Creating Art And Weaving Magic: Shilo Shiv Suleman’s Art Is Changing The World

Posted on July 22, 2014 in Culture-Vulture, Specials

By Heeba Din:

If you see a beautiful young girl perched up on a ladder, her hair down, with a beautiful franpani (plumeria) tucked delicately behind her ear, a paint brush in her hand painting a street wall, you might be looking at Shilo Shiv Suleman.

Shilo Shiv Suleman

A visual artist, illustrator, digital storyteller, an animator and a passionate human being, Shilo, 25, has been called the new face of India, has won the Femina Women of Worth award, been mentioned in Yahoo women we admire list , featured in Grazia , buzzfeed and much more.

So who is Shilo Shiv Suleman?

Calling herself a magician and a flower, Shilo goes on Enfield escapades across the country exploring, painting walls, creating magic with technology and illustrating all along in her leather bound journal. Her biggest joy is being able to sit out in the middle of nowhere with only the beauty and joy of nature all around and being able to work from there.

Having illustrated her first children’s book at the age of 16, shilo has published over 10 books with top publishing houses of India till date. With “Khoya” being the crown jewel, she combined childhood magic and digital technology and created an interactive narrative for children hosted by iPAD. Talking to YKA , Shilo said, “ it’s often about finding links between traditional knowledge systems and contemporary platforms. I’m very interested in seeing technology act as a medium between art, storytelling and culture. I feel like technology should bring alive our cultural experiences.”

With “Khoya”, Shilo has woven a magical futuristic journey of two children who seek to save the world where magic and love has disappeared and has deeply drawn from rich Indian cultural symbolism and ritual as the basis of interactive design.

Screenshot from the appstore
Screenshot from the appstore

Released in 2012, the book made it to the top 5 in the international app store and was reviewed by tech geniuses like Steve Jobs, Lynda Barry and Steve Wozniak, and also won the future books award for the Best children’s book during the same year.

Linking magic and fantasy with technologies like augmented reality that allows a digital storytelling narrative experience, allowing the inputs from user to move the story forward, earned Shilo the prestigious INK fellowship and was also chosen by TED and Levi’s as an ambassador for the ‘Shape of Things to Come’ – one of three Indian women to be felicitated with this honour at the TED Global Conference 2011, Edinburgh. Shilo also became a TED Speaker at the age of 23, where she talked about using technology to push boundaries of interactive storytelling.

Talking about her work , Shilo says, at the moment it is divided into two spaces – Art and technology, and Art and social change. On the aspect of Art and technology, Shilo is currently working on the second part of Khoya and also on a series of experiments that combine neurology and art, attempting to make physical lotuses bloom with the power of meditation using brainwave readers.

The lotus prototype

The second part of Shilo’s work (Art and social change) is what has created and established her work among the general masses. Be it the “Pink chadi” campaign in 2009, where shilo, then just 18, designed the posters for the non-violent protest campaign that was launched in response to the attack on women in a Mangalore pub by Shri Ram Sena members, who were then planning to attack couples on Valentine’s day that year. The campaign became viral and captured the imagination of millions, where pink chaddis were sent to the office of Shri Ram Sena.

Calling it positive affirmation on the basis of social change, Shilo has been associated with several community based projects and is also the proud founder of the fearless collective, which started as a reaction to the Delhi gang of December 2012 and now has turned into a solid collective of 250 artists, using the power of posters and painting the walls across country, using art as a medium of social and personal change against sexual violence and gender inequality.

Talking about the campaign, Shilo says, “Even though the content for Fearless seems a lot more gruesome, to me it feels the same. It’s not agony, it’s a great deal of love and positivity in the campaign, and it’s about finding a source of strength and magic within yourself, not participating in a system that breeds gender violence, and learning how to heal.”

Harnessing the power of posters, the fearless collective has had exhibitions in One billion rising to Museum of conflict.

The fearless graffiti project — Ahmadabad
The fearless graffiti project — Ahmadabad

As a part of the fearless campaign, shilo goes travelling across the country and painting the street walls and reclaiming public spaces by art through women. Saying, “Each wall is a collaborative act of defiance and reclaiming of that space through positive and personal affirmations contextual to the space they’re painted in.”

The Bangalore wall flower project
The Bangalore wall flower project

Shilo has painted the walls of Bangalore, Varanasi and Mumbai, and believes that it’s a very important way of spreading a message, because both the feminist movement and the street art movement is about the need to reclaim one’s right to public space. In sion, Bomabay she painted walls with the koliwada fisherwomen about police brutality, illustrated walls with flower sellers on the banks of the Ganga about reclaiming feminine mythology and iconography, and ramparts in Bangalore about contemporary conversations on feminism and consent, amongst others.

Shilo has also been associated with another street art movement called “The Bangalore wall flower project”, which asked people to let go their inhibitions of drawing and painting and embrace art.

Talking about the significance of art in our daily lives, shilo says, “Everyone should have equal access to art, but most of us are convinced that only ‘artists make art’. Galleries have made us a spectator to visual culture rather than creators. Because a wall is a permanent space, and is pretty scary to paint, it becomes a really good way of people opening up to the idea that even painting something yellow changes and transforms a space. They then more actively start to participate in the process of creation and reclamation.”

Putting her work in the genre of magical realism, Shilo believes in unmasking the universal archetypes and bring them out, travelling multiple universes through one touch on the Ipad and amalgamating art, technology and body.

It’s very easy to spot Shilo among the crowd , with the flowers, her trademark rustic Indian jewellery, spreading joy and smiles through her work. Shilo is a girl always in pursuit of learning and creating something new scattering love and magic around the world. Her work is abundant, breaking boundaries, contemporary but deeply rooted in tradition, rich with layers of colours, big eyed girls, lotuses and Hindu Goddesses, intensely exquisite with a touch of Indian mythology that will surely hit you with its vibrant energy and make you think.

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