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Raghvi Bhatia
b. 1996, New Delhi 


Artist Statement 


Whether theists or atheists, we isolate and interrogate conditions of existence. Religion can be defined as a strategy for interrogating the human experience. Contemporary art does the same, and as such, I believe it is an organised religion.


I hail from Delhi, a city once famous for religious pluralism that is exponentially growing more sectarian. I have witnessed firsthand how integral aspects of society, including ritual, ceremony, sacred spaces and community gathering are wielded by organised religion. Through my practice, I recognise that institutional religion does not own these moments. I have developed my artistic practice as a religious sect, an offshoot of contemporary art, to salvage these aspects of life.


My personal investment in craft has rooted my sect in material. The three saints of my sect are material manifestations of recurring elements across religions. They are - Glass (manifestation of Light and Purity), Skin (Self and Labour) and Water (Ablution and Ritual).  As part of my sect, I have created a sacred language, a new craft and ritual objects, based on these saints.


The sacred language I have created is based on Zellige, a Moorish mosaic craft wherein glazed tiles are individually chiselled into one of 1300 distinct shapes. All shapes have specific names, and fit into one-another in multiple ways to create thousands of patterns. I have assembled a lexicon of these names to translate Zellige patterns into poetry. Employing each shape as a logogram, the resulting sacred language has a uniquely non-linear syntax, like the radial patterns of Zellige. 


Zellige is just one of many hyperlocal crafts that flourished under the patronage of religion. Across the world, a myriad of sacrosanct crafts consonantly utilise glass seed beads. The first such beads were made in India in 1500BCE. European industrial fabrication of the beads allowed for their worldwide dissemination during colonial endeavours. A currency of colonisers, the beads were nevertheless incorporated into existing craft traditions by indigenous communities. My sect has fostered a new craft wherein I fuse together the beads, emphasizing their materiality while retaining their distinctive form, to counter the form/material binary - where the former overpowers the latter.


The binary, a concept omnipresent across religions, perpetuates the idea of a universe filled with unequal opposites; preeminently, the clean vs. the unclean. All world religions prescribe ablution rituals through which one may become free of uncleanness - both material (for hygiene) and immaterial (respecting conventions). I create ritual objects that blur internal and external boundaries which maintain the clean/unclean hierarchy. These objects explore uncleanness not just as the antithesis to purity, but also as a site of infinite potential. If cleanness implies order and restriction, uncleanness by implication is unlimited, providing the foundation for pattern.


Framing my practice as a sect upends conventional conceptions of religion, creating room to question complicated notions of purity, morality and absolutism. The sect, a local religion, changes tenets depending upon where it is practiced. It provides a coherent worldview to organize my practice and govern my work through symbols, stories and rituals.

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