Feb 22, 2013

Artist Talkies: Madhubani Artist: Shabnam Kumari aka Mini

This post is dedicated to our partner artist who evokes beauty in her works on Madhubani Art. Shabnam Kumari or Mini as she is fondly called is from a small village called Laxmipur in Madhubani district, Bihar. She comes from a family of women who have been trained in this artistic profession of making Mithila paintings for years now. Her interest was nurtured by her amma (mother) Meena Devi, a Madhubani artist. However, Mini believes that her greatest inspiration has been her nani (maternal grand-mother), Mahasundari Devi, a famous madhubani artist and winner of some very prestigious awards like National Award, Nagarjuna Award and Padma Shree. Her grand-mother nurtured the art till Mini picked it up on her own.  

Shabnam Kumari, OUR darling 'Mini'

Mini has been painting since her childhood but she picked up the market aspect of her paintings only in Delhi in 2001. She reminisces during our conversation about how she realized her potential to commercially paint in the Mithila form when she was accompanying her sister, Pushpa Kumari for an event at Pragati Maidan in 2001. A lady at the event realized her potential and offered her the opportunity to paint; And fearless as she is, she took up the offer to craft her own history (her sister was never in on this until the very end!)

                Madhubani Coasters The Color Caravan co-created with Subhnam Kumari.
She married soon after in 2004 and went to Guwahati with her husband. Even though she wished to further her craft there, opportunities never came her way and she went back to a life of family and motherhood with her two kids. Ever since then, she has returned ambitious and has been in a village near Delhi NCR for the past two years. But she now works whenever work comes her way because of her kids. She tells us that she even though she likes being a mother, she misses that pleasure that work accords her. She worries that if work doesn't keep coming her way, she'll soon have to return to Guwahati to her husband.
    Madhubani Coasters
Childhood stories of her association with Madhubani paintings invoke a lot of nostalgia in her. To her, her proudest moment was when she got the opportunity to go to Japan. To her it all began in class 8th, with a Fine Art competition based on Flowers and Leaves or as she calls it - phool patti. A gentleman called Hashigawa came, made his request of paintings that were personally done by the students. Mini rose to the occasion, did a fine painting based on the Goddess Saraswati. This impressed the gentleman so much that he sponsored her trip to Japan soonafter.
This story also corresponds to the story of how she started selling greeting cards to earn money. As kids, one used to gift cards to each other's friends. When her grandmother, Mahasundari Devi, heard of it, she encouraged her granddaughter to sell greeting cards to earn money. This was her first attempt at earning money of her own. But mostly, she realised that her talents in the field of Madhubani paintings could fetch her a unlikely livelihood in the future. 
                                                              Are they not gorgeous?
During our conversation, one story leads to another and Mini can't seem to hold back the stories. She talks about her stint as a college student at Mithila University in Bihar. She remembers going for a Rangoli competition back in those days assuming it were a Mithila painting competition. The first attempt was not a fruitful one as she returned empty handed. But this prompted her to prepare for the competiton the next time.  When she was asked to attend the competition again, she went on to becomimg university first in the field of arts.
She also remembers going to Vardhman University's competition around 1995-97. She recounts how she lost the competition, also losing out on putting the Mithila University on the forefront of arts simply because her skirt ended up ruffling her painting on completion. BHU went on to win the first position she recalls with a sigh.
                                                    " Life is art. Paint your dreams."
For her, art is a constantly evolving process. She remembers how Jyoti Basu made her realize this.  Once during a visit to Calcutta she recalls how he forced her to think of the human effort that is central to such works. He'd ask her whether she could draw from her left hand. She in her innocent vehemence, drew something with her left hand. Which again brought further questioning from Jyoti Basu; he asked her why she began her paintings by starting from the head of the painted subject instead of the toe? This prompted her to draw another painting proving that she could draw starting from the toes. She even drew from the left and right hand to prove how good she was with Mithila paintings.
                   Mini flaunting her Madhubani slippers that she painted for herself.

She is proud of her daughter similarly for garnering an affection for Mithila drawings. Her daughter, she tells us, has been garnering accolades for her drawings and paintings in school. But she prefers that her daughter studies now than concentrate on a lost art.
                                          Her million dollar smile and eyes say it all.
Our conversation ebbs out with one last story of her youth wherein she exercised independence and chose a path less followed. She tried out as a Radio Presenter for a few months.  All she did was script a few stories, went to the radio station and impressed them enough with her stories that she ended up working as a presenter at the station. To her that incident is a crucial piece of history that she carries along with her today.

We are blessed to be working with a wonderful artist like Shabnam Kumari. Her child-like enthusiasm, warm smile, passion for Madhubani painting makes her an asset to the organisation. But mostly, The Color Caravan realizes its family of artists who bring their history into their art and transform us completely.
(The Color Caravan owns the copyright for all the photographs in this post. Cannot be used in any form without permission.)

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