Shweta Bhattad is a multi-media installation performance artist and sculptor based in India. Bhattad is most well known for her captivating and sometimes shocking demonstrations illuminating controversial and taboo subjects.
Bhattad’s fearless displays of allyship for marginalized communities are reflected in polarizing performances typically conducted in front of an audience. Her work focuses on women’s education, rights, and safety within India, specifically targeting sexual abuse. Her work also calls for bringing attention to the farming crisis in India, the environment, and social justice.
Her activism and art align with the majority of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. More specifically, Bhattad’s work focuses on Good Health and Well-Being, Gender Equality, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Through her performances and installations, Bhattad sheds light on gender inequality, poverty, and overconsumption and encourages her audiences to participate in bigger-picture conversations with one another.
Bhattad was born and raised in Nagpur, India, where she received her bachelor's degree in art at a local university. Later in 2010, she received her MFA in sculpture from M.S.U Baroda.
Although Bhattad received her education in sculpture, she always had a love for and calling for performance art. According to the Vancouver Bienalle, she consistently tried to explore various art mediums and possibilities; however, performance art is what she is most known for.
She is also the founder and president of the Gram Art Project, which highlights a village in India, Paradsinga, and the community that lives within it. “We are a group of farmers, artists, women, and makers,” writes Bhattad on the Gram Art Projects website. “We are a people of different ideas and identities. But the idea and identity that connects us all and makes us a collective is that we are all all are living and working in and around a village and are concerned about it." Currently, the project is working on BEEJ PARVA which are hand-made firecrackers filled with sweets and seeds, according to her artist statement.
In 2013, during her art residency with Bamboo Curtain Studio in Taiwan, she performed Bharat Mata in Taiwan, based on her experience as a woman in India and the struggles that she has endured. The performance recorded and edited by Cameron Hanson depicts Bhattad walking along the shores of a beach as passerbys swim in the water and lounge in the sand.
The five-minute long video is of Bhattad as Bharat Mata, Mother India, or Bharatamba, a four-armed goddess who is the national personification of India. Like Bharat Mata, she holds the flag of India in one hand and the lotus flower in another. However, unlike the common images of Bharat Mata, Bhattad is wearing a white sari that is accompanied by a contrasting red chastity belt completed with a gold padlock.
In her third hand, Bhattad holds large pliers and begins to cut away at the red chastity belt she is wearing. Her performance is a commentary on sexism and purity culture within India. As the demonstration ends, she cuts the belt off entirely, freeing herself, she then looks into the camera and slowly backs away into the ocean.
In 2014, she also created the I Have a Dream, a community project and worldwide farming initiative. According to the Vancouver Bienalle, Bhattad wanted to create a performance that would bring attention to the farmlands that are being destroyed around the world. She encouraged other artists around the world to collaborate with their local farmers and grow a garden in the shape of “I Have a Dream,” written in their language with the intention of “empowering the farmers of the community.”
During her residency in Squamish, British Columbia Bhattad teamed up with local farmers in the area to create their performance of I Have a Dream. Bhattad created and sculpted large wooden letters that spelt out the sentence to accompany the farmer's garden in Squamish.
According to She the People, the goal of I Have a Dream is to bring attention to the diminishing available farming land around the world all the while engaging the community to participate in something that brings them together. Bhattad explains she hopes her work, “can be a catalyst for change.”
In one of her more polarizing performances during her 2015 Khoj International Art Residency, Bhattad barries herself for the cause. In her installation called Farmers Haat, she lies in a white coffin and is buried by the local farming community. She is dressed in a pure white sari and is lowered two feet into the ground, where dirt and soil are tossed upon her and her coffin. According to Calediscope, she remained underground for two hours. Her performance is a commentary on the exploitation of Indian farmers and how the food Westerners eat is being grown in a corrupt system.
Bhattad continues to perform art installations that she posts from time to time on her Instagram. She continues to work with the Gram Art Project to create eco-friendly and exploitation-free alternatives to mass-marketed products that bring her community in Paradsinga together.
“Today, we see the exploitation that marginalized communities and the environment has to suffer as a result of the use of crackers, fireworks, excessive consumption of sugar, dairy & oil-based products.” BEEJ PARVA is a co-friendly, exploitation-free and meaningful alternative to firecrackers that do not ruin the planet, nor cause harm to others,” Bhattad shared on the Gram Art Project page.