The Femme Factor – Sumita Maity
Arts Speak

The Femme Factor – Sumita Maity

Divya Menon

Divya Menon

There is a mysterious, incomparable space in this world where art is born in a prototype form; this spark of art is usually in the form of inspirations, thoughts, emotions, dialogues, experiences or themes until they are translated onto medium by the artist.  Thus, evidently, art in galleries, shows and other venues, that arrests our senses, teasingly, tauntingly, enticingly, is in essence the final product of a passionate process of artistic synthesis. However, what goes behind the lines, hues and forms on canvas rarely meets the eyes of the viewers. The process is not always easy, and this is one of the greatest challenges that many artists encounter on a daily basis. Sumita Maity from Kolkata who has been painting professionally for about two decades now is one such artist whose biggest challenge is to manifest her vision onto her medium!

Raised in the tiny village of Bankura she moved to Kolkata later. In Bankura where she schooled, studying art, was then a sacrilege, an unimaginable engagement perhaps and despite painting being a deep passion within her, she studied Economics and began her career as a teacher in a small school in Jamshedpur. However, while in Jamshedpur she also commenced painting lessons under a non-professional artist named Balaram Datta who brought about a complete shift in her trajectory of life. The experience as his student was perhaps the most important milestone in her career as an artist.

We are living at a time, day and age, when, despite the magnificent progress women have made across the world, many women still languish in fortresses and shackles created by gender bias in its various demoniacal avatars. Her works that celebrate womanhood and also express the various dimensions of the female mind are often like spokeswomen of a movement that is quite ancient come to think of it. These creations soaked in feminine charm are like windows that open view into the many lanes of the mind of a woman.

What follows is a short interview with one of the most brilliant women artists of our times, who believes that it is art that defines her, someone who considers herself and the transactions of her mind as her muse, an artist who does not plan into the future and takes life one day at a time.

1. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself.

A: I am a painter from Kolkata, India. I was born in a small village in Bankura, West Bengal in 1964. My father was a teacher there. That’s where I spent most of my childhood and my early-twenties before I eventually shifted to Kolkata.

2.  How did you make an entry into art?

A: I’d always wanted to be a painter, but where I was born and brought up—in a really small village in Bankura—pursuing arts was not even an option. So I studied Economics instead, and I was working as a teacher in a small school in Jamshedpur when I started taking painting lessons from a man named Balaram Datta. He was not a professional painter by any means, but he instilled in me a deep love for the art of painting, and I started looking at painting as a very intimate and sincere way of expressing myself because of him. Around the same time, I also started thinking of art as an alternative way of living life. I left my job at the school soon after to pursue painting professionally, and moved to Calcutta to study painting under the guidance of Subhaprasanna. This was in the early 90-s. I have not looked back ever since.

3. Can you talk about your favourite themes, mediums.

A: My favourite themes are nature, femininity, and the innate relationship between people and their environments. Sometimes, it’s the immediate physical environment they inhabit, but most of the time, it’s the environment they carry within themselves — this sort of imaginary landscape where they can become one with the trees, the birds, the butterflies, and the various life-forms that populate these dreamscapes. After working with several mediums in my early days as an artist, I found that Acrylic paints give me the best experience while working on my paintings, as well as the most flexibility. Nowadays, all of my paintings are done almost exclusively with Acrylic.

4. What would you consider your biggest challenge as an artist ?

A: For me, the most daunting challenge that I face is to translate my vision into a physical form. Most of the time, what I see with my inner eye is far more surreal, vivid, and real to me than what can be translated to the canvas. The imagination is always a mirage. You can never quite reach it. As an artist, the best I can do is to get as close as I possibly can. This, for me, is really the only thing that challenges me as an artist: the limitations of what is possible with the available tools and ingredients.

5. Your work has a predominance of aquatic shades... Can you explain why?

A: Well, the way I look at it is quite simple actually. Water is where life began. So that’s where most of my paintings begin as well.

6. Most of them appear to revolve around women, can you explain why?

A: Why not? I am a woman, and I work primarily for myself, and from my own experiences as a woman. I am a besotted escapist. I look at my paintings as a mean to escape the tedium and indignity that still comes with being a woman in today’s world. Especially in India.

7. Could you tell us about your noteworthy exhibitions, projects, awards.

A: I was awarded the AIFACS award by the All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society in 2007, and a Certificate of Merit from the Academy of Fine Arts, Amritsar in the same year. I had to take a hiatus from painting to raise my children after that, and I am getting back to it only now.

8. Who do you consider your inspiration or muse?

A: I am my own muse. Most of my paintings come from my own desire to escape the mundane, and from my memories of growing up in rural Bengal.

9. What are your plans for the future?

A: I have no plans for the future so to speak. I live in the moment, and I create art as I live. Of course, I have to go out there and participate in the day-to-day aspects of being an artist, and try my best to sell paintings but I have no specific future plans other than creating more art and improving my craft as such.

10. Where all have you exhibited?

A: I have previously exhibited my works at the India Habitat Centre, and Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, Karnataka ChithrakalaParishath in Bengaluru, Cymroza Art Gallery in Mumbai and a few other private art galleries all over India like the Mahua Art Gallery, Art and Space, Kynkyny, and Gallery Sri Parvati to name a few among many others. My paintings are also a part of the TATA Steel Art-in-Industry collection, and Imago Mundi — the personal art collection of Luciano Benetton (the co-founder of the Benetton Group, the famed Italian fashion brand) among many others.

11. Could you share the most memorable moments in your life as an artist?

A: My first solo show at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi. It was 2003. 27th November. I still remember sitting there with my sons, five and three years old at the time, at Ravindra Bhavan that Thursday right before the inauguration. It was so calm. I was so nervous.

12. Finally, what is the equation you share with art?

A: It’s essentially who I am. My art is what defines me.