tribal led to the growth of a distinct artistic environment. This environment was characterized by the constant interaction between different art forms which evolved from the assemblance of artists from diverse backgrounds. Thus European classical abstraction with its tilt towards eastern spiritual symbols emerged in the work of S.H. Raza. Similarly, American abstract expressionism was quite visible in the work of Ambadas. Despite their affinity with international stylistic traditions these works depict the serenity and vivacity of Indian reality, both apparent and disguised.
The most characteristic form of the evolving artistic environment at Bharat Bhavan was the harmonious juxtaposition of another vibrant art tradition of India, namely folk or tribal art. Through the daring zeal and encouragement of J. Swaminathan, who took a personal interest in traveling and collecting tribal art from different parts of Madhya Pradesh, tribal paintings of the Gond and Bhil tribes got national and international exposure. J. Swaminathan, the major spirit behind the art movement named “1890”, proposed an alternative aesthetic for the modern art scene in India. Swaminathan molded the path for the harmonious juxtaposition of both modern and traditional painting in India. Thus urban and folk, modern and tribal painting traditions flourished side by side, which enriched the whole artistic environment. The painting talent of Jangarh Singh Shyam is an important example in the role of discovery and promotion of tribal painting traditions by J. Swaminathan.
2013 marked the 31st commemoration of Bharat Bhavan’s dynamic journey. During the last 31 years artists from various parts of the country frequented Bharat Bhavan and practiced their craft. Many prominent artists have worked closely with Bharat Bhavan, such as Anant Nikam, Jangarh Singh Shyam, Akbar Padamsee, Laxma Goud, Prabhakar Barwe, Ambadas Khobragade, Bhupen Khakhar, Shanti Dave, Aparna Kaur, Amba Das, Arpita Singh, Suresh Chaudhri and hundreds of other artists of national and international fame.