Profile: Shabari Smitha Guha / The Key Maker / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Shabari Smitha Guha unlocks doors, minds, hearts and fortunes with her specific sets of keys, creating poetry, music and narratives closer to home in her works…observes Sushma Sabnis
“I will meet you two years from today at the same place”, he said “by then you would be a degree holder, and in these two years you will not call me even once to tell me you miss home, or complain about anything” with an air of finality the man turned and got into the train and left. The girl stood there as the train moved away, with a desolate expression, tears brimming her eyes, but held back with reins of sheer will power. Though it could be seen as cruelty, what the man did by saying these words was to subtly unlock the girl’s potential by placing the responsibility of her welfare on her own self. He inadvertently handed over the keys of her life into her young hands. The girl was artist Shabari Smitha Guha and the man is her beloved father.
Shabari can’t thank her father enough for that lesson so early in her life and since then she has carried numerous responsibilities with flair and confidence in her metaphoric key bunch. In the artist’s view, the humble bunch of ‘keys’ are more than just metal pieces which open doors or locks them. Early on this became the main subject for her printmaking and painting works.
“The jangling of the keys in my bag used to make my friends and classmates tease me a lot. But for me it was a sign of shouldering responsibilities from a young age which set my confidence in place. This became the philosophy of my life and the central image of my earlier works..”
Keys are openers, of closed doors, locks, minds, hearts and fortunes. A metal filed in a specific dimension is a key and when inserted into the one unique lock it opens it to something huge – possibilities. These metaphors of single minded dedication to a goal are replete in Shabari’s works. The artist dabbles in printmaking processes and painting mediums to bring forth her expressions. For her, everything from the physical locks of a cycle to the locks of her hostel room to her cupboards all become part for her artistic alphabet as she began incorporating these elements into her visual language.
What one sees in these works is the simplicity of the thought as crucial to opening up of a life. Her father’s words were the key that opened up her mind to experiences and responsibility. From then on the artist has negotiated her life based on similar principles. This becomes evident in her work as she distorts the key forms into faces, humanesque forms, and anatomies which are deeply autobiographical. The forms intermingle on the pictorial surface, sometimes blending and bleeding into one another, blurring the lines of demarcation. Here the artist seems to bring in aspects of taking liberties with her self and chances with her life situations. Although not all these situations result in positivity, the hard lessons of compromises that life has taught her seem to have evoked a kind of maturity evident from her works.
Shabari’s preferred printmaking technique is colour lithography. There is something solid about carving a stone which gives the artist her strength and anchors her thought while her imaginations takes flight. Lithography employs two immiscible (oil and water) ingredients vital to the process and this irony resonates with the artist’s experiences. The lithographs are vibrantly colored at times and in some the desaturation creates an almost relief printing like out put.
The tumultuous journey of life opens up the artist to an array of unpredictable experiences where she is left to comprehend and respond according to her own understanding. This could be seen in multiple narratives which inform her works in the form of ironies, personal and public. She questions the outmoded attitudes of society’s norms and often encounters dead end conversations. Shabari’s artistic core shows through sharp lined cuts, dots, stipples in her works, are like little windows to the eternal witness inside her. Like the visage of an older person decorated by life itself with fine line drawings of wrinkles, Shabari’s works become the visage of her personal struggles and triumphs. Character builds like an edifice right there before the viewer’s eyes.
The palette that the artist uses varies as an emotional response to the thought in her mind. While some of the works are brightly coloured with reds, greens, yellows and ochres, other works align to strict monochromes. Some works emerge from a dark background into light like a realization which changes everything.
Shabari also employs textual references and incorporates them into the works. Prayer of Gestalt has been her favorite and it features in some of her works. She likens the textual elements and backgrounds of her works as a diary entry. Punctuation marks, dots, spots, dashes and quirky lines also mark the textural elements in her works. The key form becomes a human head in some places, while an environmental issue gets carved in stone in another lithograph. Some works portray the angst expressed by a person who feels helpless to do anything about an issue and these works exude a veiled violence, which one could see mirrored these days in the eyes of the oppressed or the wronged.
Shabari’s works could be seen as distinct memories, and the artist uses leitmotifs of an everyday object to depict her responses to the world as she perceives it. In that sense the works have a biographical or even an autobiographical essence. In one of her works, could be interpreted as a map, but on careful observation it becomes evident that the map is of a thought process of the artist. The world in her mind becomes a landscape, there are territories not to be crossed, fences and bridges, barbed wires, water bodies, land masses and highways in the work. At every little distance on the pictorial surface stands a key like a sentinel of the possibilities. Like a reminder that nothing comes easy even after you open doors. The artist diligently portrays a solid mind map she adheres to.
In some of the works, Shabari creates a quilt like effect, with specific motivational messages written on the seams of the bits that hold the quilt together. ‘Feel the power in you’ seems to be the main flow of the thought. The distorted keys and sharp ones alternate and form the boundaries of the work. What one gleans from the works of the artist, is that she sees her life in sections. Sections which are like forts within themselves, yet are linked and interlinked as per her understanding. Each of these sections are worlds within worlds and the artist alone holds the keys to unlock these labyrinths.
Precise to the point in her depictions, Shabari does not deflect problematics in her life or even in the portrayals in her works. She boldly looks the problem in the face, gives it some texture, flowers, hearts, adorns it with some positive poems from her own sensibilities, and convinces the problem that it too has a right of expression. In this way, the artist employs her problem-solving keys to resolve and respond in the only way she knows, diligently and with absolute confidence.
Shabari Smitha Guha presents an intimate and personal account about her self and her surroundings in her works which could be seen as pages from her diary; as her leitmotif of the key takes center stage, the artist binds the silent narrative elements with the subtle glue of sentiments within each work.