MUNTHE ART MONDAY: Shefali Ranthe
Introduce yourself and what you do
My name is Shefali Ranthe. I was adopted from Bangladesh and came to Denmark when I was 6-7 years old. I moved to Dubai in 2008, where I lived for 10 years and worked intensively on my art. I have now been back in Denmark - in Copenhagen - since the end of 2017.
I am an international visual artist based in Copenhagen and Dubai. I am a Graphic Designer (1994). I also have a bachelor's degree in pedagogy and aesthetics at VIA, University College, Aarhus, (2008).
I have always been creative with my hands, but the dream of an artist career really took off in Dubai in 2008. I had my own art school, where I mainly taught expat women (foreign women living in Dubai). During my time in Dubai, I also taught at ‘Mawaheb’, an art school for the mentally handicapped supported by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Sheikh of Dubai. In connection with my time at Mawaheb, I was hired to design the world's largest Abaya (Arabic robe for women) it even appeared in the Guinness Book of Records in 2015.
In addition to being a full-time artist, I was often hired as an art curator at the major art exhibitions, for example: Art Dubai and World Art Dubai, as well as a mentor at the American University in Dubai.
Art has always meant a lot to me. I express my personality and my feelings while painting. My expression is always something that leads to the joy of life and is always based on the positive and the recognizable from my everyday life.
Explain your process
I often work in a chaos of colors, then I seek to create calm by having a toned-down uniform color as a background. I love working with something recognizable, but it does not necessarily have to be what we know from the real world, where everything is symmetrical and structured. I'm trying to put many stories into one picture.
I usually have a sketch and little idea of what I want to bring forward when I get started, but I enjoy an uncontrolled and intuitive approach to the work. Therefore, many layers often come, and the story is built up along the way. I mainly use acrylic and oil paints but am not afraid to challenge myself with other techniques. I love working with different materials, especially collage, sand, ink and textiles. I always try to create a parallel world where you move as freely as you do in fantasy and dreams. The strong colors are important for me. They give me energy and the desire to paint. Colors are my life, and color gives life to my canvases.
What themes do you pursue in your art?
Because of the troubles and violence in the world, which I have no control over, it is important for me to create positivity and joy on my canvases. I would rather move from reality to the more adventurous and over to a fantasy world where the colors spreads from chaos to order.
My latest series is called "My Fair Lady" and many people makes jokes about if it is self-portraits. Maybe? My goal with the series is that I want to show, that women dare to stand out and be strong and can rest in themselves, as independent individuals. I am concerned that women stand by who they are and are inspired to dare to show the world their many talents and strengths. For me, women are closely connected to nature and are in contact with a wild, strong and vibrating energy.
Many of my works are called "Fashionista". Fashion will always be a part of art, and that is why both art and fashion always will be connected. I am often inspired by my dresses for my works. Patterns and colors give the entirety when the work is finished. I invent many elements in my art. I especially use the animals as a communication channel. On a more spiritual level, they symbolize guides, and they guide me along the way, both in my work and in my life. In my art, for example, birds symbolize freedom, and the fish symbolize prosperity, dreams or the desire for the good life.
What - in your opinion - does a great artist do?
I think the qualities that great artists have in common are, stubbornness, passion and the desire to develop. They are dedicated, self-critical, vulnerable and persistent. Everyone can make art, but you can recognize great art by the feeling that the work gives you. Art should make you feel something - it can be joy, wonder, but also difficult emotions.
I hope that all great artists have a deep desire to develop and grow. I think it is necessary that you as an artist get an understanding that there is never a finish line when it comes to art - The process is the most important element.
What other female artists inspire you, and why?
As an artist, it is crucial to be inspired and to inspire others. Inspiration makes us discover new possibilities, by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. In my optics, the purpose of life is to evolve all the time. Therefore, it has been necessary for me to find various renowned international artists around the world.
I often visit the artists' home to understand and experience the source of their inspiration. Among others, to fantastic mentors, Joanne Corneau (Corno) from Canada and Lita Cabellut from Spain have been store inspirers for me. Both women paint canvases at the store, which I love. A canvas cannot get big enough for me! The two women are insanely talented and very different, but both paint women in different past and colors, as I do myself. Corno is sadly dead today. Lita and I have exhibited together at The National Art Museum of China, Beijing 2019.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) has inspired me for many years. I love the way she uses herself. She is known for both her art and her political activism. Her work and her life inspire me for reasons: She defined her own unique voice without apologies and we both often use animals in our art as a communication element.
I have given presentations and been a mentor for artists and have been a mentor for a women's team at the American University in Dubai. It is a great experience to inspire others.
Do you see that the art scene has handled the gender balance since you began your career?
It has certainly gotten better, but definitely not good enough. The truth is that women have never been treated equally compared to men in the art world. Today, women remain underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries and in auction houses. The uncertainty is the fact that the museums are pure business. It is my experience that they prefer male artists over female ones due to financial security. However, women are coming to light on the international art scene, and I think this will continue in the future.
On the basis of a study at Oxford University, which concluded that men are paid 38% more in fees and achieve better exhibitions globally than women, I helped illustrate this inequality at the exhibition "Art Gap" at World Art Dubai 2019. Where female artists demonstrated this difference by exhibiting paintings that were only covered with paint on 62% of the canvas' surface. "Art Gap" received three awards and created a focus on female artists in Dubai.
In Denmark, it is difficult to be seen if you are unskilled. If you don’t come from a real academic art school, then you are not perceived as a "real artist". That is nonsense! Art speaks for itself and art does not go to university or school. Art lives and breathes. It is the audience that determines when art is great. My experience is that all creativity comes from within. As an unskilled person, you can have an advantage in that you have not been shaped by a teacher or professor. My position is that theory can be learned, and creativity comes from within! In return, there should be more galleries of women who help new female artists gain a foothold in the art world. From businesswoman to businesswoman!
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