Born to an Indian father and a Russian mother, artist Shanti Kushwaha has a unique perspective on the art, the people, and the traditions of her two countries. In the following interview, she elaborates on her heritage, her education, and how they inform her art – and how she intends to bring these two mighty cultures together through her work.
Q: How did your tryst with painting begin?
Shanti: I developed my interest in drawing when I was young enough to go to preschool. I did not have a teacher. I think my mother was the first to inspire me. She was talented in arts, though she never studied it. She liked to draw and I enjoyed colouring her drawings. In school, my drawings were different from those of my classmates. In my childhood, I liked to dance a lot. I liked to draw pictures of Indian dancers.
As I grew older, I used to teach myself by copying paintings. My first academic lessons in drawing were taken under the guidance of Vladimir Tulyakov – director of an art school in Ardatov. Between 2005-2010, I completed my education in the College of Fine Arts in the city Nizhny Novgorod under the tutorship of leading artist Yuri Mikhailovich Burov. I also studied at the Faculty of Decorative and Applied Arts in Moscow Teacher’s University (2002–2008). My first experience of participating in a solo exhibition of my works was in the Diveevo Music School, where I had done my music course in piano (2000). Since then, I have participated in many exhibitions in Russia and India. I also held an ICCR scholarship during my MFA course in Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, between 2011-2013.
These exhibitions were –
2005: Regional Christmas exhibition in Nijniy Novgorod.
2006: Regional art exhibition in Nijniy Novgorod.
2007: Youth exhibition “January vacation”.
2008: Regional Christmas exhibition in Nijniy Novgorod.
2011: Art exhibition “Inspiration” in RCSC in New Delhi.
2011: Personal exhibition, “My India” in Russian Cultural Centre in New Delhi.
2011: Solo show “Sublime images” in Russian Cultural Centre in Gorky Sadan, Kolkata.
2013 (January): Group exhibition “Goti” in ICCR, Nanadalal Bose Gallery.
2013 (March): “The Journey from West to East”, solo show in Gorky Sadan.
Since 2008 I have worked as a professional artist in art studios, and as a drawing teacher. My paintings are featured in private collections in Russia, India, France, Sri Lanka, Chile, Ukraine.
Q: To what extent does Indian culture and tradition influence your work?
Shanti: As I belong to both the countries, India and Russia, the traditions and cultures of both nations remain close to my heart. Yes, I am immensely inspired by the culture, traditions, and landscapes of India. I am fascinated by the variety of dance forms in India, by the large spectrum of Indian folk costumes. As a student at the Russian College of Fine Arts in Nijny Novgorod, I did my final diploma work on India. It was a success – a series of gouache paintings titled “My India”.
I gathered the material for this diploma during my visit to India in 2010. I remember how eagerly I was searching for people to pose for my works. Now that I stay permanently in India, I feel fortunate; my dream of painting the Indian ‘subject’ has come true.
Q: Is there an underlying message that you are consistently trying to convey with your work, or is each piece different and unique in its own right?
Shanti: Through my works, I want to make people happy, to make them think about the beauty of their daily surroundings. To praise the Lord’s creations by depicting them in a realistic and classical manner. Yes, each piece carries its own message and evokes its own unique feelings. Each work is unique and has its own story.
Q: What major difference do you feel in the Indian art scene today as compared to that of Russia?
Shanti: The major difference is that Russian art still carries the classical realistic way of painting, though they also have impressionistic and very modern tendencies going hand in hand. The vital distinction in Russian art is an academic approach to painting, following the traditions of great artists such as Chistyakov, Brullov, Repin, Kramskoy, Levitan, and Serov.
I find modern abstract art to be iconoclastic and rule-breaking. For me, the classical way is when your art or grand composition is inspired by a life study.
The Indian way of art is a decorative style of painting.
Q: You have said that you want to master new styles of painting in India in the near future. If you could elaborate on this?
Shanti: The way I wish to master this new style of painting in India is by combining the Russian realistic way of painting with unique Indian colours. I inherited my love for India from my father, who was an Indian citizen. And I want to continue the traditions of such great masters as Zaryanko, Tropinin, Repin, Yaroshenko, and Serov. Also to cement the relationship, the link between these two great cultures, in the style of such artists as Semyon Chuykov, Nikolay Roerich, and Vasily Vereshchagin.
Q: Art is said to mould a person’s mind and personality. How has painting helped you?
Shanti: The work of an artist is a tool for expressing their thoughts and feelings. Work helps the artist to concentrate more, to organise the inner mind, to get joy and happiness in watching the beauty of the world. And to share this joy with other people.
Image provided by the author.