Was a balmy September day in 2010 that I had first met Manisha. She had a show coming up at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre in a few weeks, and it was a lovely afternoon the same winter I spent at her Studio in Mount Kailash as she introduced me to her body of work.
But it was over conversations around the series she was working on for ‘Celebrating the Feminine’ show the following summer, that I got to know her better.
There is a lot about Manisha that reaches across as you speak with her – the calmness, spontaneity and steadfastness. A lady collected, and a lady very much there in the moment. Her eyes sparkle – alive to the moment as she pulls out anecdotes from her journey through life. Her tinkling laughter has the wholesomeness of having enjoyed and absorbed from each moment of that journey too.
And her canvases capture much of that – the colours, the language and the conversation.
Like any artist, Manisha brings herself to her work. The depth of cultural richness of Madhubani art.. and the freshness of the contemporary of the urbane woman that she is. No wonder then the beautiful mix of traditional and folk with the contemporary of present times.
A self taught artist, she and her two sisters learnt from their grandmother and mother as they watched them practice Madhubani art on the floor and walls during festivals. The family might have moved to Delhi when the girls were little, the roots were still very much in interiors of Bihar – Raghopur, Saharsa Distt in North Bihar where Manisha was born. The folk .. and the traditional.
And Madhubani became one of the languages of expression.
So, when not studying .. Manisha would be drawing wherever she could – notebooks, paper, cloth. And canvases. Soon, the house was a riot of colours – strewn with Madhubani paintings hanging from every wall surface.
Was in 1998, when an elderly neighbor came visiting them in Mount Kailash in Delhi – and was held spellbound by the expanse of Madhubani art he saw in the house. He insisted they be exhibited for more people to see. On his behest, Manisha put together a stack of paintings and went to India International Centre, New Delhi .. who sponsored her first show. One thing led to another, and the same year she had a show in Goa and Gujarat too .. besides a couple more in Delhi. Manisha was 18, and among the first artists who brought Madhubani art into the ambit of galleries.
This was just the beginning.
Over the years, Manisha has exhibited and reached Madhubani art to various parts of the country and the world. As I write this, an excited audience waits for her at New Mexico in the U.S. where she is exhibiting at the International Folk Art Market this July of 2015.
A National Awardee, and many other awards and recognitions from the Government, she has also published numerous papers on the art. Her works grace various spaces across the world – hotels, galleries and personal collections.
Qualified as an Interior Designer, Architect and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning, her engagement in these areas further adds its own expression to Manisha’s strokes on canvas.
And as she says, her works measure too how she has evolved as a person. As a woman. As an entrepreneur .. a designer .. an architect. And, strong roots in the folk art. The colors she brings to her canvases is her own conversation with the medium. And everything comes together in a voice which has a spiritual tenor to it.
Each of her canvases captures that. Each canvas has a story it tells – its fine lines .. the colors .. and the form. If the form is traditional .. the colors natural .. there is conversation which reaches across as those lines come together.
Whether it is her ‘Trees of Life’ series, or the works she showcased at ‘India Awakens Under The Banyan Tree’ at Essl Museum, Vienna .. or her expressions on canvas for the ‘Conversations Collaborations Transformations’ show at Visual Arts Gallery – each is a dialogue in time.
At her studio one afternoon, as she walked me through canvases, placement of a tree or a leaf at a particular corner was knowledge and information once explained. A branch growing in a certain direction had significance. A buyer friend who bought a ‘Khobar’ from her, was educated on its relevance (along with a brief write-up he could put up along-with) before he took the canvas home. Those were not just mere strokes on her canvas – there was something it said.
Her Kali, particularly .. held me mesmerised.
As Manisha evolved and grew through her art .. so did her sense of responsibility towards it. Here inherent need to keep Madhubani art alive and ticking. Its beauty to thrive. And forbear.
To this extent, for a while now, she has been conducting Workshops to bring people closer to Madhubani art – within the country and overseas. Educating them about various aspects of the art .. and even teaching them the techniques. The workshops are out of schools sometimes, festivals .. clubs .. galleries .. or standalone forums. The age ranges from 8 to 80, people from various walks of life .. and each participant walks away richer of the experience and knowledge. Her comfort with the English language further enables an effective reach across an audience as does her engaging manner.
Manisha runs a Madhubani Art Centre, and also works closely with Madhubani artists (mostly women) in remote areas in Bihar, helping them produce and market their work. There are hundreds of women who benefit already from this intervention and support.
Mother to two grown boys – studying Engineering – its easy, yes, to see where Manisha’s steadfastness comes from. Her determination .. and that sparkle in her eyes. The calmness. Spontaneity. And humility.
Her art is her fuel.
And she is giving back much to it too.
And with each new canvas .. she says something more. Keeping you to your roots .. and giving you branches to flower your imagination. As does her own imagination, which takes flight much like those strokes that measure their way on the canvas. Colors that speak – the bright of the reds .. and restlessness of the green .. or the vibrance of the yellow.
Madhubani – forest of honey. Yes, if her canvases capture that .. so does Manisha’s own person.