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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Shanti explores her stormy past

Many art history scholars argue that in order to understand the work of Picasso, one must first know his background and all of the meaningful experiences that shaped his life. This strategy, on a much smaller scale, is helpful in grasping the newest exhibit at Art Attack, "Battlescenes."

The contemporary art gallery in Cambridge features the painted geometric abstractions of artist Shanti. Playing off of the mental, emotional and physical challenges that she has faced in her past, Shanti creates tension-filled paintings that have the potential to either move or frustrate her viewers.

Upon entering the small gallery, there are many colors, textures and patterns competing for attention, from the red and purple paneled walls to the shimmering jewelry and glass objects for sale. The paintings which are currently lining the upper portion of the walls however, are no doubt the most striking images in the room. The abstract shapes that jump out of the vertical canvases are nearly impossible to ignore.

Many of Shanti's tormented images are a product of her turbulent childhood. Parentless, she was constantly moving from one foster home to another with very little to call her own. Among her favorite possessions was a box of oil paints that supplied her with an outlet for her emotions throughout her youth and adolescence. Later in her life, Shanti joined the army and served in Operation Desert Storm. Her experience with war also affected her in profound and disturbing ways. It remains a prominent theme that she grapples with in much of her work, particularly in the pieces exhibited in "Battlescenes."

Though her art was always personally fulfilling, Shanti was hesitant to share it with anyone for many years. At one point, in fact, she destroyed all of the work she had. It wasn't until years later that she eventually felt comfortable enough to show her work. When she did, she was surprised by the positive responses she received from galleries in the New England area.

Shanti's writings accompany her exhibition: "I finally found a way to visualize my mind's eye reverting to oils on canvas but coupling this freeform method with structured lines of ink. My works appear fragmented at first glance, many pieces of a puzzle; each works in their own right. However, these fractured and seemingly incongruous component parts magically form a complete picture."

Shanti's works are dominated by strong lines that move up and across the picture plane. They intersect and collide with one another at unique angles and varying lengths and widths. Behind the distinct purity of her ordered lines, she adds organic shapes and revealing brushwork. Using a combination of neutral and bright tones, she evokes the sense of pain, anger and turmoil, created with very few recognizable forms.

The "Battlescenes" series comments on wars and times of struggle in history by using a visually striking vocabulary. For example, "Battlescene I: 9/11" presents an interpretive account of the aftermath of the 2001 tragedy. Images of Sept. 11 have become so widely dispersed that we are nearly numb to the effect, but Shanti tackles the event from a fresh perspective.

A band of fiery red paint stands at the base of the canvas, while the rest is comprised of a gray mass of destruction: lines and curves flying in all directions crashing into semi-natural forms that represent body parts and allegorical figures. Other pieces in the series include "Battlescenes II: Baghdad" and "Battlescenes III: Fallujah," which explore our recent war with striking blue, black and tan lines exploding into the sky.

"Tree Bearing Fruit" is one of Shanti's non-battle-oriented paintings that twists the basic elements of a tree into an abstract kaleidoscope of shapes and colors. The trunk is divided into many parts, and the green of the leaves and blue of the sky stretch out in unexpected swirls and textures. The vitality of the title echoes the energy of the painting.

Shanti's paintings are enigmatic at first glance, but quickly gain meaning as the viewer learns more about her life and the images that shaped her mental and physical world. They can also stand alone as powerful abstract images open to interpretation.