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Bringing Bags To Life: How Shirin Watwani Is Popularising Marquage Art Scene In India

Shirin Watwani discusses her artwork, dominating the Marquage art scene, her creative process, why nature is her sole inspiration, and why keeping it real is what keeps her steady as an artist.

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Shirin Watwani
India’s gigantic art scene has boomed in the past decade with artists across the country pushing boundaries and creating art beyond conventions. And amidst the rise of a particular Marquage art in India, one artist that’s ruling the space is Chennai’s Shirin Watwani whose work stands true to her inspiration of the earth around her.
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What piqued my interest during my insightful conversation with Watwani was how she strongly suggested art holds no agenda for her. It’s as if, the process is her prize. There’s no tragic creativity behind the subject Watwani chooses. She paints because she likes it, there’s no story behind it. She says, “A couple of my friends jokingly tell me not to say this, but I really have no story behind what I paint, apart from the colours and compositions, my artwork stems from my innate liking for what I do and what I see around me living amidst nature.”

In an interview with SheThePeople, Shirin Watwani discusses her artwork, dominating the Marquage art scene, her creative process, why nature is her sole inspiration, and why keeping it real is what keeps her steady as an artist.

Shirin Watwani Interview

The inspiration behind picking up the brush

Her first encounter with the art world happened initially as a child when joined art classes. However, it was only during a long career as Graphic Artist that she realised she had it in her to be an artist and experiment. “Just like many others, I went to art classes as a child. I pursued the course History of Fine Art: Drawing and Painting at a Chennai college, a course which was, for a major part, theoretical with some practical classes. I then pursued a career as Graphic Artist after studying the course in Australia,” she recalls.

So, what led her to pick up the brush? “Creative dissatisfaction,” she cites. Watwani actually enjoyed working with a partner building their company as Graphic Designers but after several years there came a phase where the corporate workings didn't hold her interest anymore, which led her to think of trying her hand at painting once again. “Sometimes, where you start from and where your creations end up are very different when we deal with clients in the Graphic Design industry. I had this strong urge to pick up a paintbrush and see if I still had the ability and see where it took me.”

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 It's sometimes nice to see things that you constantly don't have to derive meaning from or think about.

Shirin Watwani Shirin Watwani

How social media proved to be a game changer

Watwani started by painting canvases and posting them on Facebook, without any intention of building a business, a following or holding an exhibition, for that matter. “I was posting because the paintings were all just pretty pictures. I painted so many canvases and then thought to myself ‘I might as well just have an exhibition since the canvases are too many now’ I had an exhibition here in Chennai, after which I started getting commissioned work for my canvas art.”

For Watwani, Marquage art happened quite interestingly. “Soon after my exhibition, a friend asked me if I could paint on her handbag, which I outright refused. I mean, making an error on Canvas is different than running a handbag, right?” It was after a few months that she convinced me saying she had a bag she was going to throw away which I could paint on.” And that was it, Watwani not just painted on her friend’s worn-out bag brilliantly, but also on the original bag she was earlier offered.

For Watwani, becoming a sought-after Marquage artist took time and her own understanding of how the art form worked. “For Marquage art, many artists try all sorts of things like pop art and so on, which is great. However, for me, I do the naturalistic form of art as a niche because I also want to enjoy what I do, and taking inspiration from nature is what drives me to do better.”

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Watwani carefully carved out a niche for herself after experimenting for a good few months and making sure what works and what doesn’t. “When I’d realised Marquage was a thing, I didn’t know what the durability of things was. I picked up the craft and techniques after grave research and my own trial and error. I painted on some twenty-five bags for my family and friends and waited for good seven-nine months to see what stayed and how durable the art was. It was when I saw my work was good enough to be monetised, I started taking orders.”

Watwani soon made an Instagram account solely for her work and it did work wonders for her. “Social media helped me immensely, I’ve got commissioned work continuously ever since I started the page.”

Growth as an artist and pushing boundaries

Interestingly, Watwani doesn’t feel the pressure to get somewhere, and because she also has the privilege to do things at her pace, she feels steady with respect to creative satisfaction. So, what has impacted her growth the most? “The sheer circumstance and ability to be in the moment and enjoy what I do without having the compulsion to reach somewhere.

Watwani recently decided to take a break from her canvas commissions in order to make room for something new she can choose to learn. The idea of experimenting is what will make her push boundaries for herself, she believes. “I have taken a break from Canvas commissions because I wanted to focus on something new. I feel making the bandwidth for that will help me towards that direction.”

The creative process

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Watwani is more intrigued by the things around her rather than a particular artist’s work, and it’s evident in the kind of work she has done in the past few years. When asked what she seeks when she follows other artists’ works on social media, she says, “The only thing I keep looking at generally is other people’s watercolour works. I find watercolours nice to watch, especially when birds and animals are the painter’s subjects. Other than that, it's different from what I do and, therefore, pleasing to watch versatile techniques.”

Shirin Watwani Shirin Watwani discusses her artwork, dominating the Marquage art scene, her creative process, why nature is her sole inspiration, and why keeping it real is what keeps her steady as an artist.

“My inspiration lies in real things”

Watwani doesn’t like to store what she ">paints, her innate happiness lies in the moment she’s creating something. Having said this, a recent challenging artwork she completed is something she considers a confidence booster.

She elaborates, “I don’t wish to keep anything I paint, it’s done and over for me after its completion. However, in terms of a different experience, there is a canvas I painted which proved to be both challenging and exciting because of its sheer size. I’d never seen the twelve feet tall and four feet wide canvas straight up as it lay flat at my studio, but I decided not to double-guess myself and work on it.” Her accomplishment with this particular canvas is integral because until now, she had only worked on a 6x4 size canvas. “It was different and nice, and certainly gives confidence to do more,” she adds.

Advise to aspiring artists

Drawing from her experience, and pointing out that any start anywhere is as good a beginning as any, Watwani gives some solid advice for aspiring artists. “Don’t be scared to mess up. You can always fix a mistake and start afresh for things you cannot change. However, do not base your decision on whether somebody else likes your work or not, you liking it is enough for you to continue.”


Suggested reading: How Fatima Baig Depicts Feminine Strength And Freedom Through Art

Women artists women Marquage artists Shirin Watwani
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