From vegetable vendor to a world-renowned artist, Shakila Sheikh's inspiring journey


Shakila's work now pepper the walls across India, the US and Europe, but she had a humble and troubled beginning. Here is her story.

Shakila Sheikh lives in a simple house 30 kilometres from Kolkata. She owns a private studio where she works as an artist. Famous across the globe for her collage art, she is also a homemaker. Her art adorns houses across India, the US, and Europe.

Daughter of a vegetable vendor, Shakila earned Rs 70,000 in 1990 when she hosted her first ever exhibition. Today, she has a team that takes care of her sales and her work peppers walls in various parts of India, Europe, and the US.

However, during the years growing up, she had a troubled childhood. Her father abandoned her family when she was a year old. This forced her mother, Zehran Bibi, to travel 40 km, from Mograghat to Taltala market, every day.

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Speaking to Weekend Leader on her childhood days and how she accompanied her mother while she sold vegetables, she said,

My mother didn’t allow me to work but used to take me to the city for a tour. I loved seeing the trams and buses plying the roads and slept on the pavements while she worked.
Source: Kopikelling (L) and The Art Diary (R)

On how inspiration took over her, she cites BR Panesar, a retired government employee and artist, as the reason. As a kind gesture, he used to give free eggs, biscuits, and chocolates in the neighborhood area. Nicknamed as ‘Dimbabu’ by the kids, he drew her towards the art form. In a conversation with Livemint, Shakila said it was tough for Shakila’s mother to trust Panesar as she feared for her daughter's safety, but he eventually earned their trust.

As it was difficult for Shakila to travel every day to school from her village Mograghat, she quit her studies. At the age of 12, she got married to Akbar Sheikh, who was 15 years older and already married. Due to financial difficulties, Shakila approached Panesar for help and he suggested she makes thongas--paper bags--to support her husband.

Inspired by his art, Shakila started working on her first collage, a depiction of vegetables and fruits that left everyone stunned. In 1991, she displayed her collage at an exhibition for the first time.


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