An introduction to Pune's mural painter: Abha Bhagwat

Part one of the two part series on mural painter, Abha Bhagwat, of Pune
An introduction to Pune's mural painter: Abha Bhagwat
People's wall painting mural led by Abha Bhagwat at the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary at Yerawada, PuneFrom the Facebook Page of Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

We met Abha Bhagwat for the first time when she led the community painting of an approach wall to the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Large facades are not easy, and painting birds found at the sanctuary and in a style much like Gond art, even more difficult. Besides, getting all kinds of volunteers, some who may have never held a brush, to lend a hand in creating that final work of art, must have been an immense challenge. We got chatting with Abha and realised an interview with her would need to be part two of our series on her.

Wall painting mural by people lead by Abha at the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Wall painting mural by people lead by Abha at the Dr Salim Ali Bird SanctuaryFrom the Facebook page of Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

Abha Bhagwat has a formal training in Fine Art and Art Education, with a Masters in Indology in ancient Indian art forms and living.

Abha lending finishing touches to the wall painting mural by the people
Abha lending finishing touches to the wall painting mural by the peopleFrom the Facebook page of Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

She's a trained classical dancer and singer who gave public performances, later focused on one art that she felt suited her “atheist thinking, the most”.

Abha lending a finishing touch to the people's painting at Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Abha lending a finishing touch to the people's painting at Dr Salim Ali Bird SanctuaryFrom the Facebook page of Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

Her Masters in Fine Arts from Academy of Art University, San Francisco, USA, was a “life changing experience”. Her husband’s work took them to the USA, Japan, Thailand, France and south India over the next 10 years.

Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Yerawada Pune painted wall mural by people participation, lead by Abha
Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Yerawada Pune painted wall mural by people participation, lead by AbhaAdil Hussain Ali on Facebook Page of Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

After returning to Pune, India as a mother of two children, she experienced how art blossoms in a child. She studied ‘Child Art’, and realized the immense importance of the role of Fine Arts in a person’s life.

Rural school in Rajasthan
Rural school in RajasthanFrom Abha's collection

Art should not be practiced only for production because there's much to gain through the process of art itself. “However, the current art scenario focuses only on results and feeds competition. Competition does not make anyone happy, not children, not adults, not professional artists”, says Abha. No wonder, she was invited wherever there was any “painting in collaboration” in common spaces,

Sustainable Living Store, Pune
Sustainable Living Store, PuneFrom Abha's collection

A subsequent diploma in sustainable management and nature conservation helped Abha connect to the environment around her better and nature became the hero in her paintings.

Old Age Home, Pune - finger painting in progress
Old Age Home, Pune - finger painting in progressFrom Abha's collection

When Abha started to do participatory wall paintings including everyone who wished to paint, she was amazed to see that the results were mesmerizing. Everyone including just a year old kids to 80+ year-olds enjoyed being part of the painting without worrying about the result. Adding finesse to the painting was her responsibility.

Anandwan - leprosy-affected hand painting
Anandwan - leprosy-affected hand paintingFrom Abha's collection

Other special participants have been autistic children and adults, those with Downs syndrome, physically challenged, leprosy afflicted adults, partially blind children and other differently-abled people. It was a pleasant surprise for her to see them working fluently on a huge painting with minimal guidance.

Wall painting - home interiors
Wall painting - home interiorsFrom Abha's collection

Abha also does commissioned solo paintings from clients who like to have her art on their walls. She writes extensively about art - over 75 articles published in well-known periodicals, and now is working on a book.

Tribal people - Chandrapur
Tribal people - ChandrapurFrom Abha's collection

With over 300 participatory wall paintings, in urban and rural Maharashtra, she also did projects in rural areas of Karnataka, Rajasthan and Manipur.

Dancing Deer and Amur Falcon - Manupur
Dancing Deer and Amur Falcon - ManupurFrom Abha's collection

While commissioned work for homes of the rich gave her satisfactory artistic experience and certainly more money, it was painting for the poor that that added to a better understanding of the nation and helped her explore art and self to a deeper level. It sensitized her to the age old relationship of life and art in tribal areas.

Rangjaa - an art group founded to uplift unkempt public places in Pune city
Rangjaa - an art group founded to uplift unkempt public places in Pune cityFrom Abha's collection

Rangjaa is an art group she founded in 2019, which works through art to uplift ugly unkempt public places in Pune city. Art can transform and make the city liveable, it makes life liveable; it can be appreciated by all, right from the beggar on the street to an affluent person. Some of her paintings along the river bed were washed off in floods, but that does not bother Abha. She says they too have their own life span. She likes this quality of having no control over the life of her painting’s.

School in Chakan
School in ChakanFrom Abha's collection

Abha enjoys teaching children, and helping them explore their tremendous potential. She feels children must be introduced to great artists right from an early age, which helps them in developing love for the art and escalates their aesthetic quotient.

Pune Slums
Pune SlumsFrom Abha's collection

Corner.Network found Abha and her work fascinating and felt it would be great to share her thoughts here. Abha can be reached at abha.bhagwat@gmail.com

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