An Artist’s Rise

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Secretly painting for years, Saba Gul met an artist who broke the news of her hobby to her parents only after her creativity had been recognised. She is now a full-time artist

When the lockdown restricted Shafia to her home, he decided to convert the walls into her canvas. KL Image: Special Arrangement

In Srinagar’s Lal Bazar lies the abode of a young self-taught artist whose room is cluttered with acrylics, watercolours, palettes, brushes and paintings. She has reduced her universe to the room where she remains busy drawing and painting.

Eldest to her siblings, Shafia Shafi, 25, started by drawing illustrations. “It was my hobby and I used to express myself through sketches and paintings,” said Shafia, a private and a reserved person. “It was a medium for me to pour out my pent-up emotions.”

Shafia was always interested in arts and her teachers at Green Valley Educational Institute used to appreciate Shafia for her handwriting and diagrammatic work. Being an academically sound student, she opted for a non-medical stream but soon she found out that it was not her forte. “I felt lost and was certain that it was not my world as I couldn’t connect the dots. I always had an inclination towards those subjects which I could relate with,” revealed Shafia. So, she changed her mind and did her bachelor’s in Humanities from MA Road Women’s College.

Shafia’s revived her interest in art and started dedicating her spear evening time to it.“If I hadn’t chosen this path I would have suffered from depression,” she said. “For me choosing art as my hobby was an escape from this materialistic world into my own world.”

Shafia at work. It is papier machie

In college, Shafia said she had low self-esteem and was hesitant to speak. However, she decided to take part in the Digital India Campaign competition. To her utter surprise, she secured the second position for her performance in poster making. It boosted her morale and encouraged her to take part in future competitions.

After her bachelors, she went to Kashmir University to pursue her masters in Psychology. There, she saw a group of Fine Arts students painting on a fallen Chinar. She wanted to participate but they denied her a role. Feeling her disheartened, one member from the group granted her permission.

 “I painted two lips holding a chain,” Shafia said. “They all were impressed.” That appreciation changer her life forever.

A fortnight later, a well-known media organisation from outside Kashmir had come to shoot a documentary on artists in The University of Kashmir. Busy with her own studies Shafia was unaware about it. “A student from the fine arts department came running to me. He told me about the same documentary and played it on his phone. I was so happy to see that they had highlighted my piece of work,” she said. “It inspired me a lot.”

Back home, her parents had no idea about these developments. She would keep her secrets fearing her conservative family may not approve of all these things. Then a documentary filmmaker from Kolkotta approached her. They wanted to visit her home record her working. She had no option but to reveal to the family. The parents got into her room and started looking at her drawings – most of which were beyond their imagination and understanding: gender stereotypes, domestic violence, materialistic world and pain of women.

 With one major stage passed, her friends encouraged her to use social media platforms to exhibit her creations. “I created my Instagram page and I was overwhelmed by the response I got,” said Shafia.“Even I got my first order of portrait from a friend who paid me for that.”

Later,  she participated in various competitions at the university level. Soon she topped in Sonzal Festival organised by the University of Kashmir. Then she represented Kashmir at the national level for installation at 33 National Youth Festival held by the Association of Indian Universities at Ranchi and won first prize.

Shafia Shafi in her work station, at home. Kl Image: Special Arrangement

While her master’s degree was in the final phase, she received an order of wall mural project at a playschool for which she was later appreciated by the school principal. Subsequently, the school principal offered her a job of Art in-charge in her school in 2019. Shafia accepted the offer.

Soon, she left the job due to the extended lockdown. Nothing much to do, she painted the walls of her own house. Now she has started calligraphy and papier machie artwork also.

Shafia said she is not pursuing a job as she is financially stable now. She wants to expand her work and open her own art gallery. Shafia’s work has given her a voice to express herself but she is saddened by the plight of limited professional knowledge courses in Kashmir.

“In Kashmir, we only have a BFA degree and no short-term courses are available here. Self-taught artists like me get discouraged when they are judged on the basis of degrees” she said.

In Kashmir, she said, artists have no future. To showcase their work, they have to visit outside the state and the majority of people living here have no idea that fine art is a career option. 

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