"If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?"
The words of celebrated American novelist Alice Walker remind us of art's transformative potential. They speak to its ability to challenge our perspectives, ignite our inspiration, and stir deep emotions. Art invites us to connect with our humanity and the world in fresh, profound ways. Whether expressed through visual masterpieces, poetic verse, musical harmonies, graceful choreography, or other forms of creative expression, art compels us to transcend our limitations and awaken our souls. In so doing, it can effect profound change within ourselves and the fabric of the world we inhabit.
This profundity of art was vividly revealed to me at the fifth edition of Chitrashaala, held at jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat and Spa from February 2-8. A collective of 52 artists—22 from India—renowned for their distinctive cultural art, contemporary designs, and surrealism, participated in this enchanting event. For those uninitiated, the jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat and Spa, nestled on a hilltop, spans over two acres and boasts 32 rooms built on multiple levels, offering sweeping vistas of the breathtaking natural terrain from an altitude of roughly 7500 feet above sea level.
Since its inception in 2015, Chitrashaala has been a collaborative effort between jüSTa Hotels & Resorts and fashion designer Deepika Govind to foster meaningful cultural exchange between artists of varying socio-cultural backgrounds by sharing their artistic ideas. Over the years, acclaimed artists from 17 countries, including but not limited to the United States, Poland, Spain, Morocco, Bhutan, Egypt, Ireland, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and Thailand, have participated in various editions of Chitrashaala.
"Chitrashaala was founded after I visited Shanti Niketan and recognised the immense talent of emerging artists in India. To support and showcase their work, original artwork by these artists is displayed across jüSTa hotels. In 2015, Chitrashaala was launched to provide a platform for artists to gather, learn from each other, and be inspired by the scenic locations of jüSTa properties. Artists from different countries, backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets come together for knowledge-sharing and fun," said Ashish Vohra, Founder & CEO jüSTa Hotels & Resorts.
Meanwhile, as I spoke with Anirudh Chari, the curator of Chitrashaala, he expressed, "Chitrashaala 2023 has brought together an extraordinary collection of artistic talent from across the world to create breathtaking works of art in one of the most awe-inspiring locations imaginable. The event is hosting 52 exceptional artists from India and abroad, selected for their exceptional skills, creative vision, and diverse practices. They are residing and working for a week in this magnificent estate situated in the picturesque Kumaon Hills. While some of these artists have participated in Chitrashaala before, others are experiencing for the first time the remarkable hospitality of jüSTa and all that it has to offer."
The Artists Bare It All
While at Chitrashaala, I witnessed numerous artists wholly absorbed in their craft, seemingly transported to a world of their creation. In the brief interludes they took, I conversed with them about the wellsprings of their artistic inspiration and the passions that drive their work.
Hanne Haukom, the Norwegian artist who shared our cab ride from Kathgodam to Mukteshwar, exudes a pleasant aura. Having attended Chitrashaala most times, she transitioned from using ceramics as her medium to painting some time ago.
"When it comes to my personality, I would say that being unstructured and absentmindedness are some traits that define me," she revealed when I inquired about the inspiration behind her artworks. "For me, art is a means of reclaiming a sense of control over my life."
I also came across a Bhutanese artist deeply engrossed in capturing the grandeur of the majestic mountains on his canvas. With passion and reverence in his eyes, he shared, "For me, mountains are a source of inspiration that fills my heart with unexplainable emotions. I wish to reflect this feeling in my art."
Beside him, another artist was painting a beautiful amalgamation of Indian deities such as Shiva, Ganesha, and Buddha. When I inquired about the motivation behind his artwork, he smiled and replied, "India is a place that holds a special place in my heart, and these deities are a reminder of the incredible time I spent here. I want to immortalise these memories in my paintings."
Finally, I spoke to Etab, a Syrian-born American artist, who has been residing and creating art in Chicago for almost a decade. Every gentle stroke on her canvas evokes memories of her life in Syria, where she had to leave due to unrest and where all her artworks were destroyed. Unfortunately, Syria is also where she lost her young son—a tale she tearfully recounted during the previous Chitrashaala, where she participated.
Over the years, Chitrashaala has evolved into a vibrant hub where artists, critics, writers, and the community converge to conceive, exchange, experience, and celebrate art. It's a platform for fostering dialogue and forging connections in a world increasingly prioritising conflict over harmony. Above all, it's a week-long sanctuary from worldly concerns dedicated to creating beautiful, developing enduring bonds, and drawing inspiration from this country's awe-inspiring vistas.
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