A scholar, museologist and educationist, Jyotindra Jain is the former director of the National Handloom and Handicrafts Museum and was the first dean of the School of Art and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru National University, New Delhi. He has researched and curated exhibitions on various subjects, including the lives, religious customs and folk arts of indigenous communities across India.
Jain was born in Indore and raised in Bombay (now Mumbai). He developed an interest in the cultures of adivasi communities during visits to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. He received a Master’s in ancient Indian history and culture from the University of Mumbai and a doctoral degree in ethnology and Indology from the University of Vienna. From 1975–76, he was the Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the South Asian Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany.
On his return to India, he began working at the Lokayatan Folk Museum, Ahmedabad, which opened in 1977. To build the museum’s collection, he travelled across Gujarat, studying folk festivals, fairs and the living cultures of communities in the state. He also wrote Painted Myths of Creation: Art and Ritual of an Indian Tribe (1984), which documents the ritual art of the Rathwa community.
In 1984, Jain was appointed Senior Director of the Crafts Museum, New Delhi, which was then in the process of being redesigned. During this time, he worked alongside architect Charles Correa to create a space that would present folk and traditional arts and crafts outside conventional display parameters such as chronology and geography. He also curated and developed the museum’s permanent galleries, expanded its collection and established a residency programme for folk artists, artisans and performers. He curated several exhibitions at the Crafts Museum, notably Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India (1998), which presented works by Ganga Devi, Sonabai, Neelamani Devi, Jivya Soma Mashe and Jangarh Singh Shyam, receiving considerable acclaim for presenting the artists within the framework of contemporary art. In 2010, Jain curated Autres Maîtres de L’Inde (“Other Masters of India”), an expanded version of the exhibition, which was shown at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.
In 2001, after stepping down as director of the Crafts Museum, Jain established the School of Art and Aesthetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where he helped develop the post-graduate courses on cinema, visual studies as well as theatre and the performing arts.
He has written several books on folk art, religious traditions, individual artists and popular Indian visual culture of the early twentieth century, including Jaina Iconography (1978), India’s Popular Culture: Iconic Spaces and Fluid Images (2007), Clemente: Made in India (2011) and Temple Tents for Goddesses in Gujarat, India (2014). He co-edited Handwoven Fabrics of India (1989) with Jasleen Dhamija and was also editor of Marg. Additionally, Jain has curated the collections of the Sanskriti Museum of Everyday Art and the Sanskriti Museum of Indian Textiles.
He is the trustee-director of the museums run by the Sanskriti Foundation, New Delhi; a trustee of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai; a member of the advisory committee of the Museum of Art and Photography, Bengaluru; and was formerly Member Secretary of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. He was a visiting professor at Harvard University, Massachusetts, and Humboldt University, Berlin. He was awarded the Prince Claus Award by the Dutch government in 1998 and the Cross of Merit — Germany’s highest civilian award — in 2018.
At the time of writing, Jain is the director and managing trustee of the Centre for Indian Visual Culture (CIViC) and lives in New Delhi.
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