“To me, preparing and letting women to make vital decisions in their life and in society is women’s empowerment . I seek to empower women through my work.” Today’s woman dreamer, Archana Srivastava, is a dynamic, renowned Mumbai-based artist, with a passion for highlighting history and tradition. Archana shares her view as art as a medium for empowerment, and her dream for her art career (such as her interest in NFTs, digital, and 3D art). She also reflects on her experiences as the wife of a senior bureaucrat. A relatable and creative journey, enjoy Archana’s story!
1) Tell us your story. You are an artist deeply rooted in Indian history and tradition, and your work is across mediums. You have had multiple solo art exhibitions as well and have had multiple recognitions for your work. What inspired you to become an artist? What inspires you creatively?
Since childhood I was passionate about art and art was like ‘Therapy’ to me. Born in a family which thrived on art and culture, it was an easy choice for me to draw, sketch, colour and paint. In early childhood days, I started drawing on slate (writing board), paper, walls and floors as soon as I could hold crayon or chalk in my hands. My family saw great potential in me and my parents would encourage me to draw/paint and to participate in school, district-level and regional competitions. Winning in such competitions encouraged me to paint more. I was a sincere student and excelled in academics. Often my study hours will get stretched and I would get exhausted. I would then draw on my practice notebook a face, figure, landscape or still life. As a result each of my practice notebook would have multiple figures and forms drawn on the last many pages. In fact often the pages with drawings would outnumber the pages with writings.
I was happy doing well in academics and pursuing art as well. My academic orientation helped me complete Ph.D in History and I started teaching graduate and post-graduate students as guest faculty in various colleges and universities off and on.
As far as the art was concerned, formal training was never an issue as my elder sister is into serious painting and my mother is also an artist. Plus over the years I have had the good fortune of learning from national and international-level award-winning artists, professors of reputed art schools on one to one basis informally. They did teach me technicalities of art but asked me to remain original in my imagination. In fact, everyone of them without exception encouraged me to have my own style. Thus I am one of those fortunate souls who learnt everything about art without joining an art school full time. Gradually, guests and visitors visiting my home would look at paintings at my place and ask me to have a public display of my artworks. Encouraged by their persuasion, I booked a reputed art gallery in Mumbai in 1999 and started working diligently towards my first solo exhibition. The exhibition was very well-received and thus began my journey as professional artist. I took up art as my profession with great enthusiasm and gusto, becoming a full-time artist and a part-time academician.
Thus art which began as ‘therepy’ became ‘thoughtful’ as I consider art to be a subtle form of expression. Through art intangible subjects can be made understandable. My art is mostly thematic and message-oriented. I enjoy portraying the complex messages contained in the ‘verses of ‘Bhagvad Gita’ and ‘Sufi poetry’ etc. I try to depict the‘non-obvious’ metaphorically, thus making it understandable.
2) You received the “Woman of Excellence Award 2020” from the Indian Achievers’ Forum. How do you define women empowerment? Do you seek to empower women through your work?
According to me, preparing and letting women to make vital decisions in their life and in society is women’s empowerment .
Raising the status of women through education, awareness, literacy, skill-development, training etc. and in turn making them self-reliant (financially, emotionally, socially and physically) constitute a major part of women empowerment.
Yes, I do seek to empower women through my work! I had made a whole series on rural Indian women. Basically, I tried to draw attention to their problems and generate awareness regarding their plight.
During my stay at several districts of Maharashtra, India I tried to solve their problems by connecting them to various NGOs, making them aware of the various women-oriented govt. schemes as well as their rights and above all, making them aware of the protection provided to them under law.
Right now, as CEO and Founder of ArtSage Pvt. Ltd. I am focusing on uplifting the condition of women artists and artisans of India.
3) Your husband is also a highly respected bureaucrat in Mumbai India. Very exciting – what does the life of a wife of a bureaucrat entail? What were some key learnings?
Being wife a of a senior and well-respected bureaucrat is both satisfying and challenging. Satisfying, as it gives you enormous opportunities to look at various problems and strengths of the country closely. It also gives you various opportunities and roles to work for the society directly or indirectly. Challenging, as it requires acting absolutely responsibly. One has to shift from one district to the other district owing to various transfers and handle many things single-handedly owing to the hectic nature of the spouse’s job. Bureaucrats are called backbone of the nation. While you are supporting and informally advising the policy-makers and law-enforcers, you can’t afford to be anything but responsible.
Given the integral role the spouse plays in the future of an individual’s life, career and field, it is important for a spouse of a bureaucrat to be level-headed, mature, dependable and conscientious. A supportive atmosphere at home can make one calm and stable to make positive and impactful decisions which can benefit society/ city/state/country.
The key learning from the experience has been that it is absolutely necessary for the wives of the bureaucrats to have their own identity. Bureaucrats and their families are closely observed and followed by many (especially at the district-level postings). Somewhere you are also being looked at as a role model. It would be a failure to derive your identity just from your man. That’s what women empowerment is all about and one can’t just preach it ; one has to practice it too. Secondly, a confident individual with a sense of worth and purpose will make a better companion and counsel than someone who is bitter having low sense of worth and nagging sense of unfulfilled potential.
4) You have recently started working on promoting the work of folk artists in India .Tell us more about that.
As CEO and Founder of ArtSage Pvt. Ltd. I aim to safeguard the interest of the folk and tribal artists and artisans of India. Folk and tribal art of India is rich in tradition and heritage and celebrated throughout the world. But unfortunately the condition of the artists and artisans is far from pleasant. They rarely get their due. Their artworks are bought at a very low price and sold at insanely high price at regional, national and international markets. Many of them quit their rich traditional/family art and opt for menial jobs in the villages. As far as some folk-arts are concerned, there are only a few families left in the country which pursue them. These art-forms need to be conserved and preserved. For that, it is very necessary to protect the artists from being exploited and support them in various ways. ArtSage Pvt. Ltd. is committed to doing that. It plans to help
them by providing resources, giving access to the technology to work more efficiently , helping them upgrade their skills, giving them platform to sell their artworks, creating awareness about the value of their art in public through workshops and symposiums and enriching their lives as a whole.
5) As the platform for women dreamers, what is your next big dream? What are you focusing on for your next exhibition?
As an entrepreneur, I dream to see ArtSage Pvt. Ltd. realising our vision to bring about a sense of creativity & learning in folk and tribal artists in India and attaining our mission to create opportunities for them. I also dream to make ArtSage Pvt. Ltd. a commercially viable venture.
As an artist my dream is to go three-dimensional and digital.
For my next exhibition, I am planning to convey/portray my thoughts in 3D as well. With this idea I plan to have installations alongside the paintings. Installation art is an art-genre of three- dimensional works that are often walked around and contemplated.
One can discriminate installation art from sculpture art (which is also 3D) owing to its complete unified experience, rather than a display of individual artworks which are separate from each other.
I plan to have installations that are both interactive and immersive.
Also I am really fascinated by the idea of NFT art as an emerging trend and plan to create digital artworks which can be exclusive collectible NFTs.