Nidhi Qazi
MEERA MUKHERJEE: BREAKING MOULDS by By Vaishali Shroff. Illustrated by Shivam Choudhary. Designer: Bhavana Art1st and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, 2023, 84 pp., INR 650.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Meera Mukherjee was a sculptor from India who was known for her innovative bronze casting technique which she learnt from the Bastar sculpting tradition of Chhattisgarh. The book traces her journey from her childhood days and presents a glimpse of the artist’s life and pursuit for sculpting.
Written in third person, on the lines of a fictionalized biographical piece, the book also presents pieces from her sculpting work. But a glimpse into her life only serves as a simplistic gaze into the mind and heart of the artist, Meera. The writing of an artist’s life should have delved into greater details, giving us more food for thought but it falls short of doing that. Instead, a hurried, simplistic narrative and lack of focus on the inner conflicts reflects throughout the book.
There’s repetition of the following lines on each page:
Art found Meera, Meera found art…Everywhere she saw, everything she felt.

This repetition doesn’t lend itself to any heart-touching effect to be able to establish an emotional connect with the artist.
Highly designed and stylized, the book distracts one from the artist’s work, since each page has illustrations by another artist; which may leave its readers disengaged or not hold them enough and give them more time and space to engage with Meera the artist.
Biographical accounts are a difficult terrain; it is not easy to get into the artist’s life, especially posthumously. But a more honest, engaged effort from the author’s side to understand Meera’s life would have made the book a meaningful read.
Meera’s journey, as the book presents, was also of having made a shift in medium. She started with painting, went on to learn it formally in European countries but suddenly decided, on returning to her roots, to shift to sculpting. The writing doesn’t offer any closer examination of the reasons that determine Meera’s decision to return to India and associate with tribal communities in Chhattisgarh to learn sculpting.
Use of some expressions in the context of Meera’s observation of the people of tribal communities of Dhokras, Gharuas, Malhars, Acharyas also feels insincere:
She created sculptures of people around her……Their large, pensive eyes were an expression of sadness. Their elongated necks and large arms spoke of labour.

Such use of language confuses the reader: is this what Meera felt really or is it the writer’s interpretation of Meera’s work? Moreover, such expressions make us feel distant to the realities of tribal communities without giving us any window to their lives and struggles. Simply mentioning ‘Sadness’, ‘labour’, reduces them to mere words and does not offer anything more than just the generic view of an outsider.
The book would have made for a better read if only we had been given more authentic details of artist Meera’s life, her choices and conflicts.