Visual artist Sharmistha Ray lives and works by the adage of noted painter Georgia O’Keffe, ‘Making your unknown known is the important thing’. So her works resonates her personal observations from the books she reads, the films she watches and her travels and visits to art galleries within India and abroad. And life of course with its myriad of hues and shades, is her biggest inspiration.
She says, “I am constantly making art in my head, even when I am not making it physically. There’s so much around us that we take for granted, normally. It’s those very things that lend themselves to the life of art. It could be a small trinket in someone’s home that is precious to them; or finding a beautiful shell on a beach. I don’t see a separation between art and life, but that’s a less popular way to look at it in the world we live in today. Art has become a career destination, rather than a critical vocation.”
But for Sharmistha, who was born in Kolkata, raised in the Middle East and later migrated to the United States, it was always her calling, she never decided to be an artist, she simply became one.
“But I realized upon graduating from college, that art dealers and galleries were not lining up outside my door to make me famous. For several years after graduate school, I worked at an art gallery where I learned the ropes of the art business. It’s been an invaluable experience in my journey as a professional artist. If you are meant to make art, somehow life will get you there. But there has to be a strong personal desire to overcome all the hurdles. I left myself no other choice; this is what I had to do,” she adds.
With the female form finding its way into many of canvases Sharmistha says that she is a proud feminist who takes pride in being part of the current generation of women who seek to impact awareness and change through their work.
She says, “Today, the women’s freedom movement is one part of a larger gender movement to emancipate persons of all genders from restrictive binaries and stereotypes… that said, the art comes first; the social agenda second. In my new body of work, I am re-positioning the female within subjective narratives to question gender-normativity and power structures in our society. I plan to have a solo show with the complete body of work in Mumbai in 2016.”
Sharmistha has also started Bellevue Brunches & Salons in Mumbai as a way to open up engagement with her work beyond the art world. There are many social parties that happen in the city, but none by an artist with art as the focus. So her’s is a unique initiative held in an artist’s studio because it’s a creative space that fosters togetherness rather than separation. She informs that the response has been terrific and people from fields as diverse as TV, film, theater, music and even the sciences, have loved it.
Four events down the line she says, “The next salon project is going to be very different. I am sponsoring a new play that is a meditation on gender. The producers approached me as they know I am supportive of art forms that explore gender and sexuality in innovative ways. I am interested in material that doesn’t get shown or supported easily, either through censorship or oversight. In the future, who knows? Anything is possible, really. Bellevue Brunches & Salons is a mobile cross-cultural social experiment and can happen anywhere.”
She also feels that there has been a downward trend to viewing art and very few people consciously make the attempt to visit art galleries these days.
Sharmistha adds, “To engage with art, you have to make the effort to commute to a gallery during or after your working hours, and spend time engaging with objects that may perplex you in the beginning. It’s a self-education that one has to feel determined to undertake. The motivation to do so is on a downward trend with competing visual and sensory factors of digital and social media, YouTube, etc. On a more positive note, there are some younger dynamic art collectives that have cropped up in major urban spaces, evidencing the need to change the way visual art engages with the social fabric, either through public art works or the use of unconventional spaces and methods to showcase art. But overall, it will take time for art to enter the mainstream consciousness in our country and stay there. For that, there needs to be sustainable top-level government sanction for the arts and arts education, which as we can see, has regressed in recent times.”