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Heart to Heart, Head to Head.Aashna Abrol in conversation with Jayasri Burman

Hailing from a family of artists, which include Sakti Burman & Maya Burman as well as married to another artist Paresh Maity, Jayasri Burman’s art exhibits the varied encounters she has had to through in the past six decades of her remarkable career. She displays an inordinate enchantment towards painting distinct creations based on nature from when she was young. The heart of her artworks gathers its vitality from the countless festivities she grew up seeing, celebrating and experiencing, which left a fascinating impression on her mind. Born and raised in a Bengali family, which is renowned for its unique culture, she was always influenced by the gaieties, the attire, the customs and the anecdotes of powerful women. On the completion of her education - Masters Degree in Arts from the Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata - she arrived in Paris to sharpen her skills in printmaking under the proficient supervision of Monsieur Ceizerzi.

Artist Jayasri Burman with Aashna Abrol

Quoting her from one of her previous interviews, she said, "On starry nights, while we sat on the terrace, our elders would relate mythological stories and all those characters would mesh into themes that emerged as art motifs in my work. Now, when I am asked where I get my mythological references for my work, my answer is that they do not coincide with any authentic narrative but are figments of my childhood imagination that have surfaced on the canvas as figures and forms that I paint." This quote/explanation deeply impacted my understanding of Jayasri Ji’s work.

Throughout Jayasri Ji’s art, one can sense her admiration towards nature and its magnificent spectacles. It is noted in her works and disposition that she responded well to her presentiments. It's almost as if she puts her deepest and most honest emotions on canvas, which is a colourful manifestation of her thoughts and the truest expression of her art. Shaped by her experiences, the paintings are filled with mythic elements - novel hybrid animals with human heads and female figures embodied in strong rich hues.

Prakriti, 2018, Watercolour on Paper, 18 x 18 inches

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As I began speaking with her, I wanted to understand everything; however, most importantly there were a few concepts that we spoke about in this interview.

AA: What did your art primarily (pre and post-Santiniketan) speak about and what were the divergences you took from it as you progressed in this art journey? Also, please speak about your journey from the dark works in the 1980s to colourful ones in the late '90s.


“During Shantiniketan, I learned to observe nature, but the first lesson which broke the boundaries for me was when we were taught to think on my own.”

This inspired my creativity - from pen and ink, I went on to detailing and etching, and even won the National Academy Award. Thereafter, my experiences involved travels, where I saw the great expressionists, which encouraged me to make impasto oil paintings.

During the 80s, I had gone through severe personal trauma and was trying to come out of the multiple challenges. Hence, my paintings were dark - the women in my paintings look at the outer world, beyond, where they yearn to come out from darkness to light. The 90s, on the other hand, was a celebration of my travels - from Himachal to Rajasthan to the colourful palette of Europe, I was liberated and found freedom through my expression.

Untitled, Mixed Media on Paper, 24 x 24 inches

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AA: What are your religious beliefs? Are they different from your spiritual beliefs? (The Myth of Mayuri)


“My religious and spiritual beliefs are aligned with the holistic purpose of humanity.”

AA: What inspired Sacred Feminine? Please speak with us about the process in as much detail as you can. Speak to us, also, about the eyes of the woman in the artworks.

JB: All components in my canvas contribute towards a holistic meaning - they showcase the intersectionality of a harmonious landscape comprising love and peace. Born and brought up in Bengal, Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Saraswati Puja and Kali Puja were not mere reasons of celebration, but also a deep understanding of the celebration of the qualities these goddesses embodied.

“Whether it is one of prosperity or education, or to have the voice and confidence to overthrow evil - the Sacred Feminine became a dialogue as I witnessed these qualities in those around me.”

Yes, eyes are important to me, in men, women, animals, birds - because their expression is essential. As an artist, I feel till my characters have an enlivening quality about them they are not complete.

AA: Swayamvar is a spectacular concept. Would you like to speak about how you approach this topic in your artwork?


“Swayamvar is about liberty, of choice, of having the right to eliminate, to select, and its relevance is all the more present today.”

Swayamvar, 2017, Watercolor Pen & Ink on Paper, 7 x 5 feet

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AA: Would you be able to speak about the borders that you use in your artworks and the textures that we see in your artwork? Do they specifically signify or symbolise anything? Or does the requirement of every artwork demand a certain texture and treatment?

JB: In my works, a border is essential because I identify with the intricate detailing of the Indian miniature painting tradition. It is not that every painting has a border, but it comes organically when the story needs it. The structure of a border has a history of Indian textile and design. It is as much a revived memory, as its presence is aesthetic quality. I start and finish with a pen and in-between layer with colours. I believe this brings about richness and density of texture which creates an atmosphere of storytelling.

She has won several prestigious awards; in 1985, Jayasri won the National Award and was subsequently invited to the President’s House as an Artist-in-Residence. She has also been honoured by the Department of Posts & Ministry of Women & Child Development by the Indian Government 2007.

Along with many solo and group exhibitions, ‘Mythical Universe’ and ‘Antaryatra’ are the two book publications she has worked on and released. Her works have been exhibited across India and abroad, in Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Germany, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco and many other places.

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