Expressions – part 2
In this delightful interview and art essay, BHAMINI SHREE shares her journey of expression through 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. In part 2, Bhamini tells us more about Madhubani Folk Art.
MA: Can you share with us something about the history and origin of Madhubani art?
BS: Madhubani is a place in the north-eastern part of India, in Bihar, in the Mithilanchal area. It is the birth place of Sita, the wife of Lord Ram. This form of painting was started by the country women of Madhubani, and the entire culture is called Mithila culture. They started using natural pigments, like pollen, turmeric, cow dung, or indigo to make patterns on the walls of their homes, which were around the celebration of life and marriage.
Since Mithilanchal is considered to be the birth place or mother’s home of Sita, they celebrate it in that way. And also the fact that Sita is a woman. In Madhubani, a lot many forms are related to the Tantric form of painting depicting the goddess Durga, Kali, or Ardhanarishwar [half man-half woman], reflecting the locals’ joy and pride that these female deities have taken birth in their place.
Madhubani is also about the celebration of marriage. There is something called kohbar, which is a small room that is painted and decorated – the entire walls are decorated at the time of a wedding – and this room is given to the newly-wedded couple for consummating their marriage. So, all the elements that are used in these paintings are about nature, fertility, the celebration of love, the navagrahas [the nine planets] out there – everything auspicious. The fish, the turtle, the peacock, the parrot, everything that is auspicious is celebrated.
So it’s is about fertility, and the celebration of life and marriage. That’s how it started.
MA: What are the media used in Madhubani art?
BS: Traditionally, the colors used in Madhubani paintings were all natural pigments. For example, natural indigo for blue; turmeric for yellow; natural flowers for red; leaves for green; and a mixture of soot and cow dung for black. They would paint with these colors on the walls.
Nowadays we usually paint on fabric or paper. On paper we mostly use acrylic colors. On cotton cloth, we use fabric color. And those who feel they can afford to give proper time to their art usually use bamboo sticks in place of brushes.
Bamboo sticks are used because they are thin and lightweight, and they give a lot of precision in the art. That’s how it’s done traditionally, but if we’re short on time we use whatever we want. There is no hard-and-fast rule. Whatever suits, you use.
MA: What is the significance of geometric symbols in Madhubani art?
BS: The women who started Madhubani painting were mostly illiterate, and they did not have means to improve their painting skills. So the patterns they drew were mostly naïve at that time. They would stick to circular or rectangular patterns while making images. If they were painting the moon, they would paint a semicircle; and if they were painting the sun, they would paint a full circle. That is how they would distinguish.
These geometric patterns are nothing but the elements of nature. So every element is drawn in a particular way. With little modifications you can play around with the pattern, but it’s more or less made in a certain way.
MA: Tell us about your workshops.
BS: My workshops are open to everyone who wants to attend. I try to teach the essence of Madhubani painting, and show the participants how they can devise their own patterns. Once they know the basics, and the elements that distinguish this form of painting from others, the art is not difficult. Since this form of art is about nature, I explain to them how it is related. Once they understand the scope, they can make their own paintings. They don’t have to copy existing paintings on the Internet.
MA: What is the current status of folk art in India, and what is its scope in the future?
BS: To my understanding, even though we have some really good artists, they are not able to reach the market in the right way. Now that a lot of NGOs have come up, they are starting to bridge the artists with the market, but it is still a rare thing to see. Say there are 100 artists, perhaps 10 of them are able to get in touch with NGOs, the market people or mediators. The remaining 90 are left out, most of whom are women. Women are really good at folk painting, and they are not able to reach the market.
The other aspect is that folk art is mostly handmade, and people need to understand that it is exclusive and so it is expensive. In India we also have this mindset of bargaining: We are happy to buy an online print at a lower price than the original.
But the possibilities are great. The international market recognizes the folk art of India more than the locals do. That’s the irony. The kind of scope and demand there is for Madhubani painting in the international market is not here in our own country. To me that is quite disappointing. You cannot put a tag on art, for someone has put their heart, soul and mind into it.
MA: Yes, that’s true. So what does art truly mean to you?
BS: Well, I call my art “Pouli,” which means “bird” in Greek. I honestly believe that art is like a bird – it knows no limit. It doesn’t know how to settle down, it flies. You can’t stop a bird from flying, and you can’t stop an artist from expressing. And that’s what art is about – expression. Expression of our subconscious, expression of our aspirations, which cannot be put under a ceiling.
In my opinion, art is about whatever comes to your mind; you say that, you express that. It could be anything – your fragility, your vulnerability, or even your sensuality for that matter. People may call it erotic or pornography, but it’s not. Art is not pornography, it’s different. Art is expression; art is not objectification.
Everything that comes to your mind is expressed in a beautiful way. You don’t have to use a word and it’s already expressed. Be it rage, be it anger, be it frustration, you can express it. It’s like a bird that can fly wherever it wants to. Nobody can stop it, as it has wings. And this is why I call my art “Pouli.”
MA: Lovely! Finally, what tips would you like to share with the youth of today, or anyone for that matter, who are looking to follow their heart’s aspirations?
BS: Before you think what is good, right or wrong for you, it’s important that you analyze yourself. If you have a false belief that, “I can do this, and I can do that also,” the first thing to do is to burst the bubble. You have to know what you can really do, and if you would like to do this for the rest of your life.
So, ideally, the first thing is to talk to mentors, to understand the opportunities out there. And mentors need not necessarily be your teachers, or elder siblings, or somebody you already know. Look out for somebody who really inspires you in the truest manner. They are mentors. Talk to them, talk about your insecurities, talk about what you want to do in life, your aspirations, and take insights from them.
The second thing is to introspect. Introspection plays a very important part. Sit and be true to yourself. For example, if you are preparing for your IIT exams and you think this is not what you want to do, you also need to think what you are good at. And if you don’t know that, you need to start exploring. And for you to explore, you need to do 10,000 other things to know what you are good at.
The same thing applies to art also. If you think you want to be a portrait artist, maybe you can’t be a landscape artist at the same time. But it’s also not necessary that you have to choose only one stream. So the best thing is to try your hand at various media and experiment.
It’s important to see where your heart truly lies. And at the same time, you need to consider if you are able to sustain yourself with whatever you choose to do in life. Be practical also.
MA: Thank you, Bhamini, for this enlightening conversation. I wish you all the very best in your heart’s endeavors.
BS: Thank you very much.
Interviewed by MEGHANA ANAND
Art by BHAMINI SHREE
July 30, 2020
July 30, 2020
July 30, 2020