For the last thirty years, self-taught Indian artist Shakti Maira has brought three ambitious intentions to his art-making: to bring pleasure to the senses, to generate positive feelings and thoughts, and to deepen and uplift the spirit. Declining to work in any one medium (he has always considered the medium as subservient to the ideas themselves), he has expressed his vision in paint, paper, etched stone, monotypes, and sculptures. His work is featured in India’s National Gallery of Modern Art, and in leading corporate and private collections in India, the U.S., and Europe. Along with over 23 one-man shows, he has participated in many group shows around the world, and has taught classes and given lectures throughout New England and India. In 1994, he won the Hitchiner Award for sculpture at the annual New Hampshire Art Association Currier Gallery Show.
A student and practitioner of Buddhism since the beginning of his career, Shakti confesses that for him, art is secondary to being. Yet while he considers his primary spiritual practice to be meditation itself, he does insist on bringing a meditative awareness to his work, and thus has remained mindful of the drama and tension that occurs in the process of creation.
Says Maira of his work:
My work is rooted in a humanistic spirituality and is an exploration of a contemporary iconography about the evolution of spirit/mind through meditation/contemplation, inspired by Buddhist ideas of impermanence, interconnectedness, compassion, and emptiness.
Shakti’s talents for visual expression were recognized early on by his parents, and he was given free reign over his childhood home to paint on everything, from walls to cupboards to flower pots. He continued to indulge his boundless creativity at Mayo College in Rajasthan, but eventually gave up art to major in business, whereupon he earned an MBA and entered the banking industry.
This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since on a business trip to the Philippines his aesthetic eye was reinvigorated by the island nation’s exotic landscapes (much the way French Impressionist Paul Gauguin found inspiration in Tahiti). Maira soon dropped his banking career and returned to his original passion. At Lintas, a major Indian advertising firm run by theater personalities Alyque Padamsee and Gerson da Cunha, he rediscovered his love for art, and in 1973 had the first of his five art shows at the Taj Art Gallery in Bombay.
He then traveled to the United States to introduce Americans to traditional Indian crafts ("for the true art of our country lies in its craft," as he put it), but it wasn’t until he was approached by the World Bank to go to Sri Lanka that he discovered the deeper spiritual dimensions of his art. It was there that he learned the formal practice of meditation, and at last sought out the roots of his muse.
After 22 years abroad, Shakti returned to India in the late 90s, and there found kinship with the ancient aesthetic philosophies of India, which hold that art’s true purpose rests in its ability to induce a state of joyful transcendence, or anandam, the main gateway to a cognitive understanding of the creative reality of the universe. Central to this philosophy is the principle of chhandomaya, which refers to the rhythm, balance, proportion, and harmony that is the essence of all life.
It was only natural for Maira to extend this aesthetic understanding to the transformation of social systems—economic, commercial, technological, and political—for if the world truly is interconnected (or dependently co-arising, as the Buddhists might say), it doesn’t make sense to limit aesthetic sensibilities to only the fine arts. The aesthetic dimension, to Shakti, must be allowed to find expression in as many spheres of human activity as possible.
Towards this end, Shakti has expanded his craft to include writing, and his articles on the connections between social systems and aesthetics have appeared in various journals and newspapers in both India (including India’s national newspaper The Hindu) and abroad.
Shakti Maira is a founding member of the Integral Art branch of Integral Institute.