With her confident brush strokes, bold use of colour and striking imagery of goddesses, Dithi Mukherjee, Kolkata-based artist extraordinaire, weaves a rich tapestry that derives inspiration from India’s rich cultural history. Having lived for 5 years in Geneva, Switzerland, Dithi tells us about how this was a turning point in her life, and how the former clinical dietician found her calling in painting and making prints.
Tracing her story
Dithi recalls loving the process of creating art from her early childhood. She says, “Painting, creating, have been a family value, was a sibling ritual, it was play, intrinsically woven into our growing up years. Our parents nurtured the creative and spiritual aspects of our being. My sisters, cousins, most of us painted, trained in the various arts purely for the love of it. A conscious culture of literature and the arts is integral to the Bengali soil and its people. So, there it was: the unabashed creative play – an unconditional giving presence and a fountain of joy, a source of light.”
Dithi grew up in the peaceful environs of a town close to Kolkata, away from the city. She considers herself fortunate to have grown up in a place close to nature, and at a pace that helped her pursue her dreams. Among her early influences, she counts her family, “they lay the foundation of a way of life that is wholesome, aspirational and braves originality in life choices”, she says. She was also deeply inspired by her first art teacher, Samarda, and his unconditional love towards his craft.
She moved to Kolkata to complete her university studies, and went on to pursue her Masters in food and nutrition. After her marriage in the final year of college, she went on to live in Delhi and Mumbai with her husband.
She reminiscences, “Through the years of college, work, marriage, relocations: this active creative engagement receded to the background more and more until it was no more than a childhood memory. By 2007, I was a practicing dietician, working in reputed hospital and health management institutions in Mumbai. That year, we decided to accept an offer and move to Switzerland, completely unaware of the unfolding that was about to begin.”
The Move to Switzerland
Between 2007 to 2013, Dithi and her husband lived in Geneva. Dithi considers the experience as a ‘game-changer’. “It was expansive and demanded that we adapt and grow with the flow. I was learning French, struggling to integrate into the new environment, trying hard to ‘fit in’”, she says. During this time, the local hospital offered her a chance to do research work as a clinical nutritionist. However, the language barrier and her non-EU education meant that there was no scope for remuneration or joining the workforce right away. Dithi felt she had reached a point of stagnation in her work. Feeling uninspired, she took the decision to quit.
She says, “Looking back, I feel that I was inwardly seeking something that resonated with me, offered more scope for creative, inspired growth. I may not have been very aware of this inner, quiet, thirst. The uprooting had me seeking answers for the first time: to know myself inwardly, to find a self-definition that was rooted in inner truth and purpose.”
Her father, over their Skype sessions, encouraged her to rediscover her love for painting again. Beginning with art journaling, Dithi started filling up the vocational void in her life with painting. Art journaling led to blogging and the discovery, in 2008, of the online platform, Etsy.com. “I loved their ideology of upholding an artisanal, handmade marketplace to support a creative way of life. I got on this online US based market, retailing my first canvases for $10.”
Recognition in the Art Scene – India and Beyond
The Indian blogging community is highly influential and independent artists and creators have come into their own through the power of the internet. Dithi herself recalls a break-through moment when her work was featured in the popular Indian art and design blog, ‘ArtnLight’, by design entrepreneur and blogger, Vineeta Nair. The feature led to her first commission as an artist. Soon enough, she was receiving commissions from clients around the world. Recognition came in the form of magazine features, campaigns, interviews, etc.
A recurrent theme in Dithi’s art is the depiction of Goddesses from Indian mythology. Most of the commissions she received were centred around painting Godesses, and Dithi explored these themes with her colourful, vibrant paintings. She says, “They filled my canvases with colour and mythology, helped me relive childhood nostalgia around festivities and reconnect with my cultural, familial and spiritual roots. The bejewelled Goddesses brought the abundance of spirit, the joy, light and colour that my life in the first years of being in Switzerland seemed to grapple for”.
Dithi’s earliest milestone came in the form of the Times of India Durgotsav Mumbai campaign in 2010, followed through in 2011 in Delhi. She was also featured in magazines such as BBC Good Homes feature, DNA Bangalore and Mumbai, POOL, Inside Outside, Prissma, and, more recently – The Lonely Planet. Sananda, a Kolkata-based magazine has covered and showcased her work and awarded her the Sananda Inspiration awards this year.
The online retail portal, Etsy, recently organized their Kolkata chapter of nationwide workshops and curated a painting workshop that was facilitated by Dithi. She has exhibited her art in India and abroad, and been part of various international printmaking exchanges and shows.
When asked about her preferred medium of art, Dithi talks about her love for watercolours. “I have worked mostly with Acrylics in the first few years and I love the medium. However, the fluidity and unpredictability of watercolours, where you need sometimes step back and watch colour play itself out – is very thrilling for me. I love making relief print blocks, be it wood or linoleum. Woodcuts, wood engravings and linocuts are probably my favourites there.”
On staying inspired and being true to oneself
Dithi finds inspiration in all aspects of life around her. “Inspiration is woven into the process of life and living”, she says. From the city of Kolkata, to reflections of her childhood, Indian mythology, songs of Tagore, Sufi poetry, artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Amrita Shergill – she draws from various elements that have resonated with her in her lifetime. Her training ground in Kalighat where she trained in print-making in a community studio located in front of a famed Kali temple, remains etched in her memory. Scenes and reflections from her daily visits here formed a huge impact on her.
Dithi has an important message to those of us who live away from our home countries, and are seeking to pursue our passions: “We live in times of world citizenships and brotherhood. Our home is what we carry and nurture inside our hearts, not just a geography, religion or culture. “To thine own self be true”, as Shakespeare says. Learn as much from the local languages, arts, cultures and let every experience, good or bad, be a catalyst of growth. Grow with the flow and forget not your roots, embrace life and love unconditionally.”
She also stresses on the importance of being true to oneself. “To follow the inner call of seeking takes courage and will power. More than anything, it takes Love. I believe this is the way only way to be, to live consciously and tune in more and more to that which is your own truth. Not be dictated by what the world demands of you.”
She leaves us with these parting words to ponder upon, “Life is an enchanting mystery, waiting to unfold – if only we open our hearts to embrace it, and, learn to trust the process.”.
(For more on Dithi’s work, visit her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/artanahata/)