Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Anannya Chowdhury - An Interview of a Bengali Artist

Anannya Chowdhury Artist
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
A few years ago, on a trip to India, I came across a village of artists living in beautiful clay houses baked over the years by the sun that were hand decorated with an amazing array of designs and bright colors.  What made the village standout is it’s collection of folk art seen throughout the entire village which is located in the state of Bihar, aptly named Madhubani, which literally translates to forests of honey.  The artists create an art form that is named after the village and its roots can be traced back to epic periods, perhaps during the time of the Ramayana, when the ruling king commissioned artists to paint the walls at the time of the marriage of his daughter Sita, to Lord Ram.  A couple of pieces of Madhubani art painted on hand made paper are part of my art collection which remind me of my unforgettable experience.  

By chance, I visited an art gallery in Texas that was hosting an exhibit of art which mostly displayed modern, abstract, mixed-media pieces, but there was one that stood out from the rest.  It was a painting in a palette of very bright colors that was abstract, yet it could easily be interpreted by a narrative that can be described as romantic and dreamy.  It contained all the elements of the folk art made in the Madhubani village in India.  I contacted the artist from the painting and we agreed on a visit to her home and studio.  

Anannya Chowdhury Artist
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
When I arrived, the first thing that came to my mind was how warm, inviting, artistic and fragrant her home felt.  There was the smell of flowers, candles, incense and best of all indian home cooking!  Within moments I was welcomed and was offered a glass of sweet coconut water.  It was heavenly!  Not only did we talk about art, gardening, colors, passion, music, and history, but we talked about her grandmother’s and her mother’s recipes which are very dear to Anannya’s heart.  Anannya has a connection to her family back in India thru cooking and her love for them is felt in the flavor of her dishes.  As we started talking, I could tell that I was in for a trip to the past, to ancient culture, to Anannya’s story, to her India. 

Anannya Chowdhury is an artist with a vibrant personality that is reflected in all the art she creates.  Her voice and sentiment can be felt and heard in her pieces that are meticulously painted with small brushes and lined in a way that your eyes gravitate to take a closer look at all the fine detail.  Folk art and Indian history run deep for Anannya and her style almost always includes India in the heart of her paintings.
A Rainbow Peacock on a Rainy Day by Anannya Chowdhury
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Leticia: Thank you for welcoming me into your home for a personal visit to your studio.  It’s not very often that I meet an artist that reflects the folk art that India is famous for.  I’m very exited to meet you and even more exited to see more of your art.  Tell me more about yourself.  Where were you born?  What were your surroundings like?

Anannya: I'm originally from the eastern part of India from a place called Calcutta.  I'm a Bengali and Bengalis are the natives from Calcutta.  I was however born in Meghalaya, which is at the most north-eastern part of India.  Meghalaya means “the abode of clouds”, it's called that because it is a mountainous region with rich stretches of valleys and it's the wettest place on earth, rainfall is always part of the landscape.  The Meghalayan forests are considered to be among the richest botanical habitats of Asia.  Meghalaya is popularly called the Switzerland of India, a beautiful, green, colder part of India and my mother’s forefathers are settled there.  My father is a mechanical engineer and he worked as an executive for a top oil company.  Due to his job, we had to travel and live in several places in India.  The majority of the time, I was raised in Mumbai, the most modern, cosmopolitan city in the country, just like New York of America.  I studied at Mount Mary High School, a convent traditional school.  I was exposed to different cultures within India and I developed a very modern outlook on society and life.  I was brought up speaking fluent English and I also studied french and it was a very interesting expereince to study a foreign language.  

Leticia: What was your childhood like?  Was your family very traditional?  I know how different girls can be raised from boys.  Did you feel your parents support in what you wanted to do in life?

Painting by Anannya Chowdhury
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Anannya: I was brought up in an environment where a girl of the family must know how to
sing, dance, act, cook and should have long hair.  So family expectations were that I must be married by a certain age.  But art and culture was alway a part of our upbringing.  However, I was always more interested in creating art, which included watercolors, craft work, embroidery, ceramic and clay, foil, sand art, and much more.  I was always doing something and my spare time was for creating anything that came to mind.

Leticia:  Did you have any formal training on drawing, design or did you go to a fine arts school?

Anannya: I'm a self taught artist and I simply just enjoyed creating art.  When I was in the third grade, I knitted a baby sweater by myself for my neighbor’s five month old baby girl.  I made a miniature clay kitchen that included all small kitchenware with mud and glue.  It was so much fun because I made a lot of clay kitchenware for other kids in my neighborhood and we played with the sets.  

Anannya: After ten years in Mumbai, my fathers job required us to move to Vadodara in the state of Gujarat.  

Leticia: Yes, I'm familiar with that city.  It’s the city characterized by packed bazaars and clusters of barricaded houses.

Anannya: That's right, they're houses known as pols, which is a form of housing that compromises many families of a particular group, like caste, profession, or religion.  You can see most of those in the old part of the city called Ahmedabad.

Anannya: In Vadodara I completed my undergraduate degree in Clinical Psychology from the Maharaja Sayajiro University and soon after I taught painting and craft work to autistic children.  In the meantime I was always learning and trying new mediums.  I used to participate in art events and even won awards!  It was the feeling of creating, the passion that I so much enjoyed.  

Painting by Anannya Chowdhury
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Anannya: You asked me about family expectations and traditions… In India, when a girl is just starting to complete her undergraduate and has reached marriageable age between 18 to 25 years, I was expected to get married and go to my husband’s home.  That was the indian tradition back then, but of course things have changed a lot now in modern times.  I got married as tradition dictates in an arranged marriage and moved to the United States in 2001, where I was expected to start a new happy life.  I arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the worst snow storm I have ever seen in my life.  I was very afraid as I came from a hot region of India, to the iceland of Minnesota.  Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as I expected and I stopped creating art for twelve long years due to my unhappiness and trouble in my marriage and consequently divorce.  I believe in never giving up and I managed to get strength and stayed in America and started a new life.  

Leticia:  It's never good to give up on a passion which in your case is art and the result of that was your unhappiness, but I’m so happy that you're now in a much better position.  What were your dreams then and what are they now?

Anannya: I believe in never giving up and I decided to stay in America and my dream was to have a new beginning.  I'm now a full time professional artist and I’m very happy, very proud of my accomplishments.  My work is admired by many galleries here in Texas and my work is beginning to be recognized and receive awards.  I always had the admiration from my parents and my brother who has been a huge support.  My dream is to be able to serve as an example especially to more women, after every misfortune there is hope to start a new life and follow your dreams and passion.  I’m finally starting to paint again after twelve years and have been successful so far.  My future dream is to open my own gallery and studio where I can sell my paintings and craftwork,  and to promote culture and diversity.  I promote colors to make people happy.  I believe happy colors, brings happy thoughts.  

Leticia: What do you feel makes your work unique and truly your own?

Anannya: My artwork is very colorful, vibrant and very detailed.  I don’t use pens or markers.  I work on modern designs with traditional detail that employs an array of colors, patterns and a unique different style all together.  I call it Artmantras and so I named my website Artmantras.com.  The word mantra has two parts: man - which is the root of the sanskrit word word for mind, and tra - which is the root of the word for instrument.  Artmantra is therefore an instrument of the mind which can serve to enter a deep state of creativity and rejuvenation. 

Leticia: From where do you draw inspiration?

Anannya: Firstly, I draw inspiration from my mother.  I always want her to smile and every time I exhibit or win an award, she is simply smiling.  That's what makes me very happy to keep going.  I also feel I want to set an example that life is all about following your passion, about standing up and never giving up.  I'm a firm believer in being optimistic.  I want to keep growing in my art world, and simply I love the feeling I get when I paint and create. 

Painting by Anannya Chowdhury
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Leticia:  I agree with you on following one’s own passions.  I believe it is the basis for our inner happiness which in turn makes us successful.  There is a quote by Dalai Lama that I hold dear and follow like a commandment, “Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions.”  Anannya, I believe you can agree on this quote too!  Which brings me to your creative process.  What is the process like for you?


Anannya: My creative process starts with a clean canvas.  I think about highlighting another person or what feeling the person will get when they see the finished painting.  My artwork has lots of curved lines, patterns and small detail.  I love challenge on my canvas.    

Leticia:  Some of the continuous line work in your work seems as if it is moving… truly flowing… What has been the most challenging to you on becoming an artist and selling your work?

Anannya: Thank you for observing movement in my work!  I cannot say that selling my work has been very challenging, but I have made it my personal goal to create awareness in the western world.  India’s culture is not just about curries or the export of IT engineers, it’s also a rich and colorful culture that has a long tradition of vibrant folk art that can bring a  splash of color into your home.  I do have a style that is a fusion of west and east and I’m very proud of my work and uniting both cultures.  

Leticia: I appreciate and love indian folk art and of course it reminds me of the folk art from my own mexican culture.  We have a lot of similarities.  

Leticia: What art do you most identify with or what artists can you name that influence your work?

Anannya: I'm fascinated by indian Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore and his paintings.  I also feel inspired by the Shantiniketan style of art that was started as a school of art by Tagore from Calcutta, India.  When I came to America, I loved the work of painter Van Gogh.  I love his curves and certain patterns that he painted because my work is mostly lots of symmetrical patterns and curves. 

Leticia: What does your cultural background mean to you and how do you apply that to your art?

Annanya: In India, we celebrate colors.  From colorful spices to clothing, to sweets and colorful homes.  We love to be surrounded by color.  My mission is to expose indian art to this part of the world as I believe art must travel for everyone to know about other parts of the world.  I do many types of ancient art work like madhubani folk art.  It is a painting technique well over 2,500 years old.  I also do ethnic embroideries from the eastern part of india such as kantha - from Calcutta and kathi - from Gujarat, India.  Foil art, this is my favorite… And sand-art, wood, ceramics in which I incorporate indian motifs.  I do paint a lot of peacocks.  I am very passionate about peacocks!

Painting by Anannya Chowdhury
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Leticia:  I can see that in your work!  I also love peacocks.  We used to have a neighbor that had a flock of them in his yard.  When a peacock fluffed the train of his iridescent feathers it was such a majestic sight.  It’s such an intricate display of art on a bird!

Leticia: Does religion play a role in your work?

Anannya: No, religion doesn’t play any part, but you can see some of my foil work display motifs of indian gods or goddesses.  Foil work requires extreme detailing and nothing seemed better than to depict gods.  I was born and raised a hindu, but my outlook on religion is kind and accepting.  I love to learn form everything I come across.  I also practice daily meditation and chanting called “Nam myoho range kyo” thru which I have learned to bring out my potential.  My artwork is really a dedication to my mother’s love.  Every time I’m selected in an exhibit I make sure my Ma smiles a little more than yesterday.  It keeps me going.  

Leticia:  What would you say your personality type is?

Anannya: I like simplicity in life and so I'm honest, it makes things simple in life.  I’m an extremely focused person.  I have my dreams and vision and what I will do next.  I'm a perfectionist by nature and bring that into my artwork.  I believe that everything is possible only by the art of positive thoughts.  I love enjoying little pleasures in life from a cup of indian tea (chai) in the morning to taking a walk in the evening.  I am not a person to sit and stress over something because I believe in myself, my dreams and the justice of god.  I know I’m on the right path to succeed.  After all what you believe in is what you get.  I have a good sense of humor and I love to laugh, watch comedy movies, and be simple and nice to everyone.  I love life and everything about my life.  

Leticia: With such a positive outlook on life there is no doubt your dreams will become a reality.  Part of that reality is the opportunity to take  your art to the next level, that is to exhibit.  Where was your first art piece exhibited?

Anannya: My first exhibit was at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center and I'm very proud of that.  Soon after that I was invited to exhibit my work in other galleries and collective exhibits.  One of the most memorable responses was to receive a recognition at TVVA- Texas Visual Art Association.  I was selected as a winner and received the Honorary Mention Award which to my delight included a trip to Spain to exhibit my art there.  I also received the Honorary Mention Award from Mckinney in the textile  art category.  It brings me so much joy when people ask me about the type of art I do.  I t gives me the drive to keep going!  

Traditional Bengali Cuisine from the recipes of
Anannya Chowdhury
Photo by leticia Alaniz © 2015
Leticia: I support you to keep going too as your talent is expressed in every piece you create!  Congratulations on all of your awards and I hope all your dreams continue to come true!  Thank you very much for such a wonderful and colorful experience and for inviting me into your home to enjoy seeing up close your most personal art pieces.  Thank you for such an exquisite traditional Bengali lunch that I know are very special recipes that have been for generations in your family.  I will hold very dear to my heart the memory of the taste of these dishes and this very special day.  

Anannya:  It has been my pleasure and I'm so exited and pleased that you came to visit
me.  It is so good to meet you!  I'm so happy that you liked my cooking.  I really cherish your company.   Thank you!


Leticia: I will close with a quote by Rabindranath Tagore whom has been very influential in your creative process that talks about color in life,

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” - Rabindranath Tagore 
In the home of artist Anannya Chowdhury © 2015

3 comments:

  1. A wonderful interview with a wonderful lady! I'm happy to know her. Anannya and her art are quite beautiful.

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    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree with you more MaupinPhoto. Thank you for commenting and for visiting the blog!

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  2. Anannya Chowdhury you are an amazing talent and an amazing person i liked your post and the discussion the discussion presented here. I appreciate such individuals and they must keep growing.

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