In her exhibition, The Moorings, artist Sasmita Mishra Sahu leads the viewer to a feeling of serenity and calm with the use of cool colours and pastels.
“All of the Caribbean islands are moorings. You think ships and canoes and boats, and moorings are where the ships come to rest. Generally, for the rest of the world, the Caribbean is a resting place. No one thinks this is Las Vegas but they think rest, going back to nature and soul searching.”
Sahu, 51, said lately her paintings tell stories that are relevant to her. The themes on which she wishes to focus dictate the colours she uses, and in turn, the colours and media she uses dictate whether a painting is fully abstract or if she will use some of the elements of the abstract style of painting.
“My artworks focus on the issues of identity in the unfortunate event of dislocation or otherwise. I am intrigued by the side of human nature to build a utopia amidst utter chaos. Following that tradition, I consider my paintings as the moorings to the dreamboat ride that life itself is.”
As the wife of High Commissioner of India to Trinidad and Tobago, Arun Kumar Sahu, she has lived in several countries on diplomatic missions, and each new place has inspired her work. As such, the pieces in The Moorings were painted over six or seven years while in New Delhi, India; Ottawa, Canada; and Port of Spain, TT.
While she is inspired by the places she visits, she does not take the exact elements of the location. Rather, her work is filtered through her own Indian heritage. And, while her strength is in her use of colour rather than graphics, she finds the human body beautiful and incorporates figures in most of her work, along with aspects of nature including plants and animals.
For example, Forget-me-not is a painting of women sitting in a field painted in soft colours.
However, the theme is that of gender issues and the way, even in this day and age, males generally have more freedom to choose their career paths than females. Parents and guardians can be more protective of girls or limit their choices based on a variety of considerations, often stifling them, while boys are supported.
“I’m not the kind of person who demands my chance right now. You make your point, always say it aloud no matter what, but don’t expect things will change immediately and you can grab it. I don’t live in that.
“I don’t believe in too much assertiveness or aggressiveness. I won’t stop saying what I want to do but I can wait. I can understand the process of change. So, that’s why my softer approach.”
She recalled during the first lockdown last year, she did not know what to do with herself. So, she went on walks around the neighbourhood and found strength there. She also noticed the electrical poles and wires and somehow found it spiritual, which led to her painting Easter Sunday with women, all spiritual messengers, surrounded by those poles and wires.
'Art is my life'
Sahu began painting as a child and never stopped.
She told WMN painting makes her feel good, feel whole, and now that she is a full-time artist, it is her work so she needs to put a certain amount of hours into painting every day.
Even with that need, she began her career in economics, earning her master’s degree in economics in 1991 and going on to become a lecturer at the University of Delhi, New Delhi, India. Then, in 1997, she graduated with a master's of philosophy in international studies.
Around the time she got her economics degree, she did an art course at the National Museum in New Delhi and decided she wanted to be an artist. So, after gaining her MPhil, she left her job as an economics lecturer and focused on her art training.
At the time no one supported her career change. She said if her parents and family had supported her, the process would not have been as painful and lonely as it was.
“The feeling was very strong inside me that I had to paint. Truly I would not have been happy only teaching economics. I said, ‘I’m not doing this.’
“I had to paint and to be an artist you have to do it full-time, you can not do it on the side. So, if I am going to paint full-time, I have to learn how to paint. Anyone with a talent needs time and training.”
She started to paint, got formal training, and over the years had exhibitions in India, China, the UK and Canada. She was doing well and people would tell her she had a gift, but it took years for her to believe in her work and that she could be an artist.
At Carleton University, Canada she studied art history and graduated with her master’s in 2019.
Asked why she decided to study art history after nearly two decades as an artist, she replied that she just needed to know.
It also gave her the opportunity to study an art collection from India at the National Gallery of Canada which no student had access to before because the work was not curated.
In her last semester, she wrote a research paper on the 300-piece collection which included paintings, sculptures, miniature illustrations, and textiles, and opened the door for other students to see the works and do proper research on them.
Married in 1998, Sahu said being a diplomat meant a lot of work as well as frequent postings. Despite that, she has kept painting. In fact, the busier she is the more she wants to paint as it restores her.
The only time she stopped was when her first child was born 18 years ago. She did not paint for three years while she devoted all her time to her child as she did not know how to balance parenting and painting.
“I went mad. But I was reading a lot, following painters’ work and about paintings, while holding the baby so that prevented me from going off completely,” she said jokingly.
She felt so strongly about her art that she delayed having her second child for three more years so she could focus on her work.
“There is a six-year gap between my first and my second (child). By that time I was clever. I knew what to do and how to balance my time.”
With that balance firmly established, Sahu produced 25 pieces made from oil paints, gouache and woodblocks prints with ink for The Moorings which is available for in-gallery viewing by appointment at Horizons Art Gallery, Mucurapo Road, St James until September 18.