As a civil engineer, Ria Sharma has worked on major infrastructure projects in India such as dams and medical colleges. After moving to Dubai in 2000 she was involved in the design and construction of iconic projects such as the world’s tallest hotel apartments. She felt at home amidst the dust and noise of construction sites and enjoyed working with a multinational crew to build highrises that shaped the distinctive skyline of Dubai.
But a few years ago, Sharma gave that up to become an artist. She now works in her quiet studio creating paintings about the inner landscape of the human soul and seeking the higher purpose of our life. She also collaborates with social organisations across the globe to create art that can benefit society, especially underprivileged women. She has developed her own cubism inspired style that has been described as Cufism because of her spiritual and philosophical themes.
The Al Qasimi Foundation Studio & Gallery in Ras Al Khaimah is presenting a solo show of her paintings, titled Trance to Eternity. We visited her studio in Dubai to learn about her work and journey as an artist.
How did you get so interested in art?
When I was in school I was so focused on getting into engineering or medical college that I never paid attention to my creative side. But when my daughter began taking art lessons I felt a strong urge to try my hand with her pencils and brushes. I made some drawings and paintings of the projects I was working on and found it was a great way to relax after a stressful day at work. Gradually I began enjoying it so much that I decided to become a full-time artist.
Did you get any formal training in art?
I learnt by visiting museums, galleries and artists’ studios here and during my travels, reading books, doing research online, and experimenting in my studio. When I came across paintings I liked, I studied the work, thought process and techniques of those artists and consider them to be my gurus. Sketching with a group of artists was also helpful. I love Arabic calligraphy and was fortunate to meet master calligrapher Mohammed Atiq Ansari, who taught me this ancient art form.
How did you develop your interpretation of cubism?
My early paintings were about social issues such as the empowerment of women and when I began exhibiting them I realised that I need to distinguish myself from other artists by finding my own unique style and visual language and searching deep within myself to find subjects that truly inspire me. As an engineer I tend to analyse and deconstruct everything I see and think about the component parts, the joints, the loads, and how the structure comes together, so this cubist style came quite naturally to me.
I enjoy breaking up figures and objects into smaller geometric forms and playing with them to create depth, movement and multiple perspectives in my work. For me cubism represents a fusion of my internal and external worlds and I believe my cubist paintings are being appreciated because this style reflects my true self.
What works are you showing in Trance to Eternity?
I am showing new works from an ongoing series titled The Search Within as well as recent paintings from my Lyrical Soul Mystical Allure and Heritage series. The Search Within is about realising one’s true identity by achieving a higher consciousness. The central figure in these paintings is a whirling dervish lost in the meditative movement of his dance. His swirling, which reflects the movement of the universe, from the largest planet to the tiniest atom, puts him in a trance that frees him from all the worldly influences around him to reach a state of higher consciousness where he can delve into his soul and connect with the divine.
I have tried to capture this state of searching, finding and surrendering to the divine. While painting the swirling dress of the dervish I could feel the energy, rhythm and momentum that propels him higher and higher and I hope viewers will sense it too. I have used colours that reflect positivity and joy and created textured layers with beads and other materials to express the idea that what we seek is mystical and hidden.
The Lyrical Soul series, featuring ballerinas and musicians conveys the idea that immersing yourself in something you are passionate about, be it dance, music or art is like being in the melodious eternal trance of the whirling dervish. The Mystical Allure series celebrates the beauty and grace of Indian women and the Heritage series pays tribute to the UAE through cubist interpretations of national symbols such as the falcon and the camel.
What are the other projects you are working on?
I am proud to be associated with a project initiated by UAE-based The Ajala Project in collaboration with Play for Smiles. The Ajala Project is a social enterprise that uses art to raise awareness and funds for social causes and they invited me, along with other artists to illustrate the stories of several Kenyan women who are victims of trafficking and other exploitation. Our sketches will be used to decorate denim jackets, which will be sold to raise funds for helping these women to start a new life. I was deeply moved by their tragic stories and have tried to depict the suffering of the victims as well as how society can and should help them.
For example, my drawing Perceived Against Real shows a woman who appears ugly because she is surrounded by the rejection, prejudices and judgements of society. But when you turn the sketch upside down you see another portrait of the beautiful woman she could have been if life was fair to her, and more importantly the woman she can still be if we give her a second chance. In other drawings I have emphasised their simple dreams such as being a hairdresser or caterer and the barriers that surround them and must be removed so that we as a society can redeem ourselves.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.
Trance to Eternity will run at the Al Qasimi Foundation Studio & Gallery, Ras Al Khaimah, until September 29.