BEHIND THE ART OF MANJUSHA PAINTING: MEET SOMA ROY

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Soma Roy has been in the field of arts for two decades and introduces herself as the daughter of Prodyot Kumar Roy and Maitreyee Roy. “I am a daughter of two states (Bihar & Bengal), but I think of myself as a complete Indian who keeps living in remotest of Indian villages doing crazy stuff”, she tells us.

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The young artist from Patna got the “Rajya Puraskar 2015-16” for “Manjusha Painting”, a traditional painting in which snakes and geometrical shapes are used to create patterns. Soma is trained in eleven Art forms. She is a trainer in Paashaan, Kaashth, Paper-Machie, Clay – terracotta, embroideries and appliques, block- making and printing, tie & dye, leathercraft, Sikki, Crochet and hand Knitting, Doll-Making, Soft-toy making, Quilling, basic loom weaving -Carpets, rugs, and Durries, etc.

Currently, she is also teaching and training students for the different entrance examinations of fashion colleges.

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What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on my novel, ‘The Art Mafia’ plus working on the theme of Naad-Bindu. I am also developing a series on nakshatras and grahas as per the stories and techniques of lal-Kitaab and other traditional branches of Indian astrology.

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Who are your biggest influences?

I like and get inspired by many, so taking a few names would not do any justice. But, one thing for sure, I draw special inspiration from lives of Swami Vivekanand, Madam Curie and Sarojni Naidu.

 What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t expect others to pat your back. Give yourself your own brownie points. Sunflowers shall automatically look up to you and smile at you if you become a shiny star like the Sun. So, be like the Sun. The pain, the hours of labor and the experiences, shall make a better you, so, don’t give up or complain about the hardships.

BEHIND THE ART OF MANJUSHA PAINTING: MEET SOMA ROY

You are trained in 11 art forms, tell us about this.

  • Manjush, madhubani, terracotta, paper-maché, lac-jewellery, sujani, pathar-katti, bhagalpuri-silk weaving and bawan-butti are the few art forms from Bihar that I know well.
  • Kaalighata, patachitra, sohrai, tanjore and naathvara-krishna art, kalamkari, hand-woven carpets, phulkari , kaantha and many more traditional crafts hold my interest. 
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What is your source of inspiration? 

  • Sanatan Dharma and all Hindu religious stories along with folk lores, astrology, numerology and few other esoteric subjects. 
  • Once I get a grasp over the tales and scriptures,  I intend to explore possibilities of developing my own sets of sign language with its unique whimsical trivium and quadrivium.
  • For any folk artist, nature and current affairs hold most of the tools and spices to create a tasty unique dish.
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How much time and effort does it take to complete a painting?

See, the more details you do, the more time it shall take. I normally do pencil-sketch first and use a lot of geometric drawing instruments. So, for me, a 29*21 sq. inch work takes 7 days (if I work 6 hours daily on it).

BEHIND THE ART OF MANJUSHA PAINTING: MEET SOMA ROY
Soma’s art

How many artists still practice this art?

Only a bunch (10-15 families) of Bhagalpuri are practicing it on a professional basis. By professional basis, I only mean that it is their main source of income if not only.

How have you developed your career?

I started as a normal design graduate working to pay bills under a bunch of famous ateliers and design-houses. Initiation int folk happened accidentally, I got a brief government support before a few local, Bihari-officers started really bad exploitation. On refusing to bow down to their malefic intentions, they harmed my career a lot but, actually it turned out to be a boon in disguise. I started exploring private schools and colleges, independent curators and galleries, organizations and individuals dedicated to the handicrafts sector, international markets etc. 

I hope to launch a brand after COVID-19. I have even written a book named, ‘The Art Mafia’, just waiting for some funds and for the right time.

BEHIND THE ART OF MANJUSHA PAINTING: MEET SOMA ROY

What would be your advice for a beginner artist?

It’s a difficult choice you made, I say to all my students. Because, every parent discourages the kid to pursue art for becoming an artist. Most of the art students end up becoming graphic designers or working for some sort of multinational company or becoming art teachers. My only advice is to not succumb to societal pressures at least. Bowing to financial needs is fine, we all have our responsibilities and duties. But, at least we artists should not think about peer pressure or societal standards and fads. Also, art is as good as meditation or trying to write a novel. Don’t expect any magic or overnight success. 

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How does your art relate to women’s empowerment? What message is your art trying to send to people?

Manjusha art was traditionally practiced on earthen pots or walls by lower caste women during the special local festival of Bihula-Bisheri Pooja. Those who were trying to make it utilitarian, lacked the marketing edge because the motifs were not sophisticated enough. I am one of the few designers who donated new sets of motifs and arrangements. I worked hard to create aesthetics and give it an acceptable appeal. There is more to it than just Bihula-Bisheri theme or story of Aang-Raaj Karn. The art form is more than just X type dolls or snakes. It is one of the most geometric and precise folk art forms in India. I have and shall further try to create many more works that give it popularity, acceptability and marketability. If I don’t get my due share of grants and recognitions from India’s government, I am planning to go global and seek international help.

What is your favorite work and why?

Even when I was studying to be an engineer during my class 12th, I always took out some time to play with colors or do some craft work. I had a pattern, I was always interested to play it the folksy way. I am now doing it professionally and teaching it as well. 

My health does not permit me to practice my art like normal people. So, I do it in my own unique way by lying on my stomach. 

Creation of new motifs, designs, outlays and sometimes even new storylines is my little contribution to the art form. I chose Manjusha because until 5 years ago, it neither had much government support nor any international recognition. No one seemed to be interested in working on evolving the art form. There was absolutely no contribution in the development of motifs or their arrangements. It gave me an immense opportunity to develop new patterns and motifs. I have donated many of my research works to Bihar museum and UMSAS. I really dream to be rewarded someday with grants so that I can implement my ideas and research works for the betterment of others.

Crude motifs and a little off beat subject (death, snakes, wrath of snake goddess,  sufferings, heavy inlay of Saturnite Astrology and arithmetic, etc). Plus, even the locals never wanted to welcome the art form inside their living premises due to associated dark myths. It being originally made by low caste communities, made it even more confined and stagnated its growth and popularity. My qualification and brahmin origin is making a few more families open their homes and hearts to the ‘snake art of Aang-Pradesh’.

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What is your typical work day like?

I am still under some physiotherapy and ayurvedic upchaars. I wake up by 8.30 A.M.  and my morning starts with 1-2 hrs of health maintenance activities plus taking care of my home. Then it’s all about calls and work till 10 P.M.  10pm to 2-3 am is about reading and research and looking for new opportunities. I am not a really social person nor have too much of a personal life.

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What is success?

Success is like Lord Rahu. A bottomless pit or a never ending sky. For me, it would be when I have at least 100 independent artist families being able to make a decent living out of practicing this art. Even though I teach for free, only a few students think of it as a scope for profession which is a matter of concern for me. If we Indians forget or give up our rich heritage, how shall the globe know about it?

I know and practice at least 15 types of folk arts (kalighata, patachitra, sanganeri baandhni , blockprint, terracotta, patharkatti which is stone-art of Gaya), paper-maché, lac, manjusha, madubani, godna, sohrai, tanjore, traditional persian 32knots silk on silk carpet, and many many varieties of embroideries. I intend to learn more, but, real success would be to make myself totally able to survive on selling these art pieces plus helping my students and many more do so too.

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What’s your career highlight?

I am going to turn 33 soon, I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg. But, by God’s grace, I hope to cover a few tourist spots all over India where my works shall be displayed through murals and wall arts. My researched works on Manjusha have given the art form a more acceptable wider audience because I have applied designing and psychology tools to create new sets of motifs and their new ways of geometric arrangement.

Any Desi designer must first become an artisan and live the traditional way before even thinking about creating anything new in such a delicate folk-style. Creating a market, while retaining at least 90% flavor is a real trick. I think, I have at least done justice to that part. 

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Where is it possible to purchase your work?

I have a few unpaid social network pages such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Since I am a State awardee, a few government sites sell my work. And museum stores also sell my work-copies in the form of souvenirs and small gift items. Plus, I have my own loyal customer base who specifically look for my signature pieces.

How do you want to help move humanity forward?

I am a designer by qualification and a folk-artist by choice. As a designer, we are groomed to accelerate economics, create demands and desires that simplify things to make them more acceptable. As an artist, I have the added leisure to cater to my whimsical, not so politically correct or economically viable creative side. It’s like working on a phantom script and creating my own brand of poetry. We all need a little bit of magic, a little bit of hope and a little bit of angelic positivity. We all need a respite from daily routines and what can be better than scrolls of folklores with totally sophisticated techniques and Indian mystic and mythological root flavors? I hope that my works not only provide the earning of a few families practicing the crafts but also create recreation in the busy life of city dwellers. My main contribution would be to make the next generation aware of our rich heritage. Plus make them realize that there is a scope of survival outside science and commerce, that we can even pursue folk-art as a serious mode of earning.

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