The writing on the wall

With her initiative, Travel And Paint India Tour, gone viral on Instagram, mural artist Sneha Chakraborty from Delhi has nothing more to prove. But she remains open about her struggles, coping with anxiety, & why she doesn’t have the luxury of ‘creative blocks’.
Sneha Chakraborty with her mural in Jaipur
Sneha Chakraborty with her mural in Jaipur

Armed with acrylics, brushes, sketchbooks and a ladder to help her paint street walls, Sneha Chakraborty, 30, a muralist of Delhi is on a colourful mission — to paint walls with a message. From Coorg, down south to Himachal Pradesh in the north, her street art — a part of her Travel and Paint India Tour — echoes ideas of women empowerment, clean India, recycling waste and more.

“While I’ve done many commercial projects, I always wanted to paint lesser-known communities and the unsung heroes of everyday life,” says Chakraborty, who received an award from the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2022.

Last month, she was called by TEDx to talk about her series and the tour. By the time the artist wraps it up, she aims to cover all states of India. “I spoke about the way I create an artwork: I inhale the story, good or bad. I sleep over it to process it. Finally, I paint it by filtering out the unnecessary and keeping the most powerful aspects,” she tells TMS.

The first destination of her mural series that began this March was Coorg. She drew ‘My Kodavathi Beauty’, and its video went viral on Instagram. It portrays the indomitable spirit of female coffee plantation labourers, toiling under the sun to pluck ripe coffee cherries. At Fort Kochi, she painted the local fisherman community.

“I captured the fishermen and women with their nets on a beach in Kochi. Among them was a 70-year-old. Her eyes were clouded with cataracts. It reminded me of my grandfather who had a similar affliction. Observing her dedication towards work despite the cataracts, I felt like celebrating her fortitude,” she says.

Mural in Kochi as part of the Travel and Paint India Tour
Mural in Kochi as part of the Travel and Paint India Tour

Chakraborty’s next stop is Delhi. Towards month-end, she is scheduled to create a mural with a clean India message. “When you create a beautiful wall, people think twice before spitting on it or throwing garbage near it,” she adds. After that, she goes to Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. What will she draw in Haryana? “In 2021, I painted 14 murals in Haryana. I went to a woman’s house in a village; she had employed 20 other women in her tailoring shop thus making them self-reliant. Women like her are the unsung heroes of our times,” she says. Many of her artworks feature women as she believes that their stories are mostly “neglected” by society.

An artist’s struggle

Chakraborty’s father is an engineer, her mother, a homemaker. She gravitated towards the arts since her early childhood. “When I was seven, I followed a mehendi artist who would go from home to home to create Henna designs. I picked the art quickly in three months. By seven, I had started to draw on people’s hands! I also won several art competitions.” Her father’s mining job also exposed her to various cultures. Living in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Assam — though Delhi remains a base — broadened her mindset.

However, she did give into pressures of getting a ‘steady job’ for a while, working as an interior designer and for an airlines as part of its cabin crew. “I felt like a failure at these jobs — they were not for me. By the time I reached 25, people thought I was not capable in any field, so it was better to ‘get her married’. That’s when I hit the rock bottom.” She decided to listen to her “inner voice”. “In 2017, I felt like buying

acrylics one day. The next day, I woke up at 4 am and painted feverishly, like one possessed, for hours. Art became my catharsis,” she says. In 2018, she decided to take the plunge and commit herself to art. And then the struggle began.

Hope, strive, try

She had to go from café to café, knock on the doors of start-ups and NGOs, show them her portfolio and ask for a wall to paint murals on. Amid the hustle, came moments of encouragement that went a long way. Once while drawing a mural in Ghaziabad, a father and his daughter keenly watched her paint. “He told me that his seven-year-old is very interested in art, but he doesn’t know how to utilise her talent. I told them about my journey. It clicked with him that if I can make it, others can, too. Witnessing my art inspire action was profoundly gratifying,” she adds.

After six years of struggle as an independent muralist in India, Chakraborty has become one of the few artists to exhibit AR (augmented reality) + NFT (non-fungible token) art in a physical gallery. Her murals decorate the walls of Jaipur, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Ask her about creative block and she replies she doesn’t have the “luxury” to say so as mural work is not just her hobby but her bread and butter. “As Vincent van Gogh said, don’t wait for inspiration. Draw what you feel and inspiration will come,” she says.v

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