She has learnt many sorts of art. And that shows in her home. Turn anywhere and you can’t miss her decades-long fixation with art. The space is steeped in a riot of colours with a varied array of artworks vying for attention from every nook and cranny. Be it knitting and embroidery or traditional doll-making or fabric painting, her raw materials include not just the usual paints but a wide range of art and craft materials including cotton, plain cloth or any shining material — everything finds its way into her wide scope of art. This Weekend Star Supplement features an 80-year-old creative person whose exquisite and intricate works defy her age.
By Sreekanth Datta
Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943. Indeed, as they embarked on their nine-year affair, the 61-year-old artist warned the 21-year-old student: “For me there are only two kinds of women, Goddesses and doormats.”
It is a fact that many male artists have drawn obsessively and immensely productively on the faces and bodies of their wives and lovers. Despite this, women have been embroiled in a constant struggle against stigmatisation and persecution by the society for centuries in the name of culture and tradition. Due to historical suppression and gender bias in the art world, sadly a lot of women painters go unrecognised during their lifetime and beyond.
Art has always been one of the most widely used mediums for expressing oneself in the form of paintings, sculptures and installations since ages. While fields such as science, tech, cinema, architecture, politics and tourism are still dominated by men, art is the only field led by more women than men and those women occupy myriad roles.
This is the age where people — both men and women irrespective of age — have become mobile or television addicts. Be it content-streaming platforms or checking updates on social media, we are lost in that world. And we proudly defend these indulgences as an escape route from a packed entertainment-free schedule. Smart phones have turned all of us into Pavlov’s dogs but here is a person who is different from others.
While we are hooked to our gadgets, this elderly lady, Leelamma, picks up some raw cotton wool and starts making a variety of Gejje Vastra (hand-made cotton garlands) and Hubatti (lamp wick). She continues doing it day and night for weeks and months together.
If at some point she feels like stopping, Leelamma picks up another craft which may be knitting and embroidery or traditional doll-making or fabric painting. From the past many decades, she has involved herself in such tangible and meaningful activities which have fostered her creativity and innovation. She is so active and spirited that it has kept her youthful and healthy.
Leelamma, a multi-faceted creative personality, has loved and lived her life with passion. Even at her current age of 80 years, she continues to have same passion and enthusiasm. “My mother keeps herself busy all day. You name any decorative work, fine art, design or craft, from patch work, stuffed toy making, traditional doll-making like Radha-Krishna, crafts made of jute fabric and coir to machine embroidery and knitting, my Amma is an expert. We even conduct classes at home,” says her daughter Mani Shekhar.
If she goes to a bhajan or stotras recital programme where women recite Devaranamas and Lalitha Saharsanama, at the end of the programme, all attendees would get her little hand-made gifts.
As SOM was discussing with her daughter, Leelamma, who is a little hard of hearing, interrupted and merrily displayed a miniature Ganesha idol made of whole arecanut. And she added that she had made hundreds of such small Gowri and Ganeshas which were distributed to visitors during this year’s Ganesha festival.
Brand Ambassador to Fevicol
“Decades ago, we were in Gubbi of Tumkur district when my Amma started knitting work along with hand embroidery and later machine embroidery which also provided us some earnings. Later when we shifted to Bengaluru and at that time, Fevicol was a new product in the market and my mother started experimenting with that product and came up with new ideas. She has served as a brand ambassador to Fevicol and a number of exhibitions have been held,” Mani Shekhar reveals.
“Later after shifting to Mysore, she started conducting classes in a building on JLB Road for which there was huge demand. My daughter and son live abroad. Whenever we visit them, she voluntarily conducts classes there. She has taught thousands of students throughout the world including US and Australia and all around India, in particular Andhra Pradesh and Telangana,” she says.
A talented daughter
Just as her mother Leelamma, Mani Shekhar, who has developed keen interest in all such activities, also conducts classes at home and designs craftworks, in particular fabric painting.
“About 35 years ago, we used to bring basic materials from Mumbai and make stuffed toys like ducks, dogs, lions etc., and also teach them to those who were interested. In fact, she was popular for her handmade patchwork crafts made using sponge, cloth and other such materials. She even used to make greeting cards with patchwork. But nowadays there is no demand for greeting cards,” Mani Shekhar laments.
“We make all kinds of artwork including fabric painting, water and oil painting, Tanjavoor and Mysore-style painting, nib paintings, and mural arts and so on. During festival season, people come here to learn all kinds of rangoli from traditional rangoli, Kundan rangoli to designer acrylic rangoli. When abroad, she particularly takes clay Ganesha-making classes and rangoli classes,” she added.
Leelamma also keeps herself busy with gardening and cooking. Feeding squirrels and watching them meditatively is one of her daily routines. Being close to nature and enjoying tranquillity, which in turn nurtures creativity, are not the most sought-after activities these days. Why because it is available online or on-screen, as we pretend or assume them as real modes of enjoyment and relaxation.