Multimedia Artworks

Since the 1970s Jyoti Duwadi has created a multifaceted body of work. His sculptures, paintings, drawings, installations, and digital art reflect an openness to both chance and discovery.

Jyoti experiments with a wide and remarkable array of natural materials and human-made objects, including industrial sanding belts, bamboo, beeswax, and earth gathered from around the world. The artist displays an innate ability to transform ordinary, discarded objects, such as the humble egg carton, into sculptures.

Often the results are humorous, as in his series of waxed sculptures – an old travel iron, repaired tea pot, antique automobile gas funnel – that can be appreciated for their relationship to Pop Art. Jyoti diverges from this 1960s movement by accentuating an object’s formal design and creating sensuous surfaces.

Many of Jyoti’s artworks, made from natural elements that express the intrinsic beauty of Earth’s forms and colors, are intimately scaled for personal reflection. By contrast, his views about war and peace, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity take the form of large-scale sculptural installations and remediation projects involving community participation.

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Jyoti’s art first developed as he began translating the power of language into visual form. Over time, the imagery in his drawings, paintings, and artist books were informed by prehistoric cave paintings, aboriginal pictographs, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. The rhythm, syncopation and improvisational aspects of Jazz that accompanied him through the early morning hours working in the studio guided his compositions. Jyoti purchased a saxophone to make his own music and the haunting sounds in many of his videos are electronically composed.

The art and rituals that Jyoti absorbed from his native Nepal inspire the rich palette of colors and Tantric geometries in much of his work. While attending the Besant Theosophical School in Varanasi, India in the 1960s, Jyoti was exposed to a fusion of eastern and western mystic traditions that seek to convey the divine essence of nature. Later exposure to the art of Wassily Kandinsky, an early modernist who also embraced theosophy, reinforced Jyoti’s personal style of abstraction, as did the art of Paul Klee and abstract expressionists Jackson Pollack and Adolph Gottlieb.

Jyoti began drawing and painting in 1973 while enrolled at Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont University) in California. Five years later, he had his first solo exhibition at Pitzer College’s Salathe Gallery. After completing his dissertation, “Kathmandu: Concepts for Rejuvenation” and earning a PhD in Government, Jyoti devoted himself to making art.

Jyoti lived in a two-story carriage house on the campus of Claremont University, where he worked part-time as coordinator of the audiovisual department. He taught himself video using the equipment in his department. His first film, “Sunrise on a Planetary Dream” (1983-1985) reveals a microscopic view into the cosmic imagery of twenty enamel paintings from the late 1970s. Jyoti highlights the intricate details that defined his technique of swirling and blending vibrant enamel colors purchased at the local hardware store. The imagery morphed back and forth between the biological and the galactic.

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In 1984, Jyoti began sculpting palm fronds and pods that he collected from his friend’s Coachella Valley date tree farm. He transformed these soft and sinuous materials into delicate, interlocking compositions balanced in space. 

The artist soon began carving large pieces of raw wood brought to him by friends and arborists. Highlighting the wood’s ring patterns and color while contrasting rough exterior and smoothly sanded interior surfaces, Jyoti re-contextualized a new appreciation for the beauty of the tree. The fine craftsmanship and biomorphic shapes of Isamu Noguchi inspired Jyoti’s work during this time. In 1990 he exhibited a selection of sculptures at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

Formative influences on Jyoti’s work during this period include the other-worldly, high-desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, where he often camped. In 1988, he staged a site-specific installation of sculptures (titled “33” after the number of carved redwood and basswood sculptures on view). Jyoti was also inspired by southwest Native American culture that reminded him of Tibetan art and rituals as well as the art scene in Los Angeles during the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Jyoti lived in New York City and worked for a brief time at the New Museum. He continued making videos, including the documentary “Fragile Ecologies: Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions” (1992) that circulated with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. While living in a small apartment, he filled intimate sketchbooks with delicate pen-and-ink drawings. During this period, the artist’s mark-making became more calligraphic and whimsical.

Jyoti returned to Kathmandu regularly to visit his family, exhibit at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, and create public artworks that addressed ecological and social issues. His “Myth of the Nagas and the Kathmandu Valley Watershed, “ sponsored by the Asian Development Bank in 1993, was the first contemporary art installation in Nepal. 

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Jyoti later collaborated with the mayor of Kathmandu and the Parphing Village Council to develop two separate public parks, “Shantiko Samjhana – Remembering Peace” in the city and countryside. Within the context of these site-specific interventions that restored habitats through multidisciplinary art-making, Jyoti continued the direction forged by his father and grandfather.

Both men were activists who lived with their families in exile in Darjeeling and Varanasi, India. At a great personal cost measured in years of incarceration, they spread the message of freedom and social change that inspired generations of Nepali people. Jyoti’s installation promoting peace during the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, “Value: Measuring the Cost of Violence” (2001), directly builds on this progressive tradition.

In 1996, Jyoti moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he began working with red clay found along the shore of Kerr Lake. When dried, ground, and mixed with gum Arabic, it’s deep earth tones perfectly complemented the handmade paper that he brought home from Nepal. He supplemented his palette with pigments collected on journeys through the Himalayas, Death Valley, and the Kootenay River Valley. Friends soon began contributing earth from distant lands, which Jyoti brushed, rubbed, and scraped into linen canvas that hung unframed like a Tibetan tanka.

In 2006, Jyoti began re-contextualizing functional objects  into artworks by shaping large bamboo mats used for drying grains in Nepal. Taking cues from the flexible woven fibers, he configured graceful and bold origami-like shapes. Jyoti also layered beeswax into sculptures constructed from large cane baskets in response to the collapse of honey bee colonies. It’s smooth, aromatic properties convey a sense of healing.

Jyoti integrated many of these mixed media works into his multi-sensory installations at the Sundaram Tagore Galleries in New York and Hong Kong. In “Red Earth-Vanishing Ice” (2008), he addressed climate change and the global scarcity of water. In 2012, Jyoti interpreted China’s traditional connection to earth, water, fire, metal and wood in “Wu Xing – Five Elements,” which ushered in the Year of the Dragon in Hong Kong and was reviewed in Asian Art News magazine.

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In 2009 Jyoti moved to  Bellingham, Washington, creating art that reflects his explorations of the Pacific Northwest landscape. In a studio facing the snow-capped, Canadian Coast mountains, which were compared to the Himalayas by early explorers, he has found new materials and inspirations, including Northwest aboriginal cultures. Jyoti’s recent paintings and sculptures integrate earth colors gathered across the border in British Columbia with recycled sanding belts marked by the trees of Pacific Northwest forests.

By stretching and folding used sanding belts given to him by Whatcom and Skagit wood workers, Jyoti transforms discarded industrial objects into paintings, curving wall reliefs, and three-dimensional sculptures. The surfaces are defined by a mixture of media, including earth, turmeric, beeswax, and resin wood. Jyoti often accentuates his work with shilajit, a jet black, tar-like substance, tapped from Himalayan rock crevices. Best known for its healing prosperities in the practice of Ayurveda medicine, it boldly animates the artist’s meditative and mysterious writing.

These works coincide with the artist’s most recent installations that continue his exploration of climate change. For the traveling exhibition, Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art (2013-2018), Jyoti was commissioned to create “Melting Ice,” which he constructed by configuring frozen blocks into a monolithic cube embedded with glowing LEDs. Reminiscent of the majestic, morphing shapes of disappearing glaciers and icebergs, the sculptures gradually succumbed to the surrounding warm air. Its lifespan depended on the vagaries of the weather where it was installed. At the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and the Weisman Art Museum, the work endured over three months, but lasted just four weeks at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham. It vanished after only a few, brief days at the El Paso Museum of Art.

Jyoti continues to work in a variety of media simultaneously. While his art traces a personal journey, it also calls attention to both nature’s beauty and the precarious relationship between humans and the environment. What guides his art is the belief in the potential of creativity to catalyze positive change.

Barbara Matilsky
Art Historian & Curator