Many years ago, on a family outing, Shohini Ghosh stood under the silken, blue blanket of the Colorado skies, her face tilted upwards, her ponytail wagging in the wind, looking towards the majestic Rockies.
As she took in the breathtaking beauty of the imposing mountains, her husband captured her pensive mood on camera.
That photograph, later, served as a model for a charcoal sketch on plain white paper.
Still afterward, it, in turn, became an inspiration for something else—something bigger, stronger, and more abstract.
It underwent a transformation in scale, shape and medium, reappearing as a metallic structure—40- inches long, 48-inches wide, and 4-inches thick which stands in a prominent street corner in Gillette, Wyoming, a small Midwest town of 20,000 that sits on a bed of coal and oil.
The chaste, round form, rising from a public space in this quiet town, is Ghosh’s pencil portrait, writ large, its iron-gray lead lines expanding out into the girder-like circular that represents her silhouette.
It was bought by the town in 2009, and is now a part of the mayor’s art council.
Ghosh’s work takes on significance, given that she’s a part of an artistic minority of first-generation Indian immigrant women, who make a living out of smiting metals and molding fiberglass.
A native of New Delhi, Ghosh, 40, moved from Mumbai to Houston in 1998, because of her marriage. The relocation required her to quit her teaching job at the Sir J. J. School of Art—also her alma mater where she got a B.F.A—and close down her studio.
At the time, it seemed to her that her fledgling career in sculpting was being nipped in the bud, she confessed. A year later, the newly-wed couple left for Denver, where they found a home away from home.
1999 turned out to be a landmark year for the new arrivals. A couple of Ghosh’s artworks were chosen for display at the Anthony L. Rhea Gallery in the Denver metropolitan area.
This would be her first exhibition in America.
But coming up with the exhibits had her in a fix. She didn’t have any concrete work to show, merely their images.
Only a couple of years earlier, she’d immigrated to the U.S. with nothing more than a few suitcases that could accommodate not one item from her inventory in India. All she carried with her were photographic prints of her work.
But their role in her career has been no less vital than that of a life-saving drug, helping her to recreate from ground up what she’d left behind. As an expectant mother at the time, Ghosh went through what most women at that juncture in their lives don’t.
“I sculpted through my pregnancy,” she said.
The rich artistic environment around her has been a boon, an impetus for her to evolve. “I was excited to discover a sculptor’s paradise in Loveland, Colorado,” she gushed.
“This town alone has 41 foundries.” Last year, a community group in Highlands Ranch, a Denver suburb, invited Ghosh to teach “Sculpting 101” to adults.
In making sculptures, Ghosh works with the dull, yellow alloy, bronze. “I work with it as I love the challenge of converting cold, hard metal into soft, sensitive, very earthy reflections of life,” she explained. Her choice of canvas for murals is the hard metallic surface of copper, where patina serves as a color palette.
Small towns in the American heartland, are typically, not reputed to be thumping cultural hubs, brimming with art galleries, musical festivals, and public murals.
Strike that. In the last several years or so, that’s changed perceptibly.
Look at SculptureWalk. Now in its sixth year, this Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based non-profit has been spearheading a local drive to make creative uses of public spaces by promoting outdoor art.
It deserves plaudits for its volunteer-driven urban beautification initiative, which also appears to have a diversity edge. And that’s where Ghosh fits in.
In 2008, when it solicited entries from artists from around the area, she submitted a sample of her work. In the summer of 2009, “Gossip,” a 300-pound statue of three bony women, dressed in flowing robes, was welded on a gray pedestal of quartzite in the city’s downtown.
It won the “People’s Choice Award.” It’s now on display in an indoor setting, at the Orpheum Theater, a vaudeville house. On loan to the city of Sioux Falls for a year, the piece is currently up for sale for $15,000.
“Gossip” represents three women, having a heart-to-heart, who come to establish a female bonding over what may be described as an “adda”—an unstructured, hearty chitchat on topics ranging from politics to domestic trivia that’s the prevalent mode of socializing in her homeland.
While the bronze—and maybe even bronzed—ladies appear immersed in their “gossip,” their creator remains oddly silent about their cultural origins. Ghosh could well have provided her audience with a background on the figurines’ sartorial specificity.
May, this year, saw the installation of a statue of a mermaid titled, “Tranquility,” also in Sioux Falls.
Of the piscine form, Sasha Ulvestad, a local resident said, “She seems to be contemplating something, but the observer can tell it’s nothing serious. It seems she simply emerged from the water, settled herself on a rock or in the sand, and is now thinking about what her day holds.”
Not all of Ghosh’s work is for parks and squares, however. There’s one palm-size project that’s designed to lift the spirits of terminally ill patients.
Moved by the excruciating pain her own mother—a cancer survivor—suffered, Ghosh has made little, soft, white, angel figurines of resin for DonnaBellas Angels, a San Diego-based non-profit that supplies healing art to healthcare and care-giving facilities.
For now, Ghosh’s hands are full—with Play-Doh for grownups.