Chitrashaala 2023: Where art meets nature to channel creativity

A total of 49 artists, 29 Indian and 20 international gathered at Chitrashaala 2023, which is being promoted as a safe space for artists to channelise their creative energies.

Chitrashaala 2023: Where art meets nature to channel creativity

Saturday February 18, 2023,

6 min Read

“Art knows no prejudice, art knows no boundaries, art doesn’t really have judgment in its purest form,” says Canadian singer-songwriter KD Lang. While I’ve heard this phrase time and again in myriad forms, I literally saw it come alive before my eyes in Mukteshwar, a charming hill town in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district. 

The venue was jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat and Spa, a striking property painted in the brightest yellow, green and white, set amidst the spectacular Kumaon hills. It was here that the 5th edition of the international art residency, Chitrashaala, was underway from February 3-10. The term ‘Chitrashaala’ draws inspiration from a school of art of the same name in Bundi, Rajasthan. 


A glimpse of the stunning Nanda Devi mountain range | Image: Geetika Sachdev

Ever since Chitrashaala, a joint initiative of jüSTa Hotels and Resorts and fashion designer Deepika Govind, was launched in 2015, artists from India and international countries have revelled in the joy of calling this space their own. After all, it offers them the freedom and opportunity to be themselves sans any boundaries.

“We get to see different thoughts, techniques, and inspirations. The artists should have a good time and make friends across boundaries. Art connects our past and future; it is the bridge between different cultures,” shares Ashish Vohra, Founder and CEO, jüSTa Hotels and Resorts, adding that in Chitrashaala 2023, there were a total of 49 artists, 29 from India, and 20 international artists. 

Of learning and unlearning 

For someone who can barely hold a paint brush right, the very thought of being in the company of talented artists from India and abroad was rather intimidating. But at the same time, it was my curiosity that quelled me to shed my inhibitions and venture into a world that prides in being non-judgemental. 

There’s no denying that the location was unrivalled and brought down several high walls – imagine the snow-capped Nanda Devi mountains peeking through heavy layers of fog and mist at frequent intervals? Let’s just say it’s sure to unleash creativity, even within art illiterates like me.


An artist depicting multiple faces that merge into one body

But it wasn’t just the beauty of the mountainscape, the environment here also left me overwhelmed for days. The mere sight of watching artists from all over the world under one roof, mingling with each other, and sharing their feedback constructively was priceless. In a world that’s dominated by competition and egos, it was almost utopian to witness people from diverse backgrounds coexist so beautifully. 

During the three days I spent at Chitrashaala 2023, my interactions with several artists also gave me insights into their thought processes, how beautifully they had interwoven their personal stories onto the canvases. For most, their artwork was almost cathartic; a release of the pain they had harboured for long periods. 

“The artists have free rein to produce whatever they like. Some get inspired by what they see around them, others draw themes from conversations with others. There are also some who have their practice rooted in their own ideas,” says Anirudh Chari, Curator, Chitrashaala. 

Shaping personal narratives

A long chat with Mithu Joardar, a practising contemporary artist from Mumbai, who lived her childhood in Kolkata moved me beyond words. Her artwork depicted flying hair rising from the majestic mountains that symbolised liberation. On delving deeper, she confessed that she subconsciously uses hair as a metaphor to express her ideas about social patterns, personal incidents, and mythological tales. 

“The last time we were in Rishikesh, I drew hair, since kesh translates to hair in Hindi. At the age of 21, I had to let go of my long hair after a surgery. While I never felt any remorse as such, I believe I experienced some pain subconsciously that comes out in the form of my artwork,” she explains. 


An artist from Bhutan drawing inspiration from the mountainscape

There’s also Etab, an American Syrian  painter, who has been living and working in Chicago for the past nine years. Her artistic approach boldly expresses childhood and her imagination; from her  performing arts delicately flow several subjects such as portraits and colourful landscapes. When she had earlier participated in Chitrashaala, she had poured her heart out sharing how her entire body of work had been damaged in the war. Little after, with tears rolling down her eyes, she also spoke of losing her son. 

“I saw all the artists walk up to her at that very moment and give her a tight hug. Such is the compassion that the community holds for each other; it’s truly like a family,” Anirudh shares. 

Hanne Haukom, a ceramic artist from Norway, was also an interesting find. She’s been a part of four editions of Chitrashaala, and believes that every corner of India fascinates her. Her transition to painting from ceramic as a medium has also been an intriguing one – in fact, while she was drawing a series of blocks on the canvas here, I asked her if there’s a particular reason for this. 

After a few minutes, she responded, “ I believe I am absent minded and lack structure, particularly in my depiction of art. Probably, this is my way to regain control in a certain way.”


An artwork in progress

Apart from these women, several local artists influenced me in a big way. Arunava Mondal, a Kolkata-based artist is believed to have shown immense growth over the last few years. Here’s what he told me, “I wanted to follow my instincts and express what spontaneously came to my mind. There are many ways to express myself, but for me, there’s nothing better than doing it in form, layer, and colour.”

It may or may not be correct to say, but it was heartening to see several artists, dainty and shy in demeanour, to portray strong themes on canvas. It almost felt like a rebellion; a way to reclaim their spaces that were chained by societal constructs. 

The last word 

While it was all so surreal, I particularly loved the fact that no one was set against each other at Chitrashaala 2023. While art presentations were a feature every evening, there was no competition in the air. Instead, the community cheered each other on, and asked some pertinent questions that certainly upped my art knowledge. 

“We don’t want to pressurise the artists; they have the whole world to compete with. In the future, we do want to give an award for the best presentation, largely because they have to learn how to market themselves better in this day and age,” Ashish concludes. 

Edited by Teja Lele