We live in a harsh world.
We judge people by their looks, by their clothes and how much they earn.
We live in a world where society has a set standard and anyone who deviates is mocked and ridiculed.
Talents are lost as individuals bow to social pressure and norms.
In this harsh environment that stifles growth and creativity, you have to appreciate those who may give in but don’t give up. This week, I salute Preti Tolani.
Preti Tolani is not a famous Bollywood star known by Ram and Sham but she is very well known in the art world as Paintingwali.
Preti Tolani is a strong, independent businesswoman. She owns one of the biggest art galleries in India, from which she launches new artists and showcases established artists, not only in India but also internationally. She is a strong promoter of Indian Art and Culture and has won many awards for her work. Her passion for art stems from her love of painting but she has never held an exhibition of her own work. As a young child and artist, she faced much criticism and decided to abandon it into the dark worlds until now. Here is what she said about her journey from artist to gallery owner to exhibiting artist:
‘I was just 9 years old when I realized colors didn’t speak to everyone like they spoke to me. I had won the third prize at my school painting contest and the judges questioned my color choices. They informed me that the color choices cost me the first prize.
Don’t you know the sky is blue not fluorescent green?
I surprised them by saying, ‘Green said just as water takes the color of the blue sky, the sky wants the color of mother earth. I told him no but he fought with me and I had to do it.’
They looked at me with bewilderment, and then Father Agnel, my school Principal just smiled at me (unconvinced), repeated my words in front of the whole assembly, and congratulated me on the achievement.
That moment, even though I didn’t realize it then, would define the rest of my life as an artist.
Misunderstood and criticized for my perception of the world and the colors of my art.
Colors possess my thoughts and they make me paint, the way they want and not based on the views of our conservative world.
Society says trees are green but when I went to paint the trees green, they argued with me. They said they are alive and have veins. Red ‘inspires’ us, paint us red. I’d fought, I lost and I painted the trees red.
Society says flowers should be bright and colorful but when I went to paint them in vivid colors they demanded dull colors. We have such short lives in this beautiful world, bright colors don’t suit us, don’t paint us that way. So I painted them as they wanted and once again, my choices were not only questioned but criticized.
In college, I was painting a murder mystery cover for a magazine. As per the brief, I sketched a dead body of a young girl lying in a pool of blood. I chose a deep red to depict fresh blood, but red refused. I asked why and it said to me, I have no color once the person is no longer alive, why do you want to tie me when I am free and so is the person. So I altered the colors which of course failed to convince the project manager.
Every artwork brought judgments, criticisms, and questions of ‘why’ I couldn’t follow simple color rules.
So I stopped! Not painting but displaying my art.
I changed course, I opened my own gallery, and I created a platform where individuals like me, with fresh and different ideas could showcase their art. In the hopes, that someday, someone would inspire me and I would have the courage to exhibit my work to the whole world. Not with the objective of selling but with the objective of teaching my philosophy ‘Colors have their own language and they can teach you how to read minds’, which I buried deep inside me because people could not accept it.
Suppressing every thought because you express it differently is hard. Being criticized for it is harder. I still persevered, now many, many years later, I am about to exhibit my own art at Jehangir Art Gallery.
Not everyone has the strength to defy society. I request people to please think a hundred times before making your judgment, so our world stops losing artists and creativity due to social convention.’