The Art of Shampa Sircar Das – A Medley of Experiences, Spirituality and Symbolism

Creators And Collectors

A myriad of colours merge and disperse to form layers on Shampa Sircar Das’s canvases, giving birth to sublime, meditative, semi-figurative artworks. Inspired by spiritual experiences, exhilarating journeys and personal reflections, Shampa finds symbolism, beauty and meaning all around her - from the golden monasteries of Leh to a protest led by a group of girls in Bihar. And it is this deep connect to the world, that translates into Shampa’s highly unique artistic language.  

A Childhood Steeped in Spirituality and Folklore

Shampa Sircar Das’s paintings depict stories from her life. Growing up in a Bengali family in Delhi, the artist’s childhood was steeped in the traditions and folklore of Bengal. The making of Alpana paintings and idols during festivals became creative influences for a young Shampa, whose artistic talent and skill of weaving narratives were fuelled by folktales told to her by her aunt.

Shampa studied at The Mother's International School, which follows Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. This instilled a strong sense of spirituality in her. “We used to have hour-long sessions of bhajans, Sanskrit recitations and readings of poems by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. I think that stayed with me,” she recalls.

An artwork by Shampa Sircar Das

Early Years of Uncertainty and Struggle

Although hailing from a background completely removed from the art world, Shampa Sircar Das is grateful to her father for always pushing her to follow her passion. As a confused young adult in a society that overemphasizes Sciences at the cost of Humanities, Shampa first pursued an Honours in Botany. Upon encouragement from her uncle, she dropped out midway to instead pursue her love for art. She completed her BFA from the College of Art, Delhi, followed by an MFA from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. Shortly after completing her Master’s in 1995, Shampa was married to photographer Sanjay Das, and the young couple was faced with turmoil and hardships for the next seven years - both personal as well as financial. With ailing in-laws at home, Shampa’s passion for art took a backseat, while she and Sanjay struggled to make ends meet. During those years, her husband was a pillar of strength for Shampa. “He would keep buying new paints and rolls of canvases for me. The paints would dry up, but he would constantly motivate me to start painting,” she reminisces. 

Shampa with her husband, Sanjay Das

Passion Rekindled Through Spiritual Travels

In 2002, at the end of seven long years spent away from art, Shampa Sircar Das was confused and struggling to find direction. Her in-laws had passed away, and gradually she and Sanjay tided through the tough times. Shampa started painting again and also participated in group shows, but she felt disconnected from her art. “I was working, but what I had in mind was not what came out on canvas – I wasn’t happy with my work,” she says.

Finally, deciding to take a much-needed break, Shampa accompanied her husband on a work trip to Leh and Ladakh – a trip that transformed her life. Soaking in the natural beauty and spiritual energy in the mountains, Shampa found peace as well as artistic inspiration. Her trips to those pristine valleys multiplied between 2003 and 2006, and each time she returned from a trip, she did a solo show. After her first visit in 2003, Shampa held an exhibition tiled Tattva - inspired by the unending expanses she witnessed on her trips. “The vast spaces reverberating with energy urge us to introspect our own insignificance, reminding us that we are just specks in the universe!” she says. Gold, greys and reds seeped into her colour palette - the gold being inspired by the paintings she saw in the monasteries in Leh and Ladakh. The concept of Tattva came from earth, water, fire, air and ether, the five basic elements that constitute the bodies of all conditioned souls - from Brahma himself down to the non-moving creatures.

An artwork from the Tattva series

Tattva was followed by two other exhibitions – Shunya and Pratidhwani – which were also based on her travel experiences. Shampa’s artworks drew from the meditative peace she found on her trips, as well as the conversations she had with villagers. She never sketched or painted while travelling, as she felt that these would be mere copies of what she observed. “I used to absorb everything around me like a sponge, and create an artistic language of my own once I returned,” she says.

An artwork from the Shunya series

Shampa imbibed creative ideas and inspiration from thangka paintings, and the landscapes, colours, textures and murals of Leh and Ladakh. On her trips, she found that a lot of art in these localities was not protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). With each trip, she noticed that the art on the walls were eroding due to weather and other factors. Realising the need to preserve this dying artform, Shampa would click photographs of the art, or whatever was left of it, and take huge printouts of them on returning from her trips. She would then complete the prints, done on archival canvas, with her own drawings. Shampa held a show displaying 25 of these artworks, with the aim of documenting and spreading knowledge about the artform. Eventually, she moved away from creating these multi-media works, and began focusing on painting more symbolic, semi-figurative artworks.

A mural-inspired artwork by Shampa

The Power of Femininity

Shampa’s travel experiences and their influence on art, is not just confined to the mountains. Often accompanying Sanjay, she also travelled extensively in southern and eastern India. These trips were the genesis of her 2016 show titled Devi, inspired by the widespread Devi worship in these regions. The women Shampa portrayed in her Devi paintings were not goddesses. Instead, she found divinity in common people. In one of her artworks titled Kali, she portrayed the goddess as a symbol of revolt against patriarchy, inspired by a group of village girls in Bihar protesting against dowry. “The canvas was red, with the face of a woman looking directly at the viewer - a peaceful, but powerful gaze,” Shampa recalls.

Kali by Shampa Sircar Das

Shampa also feels that the balance between masculinity and femininity is getting lost today, with more emphasis being laid on the masculine. Through her art, she seeks to portray the congruous coexistence of masculine and feminine energies in every individual.

Unity in Nature

Shampa Sircar Das opines that today, people are increasingly distancing themselves from nature as well as each other, considering themselves to be individual entities disconnected from everything else. But she believes in the philosophy of oneness being the essence of existence, as highlighted in ancient Indian texts like the Vedas and Upanishads. Shampa portrays these reflections in her Prakriti series, through powerful depictions of the harmonious coexistence between human beings and nature.

An artwork from the Prakriti series; available for purchase on Artisera

Her artworks are also heavily influenced by social and environmental issues, which call for immediate action and awareness. “As an artist, you can never be removed from what is happening around you. You have to be influenced by everything, and you have to let that impact your art,” she shares.

Flowing Freely Through Art and Life

Although she has experimented with other mediums, acrylic has always been Shampa’s medium of choice. The artist explains that her love for acrylic comes from the freedom it provides her with. The medium fits her need for the free flow of ideas and patterns on her canvases. She enjoys using acrylic in thick, textured layers as well as thin, watercolour-like layers. The colours are juxtaposed to construct a range of hues that inspire a quiet, meditative mood while she paints. “As the work progresses, it becomes more aesthetic, and less of an idea. My vision starts getting clearer with every layer,” shares Shampa. Much like in life, wherein every experience makes us who we are and decides the path to our future, the layer-by-layer process used by Shampa, leads her to a journey to discover and reveal a final image.

Shampa working on a piece

Shampa’s artworks develop spontaneously, as she paints; “I have no preconceived notion or plan. My work is a synthesis of my travels, philosophy, and aesthetics, into which I blend technique and process,” she shares. The free-flowing nature of her art reflects in Shampa’s life, too, and the artist admits that she has never planned anything in life.

Layered Patterns and Interpretations

Shampa’s deeply personal paintings have a looming air of mystery, with varying shapes and patterns taking form between different layers. The canvas becomes a large area of space, a void, where forms are constantly resonating, emerging out, expanding and then dissolving into it. The layers, symbols and motifs in her artworks aren’t revealed at one go - a viewer has to spend time reading into each layer, interacting with it, and finding their own meaning. Shampa finds immense joy in having viewers interpret her paintings, layer by layer, over a period of time. She believes that as an artist, her role is over as soon as she finishes working on a piece. Once an artwork is complete, she considers herself removed from the equation, and the conversation is then between the artwork and how a viewer responds to it. This is where the beauty of Shampa Sircar Das’s art lies, and where she believes her duty as an artist is truly fulfilled.

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