Healing with a Paint Brush


For artist Soumita Saha, painting has been a source of comfort in difficult times.


Image source: Soumita Saha

During the pandemic, with more and more people getting anxious about staying indoors for weeks and nowhere to go or splurge money to unwind, many turned to art. Needless to say I did the same, but way before quarantine. I am an Indian artist. My life is neither a bed of roses nor a painful tale. It is as ordinary as any other story, with some extraordinary twists. In India the concept of joint family is often idealised. Sometimes it stands tall and sometimes it represents the bonding of love between family members, but beyond this lies a bitter truth. Nothing can be more mentally draining than growing up in such a family. Useless mockery, unnecessary fights and dirty politics within my family used to rip me apart. I went through a phase where isolation was all I had, so, I tried befriending canvases and paint brushes.


We '90s kids didn't have our mental health taken seriously growing up. During my adolescence the social networking culture itself was still pretty new. We never had "you can talk to me" or "I’m all ears" kind of attitudes. In India, we girls grow up mostly in conservative environments. As adults, suddenly we are released to live our lives on our own terms, yet we are not really set free: we are provided with the illusion of being a free bird, but one that remains under surveillance and suffers constant judgement from our so-called family members.


Growing up, my mother was a liberated woman, supported by my father, and they always went through judgement and mockery. A generation rolled by and nothing changed - I faced the same judgement as my mother. I was shunned for attracting attention, sometimes slut shamed for living on my own terms. I became depressed and paint brushes were my last resort. When I tried to befriend the canvas, I understood that this was my escape from the toxicity I continued to bear from adolescence into adulthood. I also needed to convey my pain and I knew I could only do so through art.


My forms are mostly a response to a world that seems to be in disarray: unravelling lucrative structures, overwhelming natural demolition and the overturning of societal norms are causing many people to reassess their place in the world and to question ideas around belonging. I know my paintings are anxious and irreverent, cocky and self-referential, stylised and defiant, whimsical and edgy.


My pain fascinates me. I get attracted to its classic illusiveness and its inherent mysteriousness. This mystery seems so mine. It seems to touch me. My work collides imaginary forms with existing landscapes through the use of both architectural and botanical elements, showing my never-ending love for green spaces. The more I touch the green forms, the more I heal.


One thing I've learnt from my experience is that everything in life happens for a reason. Today, therapists are just a ping away and social networking sites are full of supportive friends and acquaintances we can open up to about our problems, but once you can open up to your passion, you truly heal. It is a kind of liberation you can never compare with something else; you can heal without depending on another human being. Liberation is keeping faith in yourself and your passion.