What do you get when Victorian-era structures meet Madhubani art? 

The IISc 2018 calendar. Artist Shamli Das recounts the tales behind her paintings that depict, in the folk art format, life on the science institute’s campus 

Shamli Das is candid about not having a brain for numbers and science, and admits not having heard about the more-than-a-century old Indian Institute of Science (IISc). “I googled it when professor Kaushal Verma asked me to meet him on campus,” says Shamli, who first met the assistant professor of mathematics when he stopped by her stall of Madhubani paintings at an exhibition at CKP Hall in the early months of 2017. “He asked if I could depict the buildings and campus life in Madhubani style for the IISc calendar.”

Shamli, who had earlier rendered Ulsoor (in Bengaluru’s cantonment area) and parts of Central Bangalore in Madhubani style, agreed but had second thoughts as soon as she reached home after the meeting. “I can happily paint flowers, animals and curvy motifs, but I was not confident about doing pillars and buildings, especially Victorian-era buildings, in the Madhubani style.” Still, given that she had already taken a campus tour with Prof Verma and with Megha Prakash of the Archives and Publication Cell (APC), Das decided to give it a go. “I started with the forest patch on the campus where students often come to watch birds and sometimes even spot snakes,” she says. When it didn't turn out to her expectation, she picked another area of the campus. “The Choksi Hall is a beautiful place and I started out on that one.”

Shamli says working on the project made her a better artist 

This one too didn't turn out to her liking. “So I decided to take a time out. The break went on for nearly a month and I still had no set idea about what I would do for the rest of the calendar paintings,” recalls Shamli. With 12 A3 sheets waiting to be filled and a November deadline looming, she tackled the challenge head on by getting down to doing the buildings. “I visited the campus again and also referred to dozens of photographs before starting with the smaller buildings,” she says. Before long, the chartered account-turned-artist was painting the main building, to which she has added a bright sun, birds, fish, turtles and other Madhubani motifs. The 12 calendar pages also feature the aeronautical engineering, the chemistry and the mathematical studies buildings. One of the most striking pages shows IISc's different branches of science – a tree of knowledge so to say.

From the IISc desktop calendar 

Shamli acknowledges the free run that the APC team and Prof Verma gave her in giving shape to the calendar. “By the end of it, I was tired,” laughs Shamli, who has also done the paintings for the Institute's desktop calendar. Based on the flora and fauna found on the campus, this one is a riot of colours showcasing parrots, ants, snakes, fig trees, vines, etc. “There's one of a ladybug which I really love... it's rather quirky,” she says. “Doing the calendar was a struggle initially, but I've come to realise that by going out of my comfort zone, I've learnt a lot in the process of making this calendar. It's made me a better artist!”

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

(Photo and images courtesy Shamli Das)

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