Shantibai may seem like a complete misfit in the contemporary world of art where elitism often reigns, but this Adivasi artist has ensured a firm place for herself with more than two decades of artistic practice. Born in 1960 and hailing from the conflict-ridden region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Shantibai carves her stories on the traditional memorial pillars of her community called Maria Khambas. Unlike the traditional pillars that commemorate the prominent among the dead like the village chieftains, her pillars narrate tales from Adivasi’s lives.
Her resilient journey started with living in the shadows of a patriarchal society which permitted her to only carve that which was decided and drawn by her late husband. Over the years, she felt the need to speak in her own voice. Her sculptures remind us of marginalisation, a system that alienates communities from shared histories, that erases their land and livelihoods with impunity.
“My paintings show my lived experiences and all that is happening in the world around me,” she says of her compositions. Her wooden pillars take around three to four months to come into being and the process is laborious. Using wood that has been cut by the authorities for ‘development’ or that which has fallen on its own, she sets about transforming these procured logs into sculpted tales. On the strength of the immense support she received from artist Navjot Altaf who championed Shantibai’s practice from the late 1990s, she built the Dialogue Centre in Bastar together with Altaf, where besides her studio practice, discussions and conversations were initiated on several issues that required questions to be posed.
To be excluded from not just mainstream society but also from the mainstream world of art that professes equality and inclusivity was a challenge that Shantibai faced with grit and unflinching faith in her art. Her list of shows in some of the most prestigious art galleries is ample proof of her belief that her people cannot be considered expendable citizens of the country. Their stories matter and as long as she possibly can, she will shout them out loudly to the world through her art. Recently chosen to exhibit at the inaugural show of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai, Shantibai faced the assembled audience of global celebrities as an artist in her own right, on par with the best in the world.
The lives of these artists are inspirational and worth a thought. If there burns the fire of a purpose to your life within you, then nothing is impossible. The flames will be motivation enough to lead you on your path to success and fulfilment, for it has often been said that it is the courage to continue that count.
Source: “Chasing dreams with art” by Jitha Karthikeyan, The New Indian Express, 20 July 2023
Date Visited: 4 October 2023
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