If you see a beautiful young girl perched up on a ladder, her hair down with a beautiful plumeria (frangipani) tucked delicately behind her ear, painting a street wall, you might be looking at Shilo Shiv Suleman.
A visual artist, illustrator, digital storyteller, animator and passionate human being, Shilo, 25, has been called the new face of India. She has won the Femina Women of Worth award, been mentioned on Yahoo’s Women We Admire list, featured in Grazia magazine, profiled on Buzzfeed and much more.
So who is Shilo Shiv Suleman?
Calling herself a magician and a flower, Shilo goes on escapades across the country exploring, painting walls, creating magic with technology and illustrating it all in her leather-bound journal. Her biggest joy is being able to sit out in the middle of nowhere with only the beauty and joy of nature all around and being able to work from there.
Having illustrated her first children’s book at the age of 16, Shilo has published over 10 books with top publishing houses in India. In Khoya, the crown jewel in her portfolio, Shilo combined childhood magic and digital technology to create an interactive narrative for children for the iPad.
On Indian media platform Youth Ki Awaaz, Shilo said, “ It’s often about finding links between traditional knowledge systems and contemporary platforms. I’m very interested in seeing technology act as a medium between art, storytelling and culture. I feel like technology should bring alive our cultural experiences.” With Khoya, Shilo has woven a magical futuristic journey of two children who seek to save a world where magic and love have disappeared. She draws deeply from rich Indian cultural symbolism and ritual as the basis of the interactive design.
Released in 2012, the book made it to the top 5 in the international App Store and was reviewed by tech geniuses like Steve Jobs, Lynda Barry and Steve Wozniak. It also won the Best Children’s App award at the Futurebook Conference in London. Shilo has also been awarded the prestigious INK fellowship and was also chosen by TED and Levi’s as an ambassador for their Shape of Things to Come’ campaign. She was one of three Indian women to be granted this honor at the TED Global Conference 2011 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Shilo became a TED Speaker at the age of 23. Her TED Talk discussed using technology to push the boundaries of interactive storytelling.
Shilo is currently working on the second part of Khaya and also on a series of experiments that combine neurology and art, attempting to make physical lotuses bloom with the power of meditation using brainwave readers.
Art & Social Change
The second part of Shilo’s work, which focuses on art and social change, is what has established her work among the general masses. Her most well-know work is with the “Pink Chadi” campaign in 2009, where Shilo, then just 18, designed the posters for the non-violent protest campaign that was launched in response to the attack on women in a pub in Mangalore (220 miles west of Bangalore). The campaign went viral and captured the imagination of millions.
Calling it positive affirmation on the basis of social change, Shilo has been associated with several community-based projects and is also the proud founder of the Fearless Collective, which started as a reaction to the Delhi gang rape, and has now turned into a solid collective of 250 artists who use the power of art to address sexual violence and gender inequality.
Shilo says,“Even though the content for Fearless seems a lot more gruesome, to me it feels the same. It’s not agony. It’s a great deal of love and positivity in the campaign. And it’s about finding a source of strength and magic within yourself, not participating in a system that breeds gender violence, and learning how to heal.”
(A Fearless Collective graffiti project — Ahmadabad)
As a part of the Fearless campaign, Shilo goes travelling across the country, painting the street walls and reclaiming public spaces through women’s art. She says, “Each wall is a collaborative act of defiance and I am reclaiming that space through positive and personal affirmations contextual to the space they’re painted in.”
(The Bangalore Wall Flower Project)
Shilo has painted walls in Bangalore, Varanasi and Mumbai. She believes that this is a very important way of spreading a message, because both the feminist movement and the street art movement is about the need to reclaim one’s right to public space. In Mumbai she painted walls with the Koliwada Fisherwomen to focus on police brutality. On the banks of the Ganga, she painted walls with flower sellers to focus on reclaiming feminine mythology and iconography. And she has painted ramparts in Bangalore to start conversations around feminism and consent.
When talking about the significance of art in our daily lives, Shilo says, “Everyone should have equal access to art, but most of us are convinced that only artists make art. Galleries have made us a spectator to visual culture rather than creators. Because a wall is a permanent space, and is pretty scary to paint, it becomes a really good way to help people open up to the idea that even painting something yellow changes and transforms a space. They then more actively start to participate in the process of creation and reclamation.”
Putting her work in the genre of magical realism, Shilo believes in unmasking the universal archetypes and bring them out, travelling multiple universes through one touch on the iPad and amalgamating art, technology and body. It’s very easy to spot Shilo among the crowd , with the flowers, her trademark rustic Indian jewelry, spreading joy and smiles through her work. Shilo is a girl always in pursuit of learning and creating something new, scattering love and magic around the world.
Her work is abundant, breaking boundaries. It is contemporary but deeply rooted in tradition and rich with layers of colors, big-eyed girls, lotuses and Hindu Goddesses. It is intensely exquisite with a touch of Indian mythology that will surely hit you with its vibrant energy, and make you think. http://youtu.be/jxqa93PdAR0
The article has been previously published on Youth Ki Awaaz, India’s largest online community platform for young people to express themselves on issues of importance.