" I found it in a legendary land
all rocks and lavender and tufted grass,
where it was settled on some sodden sand
hard by the torrent of a mountain pass.
My needles have teased out its sculptured sex;
Corroded tissues could no longer hide
that priceless mote now dimpling the convex
and limpid teardrop on a lighter slide.
Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrim kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immorality of this
red label on a little butterfly.”
(‘On Discovering a Butterfly’ by Vladimir Nabokov)
Here is a unique artist who perceives the world around her, from the angle of a butterfly. She is Sharwari Tilloo. She believes, (backed up by her scientific analysis) that there are similarities between the life of a butterfly and human behaviour. According to her, the butterfly is a symbol of freedom and beauty; it represents the status and life of women in society, their aspirations and desires. When I met her amidst her exhibition at the Chitrakala parishath (Karnataka, Southern India), I found that every creation at the series named ‘Metamorphosed’ depicted what she spoke.
Two hundred and fifty steel butterflies were suspended from the ceiling, each representing hundreds of women who were brutally raped in India every year. Though physically and emotionally hurt, these women should feel that they have every right to live a meaningful and happy life irrespective of the scars. Society needs to support them in their determination to live happily and confidently.
She says on behalf of all the hapless women:
“Everything I want to say to my harasser: ‘I am not afraid. You don't scare me. I will stand up against you with my head held high’.”
Sharwari is a fulltime ‘papierieste’, working with ‘papier mache’ and other found objects. She started her tryst with art when she was just ten years old. She was guided by Bal Wad, an artist from Pune early in her life. She was fortunate to get trained under renowned potter Nirmala Patwardhan, the first Indian woman to be a studio potter. Later in life, she continued her passion for pottery under Angad Vohra at MantraHandmade Pottery, in Auroville, Pondicherry,in Southern India.
Before returning for work at Auroville, she spent time mastering Ceramics Art at LaSalle SIA College of the Arts, Singapore. Studying in LaSalle along with art students from diverse cultures opened up the world of art and she picked up the skill of observation. An injury on the hand, while producing a creative piece, severely affected her work for years. However she was not disappointed. She went to HarvardUniversity and did post-graduation in Education. She started teaching children and also designed a curriculum for them.
Papier Mache gave her the break she was looking for. In her explorations with papier mache, her constant endeavor was to push the limits of the medium and turn that into a ‘recognizable art medium to make sculptures and installation pieces’. Now, she does not restrict herself to only one medium. She uses ceramics, glass, gold, silver, and any recycled and organic material she can find.
She says: “My life has been analogous to that of a butterfly’s. I see the years in education as being a chrysalis, poised and absorbing everything, to break out into a butterfly. The phase that I am in now, I’m learning to fly, finding my wings, my freedom’.
Sharwari is an inspiration for all, not just as an artist, but as a person deeply involved in spreading a message of freedom to women across the globe, especially those who were victims of abuses. She is a thinker, visionary, talented artist, educationist, and a courageous advocate of women’s right to lead an honourable life. Artists, young and old, can learn a lot from Sharwari’s determination to innovate in the chosen field of art.
Good wishes to Sharwari in her research on the artistic intersection of butterfly and human behaviour. Readers of Cyber Diary can reach to her at sharwari.t (gmail). The products are available for sale.
© Sibichen K Mathew. Views are personal. Comments are welcome.
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