Chitra Sahasrabudhey is a painter of the people, in a medium where majority of her people have no access to – a contradiction that caught my eyes first, when Neeraja, her daughter showed her work to me in her laptop. However technology and humanity were never as vicious enemies as the romantic idealists would like them to be. Chitra Sahasrabudhey’s art is not of a romantic idealist – but again in some sense they are. Her digital canvas, style and subjects possess a romance that is so very mundane and minimalistic, and hence the more idealistic – especially in today’s so very shiny consumer world that we live in.
Knowing her daughter Neeraja for past one year, I have aspired to meet Chitra several times. One may have no lack of various motivations behind meeting a person as versatile as her, but for me it was mostly to meet an artist I have admired. Besides the place of art in politics has been a subject that I have opted to understand several times and she seemed to have an opinion about it,
and more importantly she had a first-hand experience of being and remaining an artist as well as a political person, for whom the two fields often merged together.
I am not sure if I agree with (and it is totally irrelevant in this context) the `quasi-Gandhian’ driving force behind Vidyashram, of which Chitra is one of the founder members, and which is a center for practice and preservation of people’s knowledge (Lokavidya). Based at Sarnath, Varanasi since 1995, Vidyashram came up as a result of the involvement of its associates with various other organizations working on people’s science and technology, with farmers and labours, and self-help projects for women and men through marketing their handcrafts and other products in the local markets. Among these organizations one that I would like to mention is Nari Hastakala Udyog Samiti (of which Chitra was the President), since women at work is a recurring theme in her painting.
The depiction of these women in her brush (or should I say mouse!) stands out by its statements of not victimization, rather and often a celebration that financial independence brings in to those lives.
The joy of freedom and the inevitable drudgery of everyday’s manual labour combine in her work sometimes – giving them a tinge of sadness here and there;
whereas a totally free commemoration of joy appears in her other paintings. After all what kind of a success can be achieved solely in solemnity!
I cannot clearly put my finger on what is it in her art that indicates, she has not been an idle observer of the working class but has actually known and mingled with her models closely. It is a property that always draws me the most in a work of art and I believe, that alone is capable of evoking greatness in an artistic product, irrespective of the medium, choice of subject, or even the technical qualities of the work. An honest empathetic art possesses the element of punctum – that makes the audience stop, stare and feel. However the following one also shows how craftily she has used a digital paint tool which is often grossly underrated.
The everyday life and the household of the workers take place in her art intimately – the tiny roadside tea-shop,
man and woman working hand in hand as evening falls,
a married woman sitting back to back with her widowed mother-in-law neither in friendship nor in enmity but as if in a ritual – looking at life from two different directions, lost in their own thoughts but conjoined at the same level of everyday life – sorrow, hardship and little pockets of joy. Neither looks directly at the viewer – quite unlike the standard imagery of women such as in the advertisement hoardings or in the portraits from the Victorian era or Jamini Roy’s pretty canvases filled with frozen snaps of rural womenfolk.
Chitra’s women are not from the planet in which men only act and women only appear. They do not always have distinctive facial features even. While not in action, her women still represent movement, thoughts and a force of life.
Most of all her people look more real in the quivering lines and flat colours than photographs because of the genuine simplicity of her presentation.
Sometimes grief or a screaming protest emerges even through the bright patches of paints –
or simply through the choice of the story being told –
Parenthood has appeared in her work –
specially in the beautiful piece named Suhana bojh (A sweet burden).
However, I would have liked to see more of her viewpoint on the theme of motherhood through her work.
Her world is as real as it is a dream. She paints hardship in vibrant colours representing the undaunted spring of life that she experiences. After all it does not take more than a dirty white wall and a can of cheap paint to write the name of change.
Chitra – a painter on real canvas and real paper in the past – is exploring the classic Windows Paint tool as her machinery for past few years. Simplicity and minute craftiness within the frame of minimality brings out the essence of the true people’s knowledge and people’s art in the Indian culture – as can be heard from her own mouth in an interview with Amit Basole. These qualities make Chitra Sahasrabudhey, who is already a grass-root activist of and for the people, a people’s artist.
Chitra Sahasrabudhey’s blogs – http://lokavidyajanandolan.blogspot.in/ (a platform for discussions on people’s knowledge movement) and http://angadh-mangadh.blogspot.in/ (her personal blog where she writes under the penname Kasturi)