The Wall is my Canvas - Sneha Chakraborty
Sneha Chakraborty has been sketching for as long as she can remember, she recalls that she started sketching before writing and says “I didn’t have a chance to learn art because we always moved around but I always kept painting.” She sketched and drew while also painting with acrylics whenever she could, but it wasn’t until June of 2018, that she discovered her love for Murals.
After dropping out of business school, she took to the skies as a stewardess for Vistara and travelled all over the country while rooming at ritzy hotels. While staying there she found herself being entranced by the hotel’s interiors and sketching them. Her mother saw her sketches and prompted her to study interior design. After that she worked at Aecon projects until she got her first commission.
She loves the fact that murals are larger than life and they also have a larger audience, “Once I paint a mural, it’s for the rest of the world to experience. The magnificence and power of a mural is unbridled and they have the power to intrigue and shift something inside you.” Despite her love for murals, she tells me that she was unaware of them until 2018 when she was contacted by Chal Rang De, an NGO to paint a wall at Khar in Mumbai.
Once she began working her magic on the wall she noticed that things were changing around her, “People began gathering, some of them began cleaning the place and some of them started discussing about it. It took me seven days to finish and everyone whom I ran into afterwards reacted positively to it.” Sneha taught herself how to paint and she says that she learnt by making mistakes, “I mess up a lot and I have so much bad art. Because of that I’m not scared to make more art. I’m not scared to explore because sometimes good things comes from bad art.”
Despite being a full time muralist, she also dabbles with the canvas whenever she finds time she says “The canvas is a safe space, there’s no interference and you can move at your own speed. This comfort isn’t there on the street. When you’re painting a wall, people come and talk to you and that affects the art that you’re making. For me painting a mural is a community event- like a celebration” She tells me that it takes anywhere between 4-5 days to complete a mural.
Her painting process is rather organic as she prefers to let her artistic instincts guide her hand across the wall, she says “I go to the wall, feel the community around me and give it some time. Eventually something strikes in my mind. I don’t like planning what I’m about to paint.” She approaches the canvas in a similar way. She does not use pencils or sketches to outline what she wants to paint, opting to hit the ground running and use paints directly. People have told her that she paints a lot of women, and she reveals that she is drawn towards femininity, “People often think that femininity is only for women and that it’s all about being quiet and shy. But that’s not the case. I like to think that it’s in all of us and there’s so much power to it. Just look at the Goddesses Durga and Kali!” she says.
Being a travelling muralist allows her to trek all over the country and adding a little color to the drab city walls. Right now she is working in the mines of Haryana and she has murals lined up in Kutch and the Gir forest. “I’m always on the road and I’m always connected to my art. Whatever I paint I try to add a bit of myself in it.” Even while unwinding at home she finds herself painting on the walls or on the canvas.
One of her recent efforts on the canvas is the Wounded Warriors series. It features people who have been scarred by society but chose to keep moving forward. All subjects are painted in black and white, with a golden sparrow spreading its wings in a corner. The sparrow, she reveals was a constant presence in her childhood, “When I was six or seven years old and living in Gujarat, I used to stare at the sparrows while my parents fed me. Looking at them gave me a sense of freedom, as they weren’t meant to be caged.” She got the idea for the series during the lockdown after reading about a model, Swee Tee Oliver, who was bullied because of the color of her skin.
Apart from being an artist, Sneha is also a businesswoman as the founder of Let’s Bee Canvas (LBC) which she started in 2019 with her brother. Through LBC she frequently employs and collaborates with like-minded artists across the country. Apart from this she also conducts art workshops and until now she has conducted 105 workshops, a number which would have been much higher if the pandemic hadn’t bought everything to a grinding halt.
For Sneha, teaching and learning are very personal experiences and she doesn’t adhere to the traditional methods of teaching, “I don’t believe that you can narrate something to someone and make them learn it. People need to explore possibilities on their own and become the artist they are.” She also clarifies that she guides people rather than teaching them, “There’s a lot of give and take in the process of guiding someone, you learn as much as they do and it’s inspiring to see the things that people do when they’re creating something.”
She cites Johannes Vermeer as one of her chief influences, and she is full of praise and admiration for his ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ apart from him she admires Vincent Van Gogh. She is full of praise for one of her students, namely Hazel. She admires her uncompromising resolve when it comes to using her own style, she says “She balances what she learns with her own style and I believe that that is an art in itself.”
For Let’s Bee Canvas she reveals that she was intrigued by the idea of a blank canvas, “We’re born as a blank canvas and society assigns colors to us, sometimes we’re burdened by it. Society told me to not be an artist, to be a doctor or an engineer. So I became a canvas and colored myself.” Sneha balances her roles as a businesswoman and an artist with equal aplomb, she says “Being an entrepreneur is all about putting your skills out there and getting something for it and if you’re not putting your art out and people aren’t talking about it, then there’s no value added to it.”
She advises young artists to be confident, “and if you still feel unconfident, then fake it.” She adds that amateur artists shouldn’t hesitate when it comes to commissions, “Whatever you think you deserve, learn to ask for that. There are a lot of hurdles along the way and if you love what you’re doing you will find ways to cross them.” However there are some challenges that are peculiar to female artists, one of them being the inability to paint outdoors after the sun sets, or work in places that are generally deemed unsafe. Sneha reflects sadly on this sorry state of affairs and hopes that this will change in the future.