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Moumita Shaw, by Sulgana Biswas, DNA News

Moumita Shaw, a Jamshedpur-based artist, has been painting since her childhood. Daughter of a photographer and documentary filmmaker, she grew up surrounded by an ambience of books, film and art. Jamshedpur, with its cultural apparatuses and industrial landscape, helped her find her creative voice and influence her quirky, gritty and urban style. An exciting and prolific emerging artist, her collections are scattered around the globe. Married to a fellow artist, her home is her studio.

Bravely post-modernist in depicting relationships, her figures--human, non-human and animal--are arrested at a moment of supreme consciousness. She is also an unapologetically personal storyteller of reality, hyper reality and fantasy. Interestingly, every work has multiple elements. But these are stories that coexist or interlock, just like simultaneous strands of life. So, what could have been a fragmented, dislocated vision becomes instead a slice from life's composite mosaic. Backgrounds are layered and textured. "Because my work has a poster quality about it, I wanted to break the flat, glossy tonal monotony of poster backgrounds," says the artist.

She is a rule-breaker, but not for the sake of it. Acrylics may dominate, but on paper she experiments with diverse media: watercolors, pastels, conte. For this collection, she has used threads innovatively to tie multiple elements or heighten an element's piercing effect. She uses photographs and paper scraps for collage. Her spaces multi-task with panels and compartments and spill over boundaries. Certain paintings have the quality of sculpture and installation art suspended in space. As Moumita explores bigger canvasses today, she navigates through wider social commitments and socio-political references.

For Moumita, the human face communicates life's told and untold experiences, infected with sacred and profane emotions. So eyes, lips and even the way she treats the skin becomes infused with meaning. "Even their silences are not voiceless," she says. At times she cakes the faces with opaque color or streaks them. In their 'make-up', the faces reveal a gamut of emotions. Some faces, like the clown's, defy iconographic conventions. "I enjoy iconographic subversions. My clowns can be sinister or sad to make a powerful social commentary," she explains.

Moumita also revels in her full, voluptuous female figures--she finds interesting possibilities in the female form that can be sexual as well as maternal. The human form's dramatic potential excites her: faces, limbs, and their proportions are made to stretch their inherent dramatic possibilities, either in collectivity or seclusion. Their garments and accessories become either their extensions or deliberately provocative foreign elements. Sometimes even landscape elements, like trees, resemble human beings in conversation. To push more such boundaries, she tries to find "life in still life" - vases, for instance, are a recurring motif, but they are alive through their distortions. Through animals, Moumita creates her own myths, some pre-historic, some contemporary, but all telling their own stories. Her evolution from a self-reflexive, self-contained multiple monologue into a searching, searing dialogue with the world outside reflects in her to-and-fro journeys between the personal and the public: topical images from television, newspapers or urbanscapes recur as a personal commentary of the issues that affect her. Through figures, objects and signs, she puts forth her signature observations to a public event that may have disturbed or angered her. "No sensitive person can remain immune from the world. Through my work, the political becomes personal," she states with conviction.

As far as colors go, Moumita likes the unexpected. "Investing colors, yes, but I also like rediscovering familiar colors by using them differently. I like to break the mould," she says impishly. Red as a color intrigues her, but the reason is as yet an enigma for her as red for her does not always mean violence. Her creative process reveals the intensely personal nature of her journeys. "Sometimes, I may plan a painting in my sketchbook. But sometimes, it's straight on the canvas. I start with a germ of an idea or a half-remembered dream and follow where it leads me in frenzy. Then its over," she says with disarming candor.