Expressions – part 1
In this delightful interview, BHAMINI SHREE shares her journey of expression through painting – both Madhubani folk art and abstract painting – with MEGHANA ANAND. Through art, gradually she was able to manage her depression, expand her selfexpression, and also develop her art as a career.
Q: Hi Bhamini. Tell us about yourself. How did your journey with art begin?
BS: When I was in grade 8 or 9, I was diagnosed with depression. After that I started doodling. Then, one fine day when nothing was working out and I had a lot in my head and could not express it at all, my mom gave me a canvas and colors and said, “Whatever comes to your mind, start painting.” And that is how I started. I learnt Bihari Madhubani painting from my aunt. She taught me the basics and I became interested in that. That is one part.
The other part is that I have always been very vocal about what I think is right and wrong. All of us have our own understanding of what is right and wrong, and there are no fixed parameters, which is why it’s a mess. I was very vocal about women’s rights, freedom, being liberated, the equality of all genders – and I was spiritual more than religious. Right now I don’t follow any religion; I am a spiritual person. So that is what I started expressing through my art.
Later I did an MBA. I thought I would never be able to pursue art as a career; that I wouldn’t be able to meet ends. How was I going to live on my own, unless I had some other form of support? The truth, according to me, is that you can’t. That’s how the condition of art is in our country right now – it’s not recognized.
So I told myself, “Okay, let’s see what happens!” I did my MBA, and took a job in Hyderabad. I was still emotionally and mentally not well, and I just couldn’t express myself. In the corporate space, every day was a challenge, and I would wait to go home and paint whatever was in my head. There was so much I wanted to express.
I am not good at expressing myself in words, and that was creating a lot of hindrance, because in the corporate sphere you have to behave in a certain way. It was a pressure, so I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was also passionate about fashion design, so I planned my own online boutique. That’s how I started a life as an entrepreneur.
I never thought I would take up art as my sole profession; but my boutique business did not do very well, so that broke me down and I had to introspect upon what I really wanted to do with my life. After a few trials, I understood that the best thing to do is what I loved the most. And I just loved colors. I wanted to express what is right. I wanted to stand for expression in any form, in whatever way I chose. I had to express myself, otherwise it was chaotic inside my head.
And as a woman I want to do something whereby, even if I am not directly leading people or changing their lives, I still create some change through my art. So right now I bring out the perspectives of women, the viewpoints of women, through abstract painting. Basically I use two forms of painting: one is abstract painting, and the second is Madhubani painting.
Madhubani is because I am from Bihar, and I really like the colors in Madhubani paintings. Without a word they speak so much. It’s just beautiful. If your entire room is white and you have just one Madhubani painting on the wall, it brings color to the entire room and says so much. And the deities in the paintings are not to be worshipped, they are to be adored, which is why I really like this form of art.
In the abstract expressions, the major themes are about the mind, the soul, and how women see the world. I am not objectifying womanhood, but painting strong women, and who they are. So even if I paint nudity, it’s not about showing a sex object. It’s about the confidence and the freedom she feels in being a woman. We are true beings when we don’t cover ourselves. Clothes are a symbol of covering, so when there are no clothes that’s who she is. She’s fat, she’s slim, she’s fair, she’s dark, she’s a woman and she’s beautiful.
I also paint the mind because I’ve experienced the way the mind works very closely. It can be chaotic; it can be beautiful.
Q: This makes a lot of sense in today’s times, especially when young people are struggling to express their minds and hearts. How did your art help you come out of the state of depression that you were in during your teens? How did you find your way in life?
BS: When we go through a mental ailment of any sort, we usually talk to psychiatrists or psychologists because we just don’t know what’s happening inside. It’s so suffocating that we can’t think, we can’t talk, we can’t be ourselves, we can’t do our daily conduct.
There are a lot of things that art opens us to. The first is the choice of colors. When we paint, the colors that we choose show our current state of mind. When I am extremely angry, I would rather paint something related to fire, something blank, or something which may not necessarily be very vibrant but shows my state of mind. When I paint only because I am in the mood for painting, when I paint because I am happy and have nothing else to do, I paint something bluish. When I am creative and I think I have a lot of ideas, I paint something orange-ish, golden and purple also – a lot more colors. So the choice of colors in painting shows my state of mind.
Art is infinite. Expression in the form of lines, in the form of squares, in the form of just eyes or just lips, or books, or the empty road, or a tree, or the sun, or fire, or the flow of the river, or just a woman, or the relationship between two women – expression can be anything. So when you are able to express yourself to the other, and hear the other being, it becomes your canvas. That’s your shoulder.
When you’re able to express it, the pressure inside your brain subsides to some extent. Bit by bit it comes down, because it’s all about the fact that you can’t say what you want to say. You don’t know what’s there inside and you need somebody to help you out. And when you know what’s happening inside you, you are capable and strong enough to take care of yourself.
In the olden days, too, there might have been people undergoing depression. But when there were no psychologists or doctors to help them come out of that state, how were they able to do it? So it’s all in the mind – the strength, the weakness, the fragility, the vulnerability – it’s all about the mind. It’s all about training your mind.
So art is one way to deal with depression or any kind of mental ailment, even loneliness. In fact, for elderly people, if their eyesight is good, I would recommend them to be involved in art, because it gives them company in their lonely times. The elderly are the loneliest people on earth today. So they have something to look forward to, they can talk to the painting. Paintings can really talk to you. They show you a mirror and talk to you.
When you paint folk art, like Madhubani, it requires a lot of perseverance, a lot of patience, so you have to be calm and patient and let go. If there are slight flaws, you need to remain calm and say to yourself, “There is still hope. I can improvise this painting later.” So gradually, with due practice, it proves to be a very good form of meditation.
In fact I have noticed that when my mind is blocked and there is nothing coming up, when I sit down to paint, it calms me down. It gives me a lot of space and time to think, and I don’t act weirdly or abnormally at that time. I am quiet, I am calm, and I train my brain that way. I may not consciously do this, but subconsciously this is how it happens.
Interviewed by MEGHANA ANAND
May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020