“I am a half-Muslim, half-Hindu, half-South Indian, half-North Indian and was brought up in Bengaluru and Indore,” says Shilo Shiv Suleman. An artist who illustrated her first book for children at the age of 16, Shilo is a creature of contrasts. While her art weaves in and out of magical realism and mythology, she is known for her travels around the country and her grass-roots level work with women with special needs. She also tours the Kumbha Mela captivating an entire audience of distinguished guests during her TED Talks.
“I still don’t know exactly who I am. I am an artist, an inter-disciplinarian, a story-teller, technologist, magician, and a child,” says the artist who is at home (Bengaluru) for three days before setting out to travel again. The thirst for wandering struck Shilo when she was 11 years old when her mother Nilofer Suleman began recreating maps from the Columbus era (around 1942) and allowed her to join in. Accustomed to travelling alone, Shilo has no use for maps any more and goes where the journey takes her. “I was 13 when I first got on a bus and took off to Goa alone and I don’t think that journey has ended yet,” says the founder of Fearless a campaign that urges women to feel more comfortable as they encounter the world.
“I have been on a bus in Rajasthan one day, sat atop a mountain in Dharamshala the next and most of the time, the compassion shown to me by people has overwhelmed me,” says the gypsy artist who has been trying to remove the fear associated with women while travelling alone in the country.
Her own travels have only reinforced her faith in humanity. “When I was 15, I went to Hampi with my girlfriends. We discovered ourselves and each other there and faced no threat from anyone,” she says. She continues, “I was travelling alone in Bali when I became a victim of ATM fraud and lost all my money, but people held my hand and helped me through it all.”
With her street art and her app, Shilo aims to make art fluid by having an open and frank attitude towards the money it is capable of making.
“Art has always translated into money and money is what keeps artists going. As for me, I cannot afford to collect art. So I collect beauty instead. I have a pebble from the riverbank in Shillong, a piece of embroidery from Rajasthan, and so on,” she says.
Her wildly successful app Khoya is an outlet for her love of collecting and fantasy.
“I was so bored of seeing the clean and similar interfaces of everything on a smartphone. I wanted to make the digital bazaar a cultural bazaar. Why won’t an app have the variety in aesthetics that you find when you walk into a market?” questions the INK Fellow. For now, the woman who once fell asleep to bedtime stories of Frida Kahlo is set to carve an identity for her self in this wide world around her.