Seventeen years ago, a four-year-old child was seen begging on the platform of a railway station in Mumbai. Lost in an unfamiliar world, as she embarked on a journey of her lifetime to Tamil Nadu and Bangalore, artist La Frida Shanthi wondered what fate had in store for her. “No one should go through what I had to go through in my life ever,” said the artist who even after a life of hardships has managed to turn her life around. Today, an internationally renowned artist and sculptor, she uses art as a channel to express her emotions and opinions freely.
Recalling her story, she said, “Never did I realise that an innocent game of hide and seek would change my life forever. Our house was situated close to a railway station. One day, while playing. I hid myself in the local train. Soon, the train started moving and my desperate screams for help were lost amidst whirring engines and screeching tires.”
As the train came to a halt in Mumbai, Frida desperate and clueless thought it would be best to accompany a few rag pickers and beg for money. In her naivete, she wondered if she would reach home taking the train in the opposite direction. However, she soon reached a strange place where people spoke an unknown language. “I had reached Bangalore and everyone conversed in Kannada here. Helplessly, I cried myself to sleep till an old woman asked me if I was lost. She duped me and took me to Tamil Nadu to work in a silkworm factory. The miserable conditions of the factory haunt me till date,” said Frida who managed to escape from the factory and came back to Bangalore two years later.
However, her miseries did not end as again, a family picked her up from the railway station and she became a domestic worker. One day, the whole family went out and locked Frida up. As they returned, they accused her of stealing a cell phone and poured melted plastic on her leg to teach her a lesson. Nevertheless, she ran away again and a nun took her in. “She recognised the artist me and encouraged me to nurture my talent. I feel alive when I paint. Art is my language of communication. Being a victim myself, I like to highlight various social issues like child labour through my art,” said the artist.
In 2005, Frida’s tryst with art began during her summer vacations with an art camp. Soon, she managed to leave her hostel and joined John Devaraj, Bornfree Art School. One day, John was sculpting figurines out of a huge stone in Ravindra Kalakshetra.
He gave her a piece of sandpaper and asked her to smoothen the stone. Since then, she has undergone rigorous training in painting, sculpting, photography, music and clay-modelling. Soon, she joined a school and since then she has been focusing on taking care of children, admitting new children and managing the hostel. In 2011, she held her first photography exhibition titled Two Sisters at K H Kala Soudha.
Through her work, she would like to bring to fore children’s plight in our country.
“Even today, I get emotional thinking that I don’t have a mother or family but art gives me the ability to express my emotions. I would like to rescue as many street children as possible and give them a chance to have a better life,” said Frida.