Fans of Indian miniature paintings, especially of the Rajasthan style, will be aware of Bani Thani, a painting from the mid-1700s which now hangs in New Delhi’s National Museum.
Created in the Kishangarh style, the portrait depicts a young maiden in full shringaar mode, ie, ‘bani thani’, which is Hindi for ‘dressed to the nines’. The side profile and exaggerated facial features have since become typical of this school of portraiture.
In its very latest iteration, you can see Bani Thani at the ongoing Sydney Royal Easter Show, created by artist Shweta Bhargava.
The showcase is a step forward in the Sydney artist’s many efforts to bring Indian art to the mainstream.
“The Bani Thani, originally painted by Nihal Chand, is iconic and has even been called the Indian Mona Lisa,” Shweta tells Indian Link. “It was my top choice for the exhibition. Apart from the iconic value of the 18th century painting, this is a famous work of art from Rajasthan, where I am from. This seemed a fitting tribute to my roots and the rich art heritage of India.”
The stunning replica sits inside an intricately created border, another strongpoint of the Indian miniature tradition.
Unlike the traditional method though, the artist did not work with naturally occurring material for the paints, choosing acrylics instead.
This is not Shweta’s first appearance at the Easter Show though. In 2015, three of her works were picked for the show. She is also no stranger to art exhibitions here. 2013 was the year Shweta was presented with an opportunity to exhibit her art; she was a finalist at the Agendo Exhibition for Young Emerging Artists, Melbourne. Many opportunities to showcase her work followed; she was a finalist in the Hornsby Art Exhibition 2013, and Eutick Memorial Still Life Award (EMSLA) in 2013 and 2014. In 2013, as a finalist in the EMSLA, her painting titled Classic Red Car was among the paintings that was displayed in New South Wales Parliament Gallery.
None of this came easy for this biotechnologist-turned-artist. According to Shweta, art has always had her heart since she was a child but when it came to career choices, she picked her other passion, science. “I didn’t see art as more than a hobby back then and never imagined it will be my life as I know it,” she muses. After a stint as an assistant professor teaching biotechnology, Shweta realised art was her calling.
With no formal training in art but with faith in her talent, support from her husband Sandeep and a whole lot of passion, the artist made a life-changing career decision to follow her heart.
“I was dealt my fair share of struggles, including rejection from galleries and all the disappointments that come with them,” she reveals. “The breakthrough came with the opportunity to exhibit at the Agendo Exhibition for Young Emerging Artists, which reinforced my faith in my own abilities.”
Today Shweta works with acrylics, oils, water colours and sketching.
While Shweta enjoys contemporary art and capturing the mundaneness of everyday life, it is Indian art forms and mythology that she gravitates most towards. “My love for my culture and its deep-rooted importance for art and story-telling fascinates me and I incorporate those principles in my art,” shares Shweta.
Shweta is equally passionate about teaching art to young children. She teaches her students, aged between 4 and 12, basics art skills, hand control, sketching doodling and even Indian art. “My students learn about famous artists like Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and even about Indian art styles like Madhubani and Warli,” she says.
In addition to her art classes, she also does art work upon commissioning.