Meet The SHEROES: A QnA With Shovona Karmakar, Professional Visual Artist Who Suffered Bullying As A Child

Last updated 10 May 2016 . 7 min read

Tell us about yourself 

I am Shovona, a freelance commercial visual artist (a self-taught photographer). I belong to a middle-class family comprising of both my parents and an elder brother; my childhood comprised of a cosmopolitan surrounding shifting from small to big town to city primarily in central India. With pure science as my background in my school days, I finally graduated as an art historian. Presently I live here in Mumbai, India by myself. 

How (and why) did you venture into professional photography?

I was always interested in drawing and painting since my early years; from doodling over walls to scribbling on paper... I soon realised I was interested in drawing and painting more than any other subject and as time passed I took it seriously. Initially, an interest for animation grew and I thought of applying at the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF DESIGN. I failed to get through, that’s when I tried MIT Pune and luckily I got through. Gradually the need for something else grew in me and I left MIT post my foundation and finally joined Kala Bhawan, Shantiniketan and there I pursued art history as my major.

I picked up a fondness for photography thereafter because of the beautiful barren lands around my campus…my eyes were not able to stop making frames in my mind. But my parents didn't allow me to change colleges again (my parents have been extensively supportive devoid they had their own plans for me which I didn't want to pursue, my father has been a strong reason for whatever I am today) and I so started teaching photography to myself since then.

I did a 365 self-portrait project from the year 2010 to 2011 where I clicked myself every single day portraying different aspects. As I shared my work over various social mediums from Facebook to Flickr, people started following and recognising my work, sharing even helped me to understand my work better (I believe you need to keep your fear of getting criticised aside and share as it helps you to grow faster).

I started meeting people who inspired me, supported me, loved me and knew me via my work and that’s how I met my mentor - a known photographer, Ritam Banerjee. He gave me a chance to come to Mumbai and explore the industry, I feel lucky to get the opportunity as many often just dream about it. Days passed and my hobby for photography turned into an obsession and then I finally realised what I would like to do in my life; but the commercial factor has its price to pay and compromises to make. After I left working with Ritam I started my own company SHOVONAkar Visuals which just turned 2 this very year. Overall the need to earn my own bread and butter and the disability to do anything than creating images finally lead me to turn to this professionally.

You were abused / bullied as a student - how has this impacted you professionally and as a person?

Before I share my story I just want to state that things happen for good and sometimes bad but its up to us how we shape it. 

I was born with dark skin and deep curly hair, quite unconventional in this very Indian society which hosts the conventional thought that beauty is fair skin and long straight hair. Since childhood I felt unfit, due to lack of people around to make me feel comfortable in my own skin colour, texture and shape (I have suffered eve-teasing, been called names like (maggie, negro, afro, nigga and more)  gradually I started underestimating myself and fitted myself into the ugly zone.. as far as I remember I must have tried everything from 'Fair and Lovely' to 'No Marks' to every other product available in the market promising to achieve the unachievable; quite a misleading path I went through for more than a decade.

Being a teenager I suffered more with the inferior complexity and the lack of confidence (the ever calling names from few of my school friends led me to feel misarable). I will not be very uncomfortable to say that I WAS NOT VERY COMFORTABLE with myself, seriously society can make and break you, we are humans bound to be liked by others and if not, we do feel things are not right. 

During my first year of college I fell in love, this followed with the similar rejection I have long suffered because of my looks. Few days of sorrow followed and one day I came across a self-portrait photographer portraying herself for the second year and somewhere it just ticked in my mind to follow her path, I then decided to do a 365 self-portrait of myself (I used to hate getting photographed in my childhood days just coz I found myself ugly) and thus the journey which changed my life and my thought process started, the feel of hating yourself does even lead to the dislike of others but I gradually fell in love with myself. Soon I started meeting people who loved and embraced me in my own skin and texture which I lacked for long. I did gain a lot of weight during my hibernation phase of being inside the home all day long due to lack of friends but gradually I lost around 15kgs and gained back my confidence. As a person, I went minimalistic and had a great change in mindset regarding beauty which is all about being sound in and out. 

Things changed by the time I turned my hobby into a profession. I have been super lucky to work along people from clients to art directors  who believed and trusted in me and gave me amazing opportunities to create things I always wished for and things I never thought I could have done. 

What plans do you have for yourself professionally in the near future?

Would loved to be named as one of the best visual artist internationally.

If there was one thing about your life you could change / redo: what would it be?

I believe I am good with life but not perfect, yet there are many things I am working over both personally and professionally.

Can you tell us about some of the current projects you are working on?

Besides working on various commercial assignments I extensively shoot for Jossbox from portraits to editorials to the interior where I get to meet many interesting people.

What is a typical "day at work" like for you?

A typical day at work starts with an early morning cycle ride followed by yoga and breakfast. I work from my living space hence, I make sure its clean and organised. As the clock ticks 10 I sit over my emails but even before I start working I make sure I have good music in the background and go through few inspirational photographer’s work and various visual imagery from artists around the world. Besides my professional work, I do believe in homework and keep practising various mediums of making images from photography to stereoscopes to cinema graphs to 3d modelling. I do still study design and its a major aspect of my life. Once I am done with work, I often go for a solo cycle ride into the city or call friends for dinner, I love cooking and hosting people at my place or occasionally go shopping. Overall, I make sure I am living the best of everyday.

Bully Proof is the first of its kind open space for dialogue and discussions on the issue of bullying. The event will start with a screening of the film 'Bully' aka 'The Bully Project' (2011) followed by a diverse panel of speakers. The discussion will be led by Reshma Valliappan, Navadeep Pannala and Shovona Karmakar, who through sharing their personal experiences will cover the spectrum of different perspectives to bullying that deal with - gender and sexuality, mental health, trauma and recovery. The evening will end with Ramneek Singh - a powerful spoken word poet and activist who will perform poetry to the topic of bullying.

SHEROES - lives and stories of women we are and we want to be. Connecting the dots. Moving the needle. Also world's largest community of women, based out of India. Meet us at @SHEROESIndia

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