‘Art is the oxygen that keeps society alive’ – highlights from Jyoti C Singh Deo’s exhibition on coalminers

In this photo essay, we feature highlights from the unique exhibition titled Coal’I’Fied. Read, enjoy, share!
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Karnataka Chitakala Parishath was host to the recent exhibition Coal’I’Fied, a solo showcase by artist Jyoti C Singh Deo. See also our coverage of the earlier exhibitions Chitra Santhe, Moghi’s Tales, Team Yuva Collective, Aadipaaya, and Print India Biennale.

“As the title suggests, the vision of the exhibition is to bring out the importance coal has had on our daily lives and how the ecosystem evolves around this medium,” Jyoti explains, in a chat with YourStory.

The artistic journey

“Art is a means to explore my inner being. It is a life's journey being scaled onto the canvas. The more I search for myself, the more I realise about myself,” she adds.

Her childhood days in Jharkhand were often spent in areas where there were minerals all around, such as mica. “Jharkhand is a state so rich in minerals, and yet with high levels of poverty. It disturbs me to think of the apathy meted out to people and places,” she laments.

This is Jyoti’s third solo show. An earlier show in Bhubhaneswar was inaugurated by the Governor of Odisha. Her paintings have found their way to collections in the US, Dubai, and Singapore.

“My reward is the appreciation of my peers and senior artists on the work I do, and the connect my paintings establish with common citizens and society at large,” Jyoti explains.

Themes and styles

She describes her style as storytelling through artworks. “I took the viewers on a virtual tour to the coalfields. In my initial works, I chose coal as the artefact and used charcoal as a medium,” she describes.

For example, the works called Untouched Landscapes are drawn with ink on paper. “This was a style I used to paint in in the year 2000. But with a recent surgery of my right shoulder, I was restricted to just wrist movement. I absolutely HAD to paint, so I continued in this style, which you can say is mine now,” Jyoti says.

Her works depict human life and celebrations in the harsh conditions of the coalfields. “My works show people with their eyes closed. It’s actually the viewers’ eyes that are closed - it's we who are unaware and apathetic towards people in the coal mines,” she describes.

Only in the later works on display, titled The Gaze, does the viewer see mine workers with their eyes open. “This set of six portraits tells us that these miners exist and we should keep our eyes open,” Jyoti explains.

Pandemic and beyond

Jyoti says she worked every day during the pandemic. “Being stuck in the house led to an inner exploration. That further led to venturing into different styles and mediums of art,” she recalls.

“I never felt lonely or alienated. On the contrary I felt inspired by being alone. My family was away and I was all alone at home,” Jyoti explains.

She is already working on her next exhibition on the same theme. “Ideas are just flowing and the future seems very bright,” she enthuses, urging audiences to come back for her next shows.

Appreciation and messages

Jyoti says she was pleased with the response to her exhibition. “The feedback was immense and packed with emotions. Some viewers from coalmine areas had tears in their eyes as my paintings transported them to their childhood days," she describes.

"Other artists who visited the gallery were in awe as they found the works to be very innovative and packed with ideas,” she proudly says.

“Success to me would be if every person were to appreciate the message I am sending across, about coal as the benefactor. If people buy paintings, it's always good for the artist and that would add to the success,” she observes.

Jyoti calls for more art appreciation in society. “Every child you see is brilliant with colours and can draw what they think about. With education and careers, art fades away,” she laments.

“Schools and colleges should have regular visits by artists. Older people need to look at art as an investment instead of hoarding gold and diamonds. Art, after all, is the oxygen that keeps society alive,” Jyoti affirms.

She also offers tips for aspiring artists. “Continue painting each day. Do not be bogged down by failure, or get elated by success. It is art and its expression that matters,” Jyoti signs off.

Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new avenues to apply your creativity?

Jyoti Singh Deo

(All exhibition photographs were taken by Madanmohan Rao on location at the exhibition.)

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(This copy was updated to correct a typo)

Edited by Teja Lele

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