Dubai painter Sonu Sultania’s brush with spirituality, love and passion for art

The Dubai-based artist talks about rediscovering her enthusiasm for painting – and how the UAE’s vibrant art scene has provided the perfect platform to showcase her colourful works.

Sonu Sultania has two current shows – one at Dubai's Studio Seven Gallery and the other in Kempinski Hotel Ajman. Satish Kumar / The National
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Sonu Sultania was nearly 30 when she discovered that art was her true passion in life.

Born and raised in Kolkata, India, she was forced to give up her job at the Delhi Stock Exchange and move to the Philippines in 2011 because of her husband’s career. Unable to get a visa to work there, she spent her time in Manila rekindling her childhood interest in painting.

Her vibrant works reflect the way she sees the world. Now living in Dubai, the 33-year-old has two current shows – at the city’s Studio Seven Gallery, and in the Kempinski Hotel Ajman.

What happened in the Philippines that made you find art?

It was a new start for me in a new country and I had a 1-year-old child, so I started feeling lost and suffered from a major identity crisis. I started painting again, but before I had chance to turn that into a career choice, we were relocated back to Delhi. I was not prepared for the chaos of returning to work all over again, so I decided to nurture my interests in art and joined Delhi College of Art.

Do you ever think about to returning to a full-time job?

After I studied for the basic, fine-art course, I discovered my talent and passion – and since then I have never looked back. The icing on the cake was when we moved to Dubai in 2013. Here, I found recognition as an artist and a platform to showcase my creativity. I am loving work as a full-time artist and I have participated in a variety of exhibitions, workshops, competitions and festivals across the Middle East and India.

How would you describe your artistic style?

My palette is a mix of vibrant and sombre hues, which bring my subjects to life. I like experimenting with several techniques and media, but oil is my favourite. I do not restrict my creativity to just one single theme, I paint whatever gives me the sense of being connected to my passion. I would not change this, as for me art is the essence of the freedom I love in my process.

Do you take inspiration from your travels?

Yes. Having lived in several countries, I use it as a great opportunity to explore and delve into the cultural influences and origins of the art produced in those various communities, cities and countries. I also get my inspiration from various philosophies, which focus on nature, love, tolerance, worship of God, community development, and personal development through self-­discipline and responsibility.

Can you talk about your latest series, A Spiritual Bliss?

It depicts the mystical beauty of dervish dancers. I am trained as a Kathak dancer [an Indian classical dance] and some of its moves are very similar to Sufi dance. I found a source of tremendous inspiration in their whirling. I view Sufism as a continuous striving to cleanse one’s self of all that is bad or evil in order to acquire virtue. This series is my way to connect to God and it is like a meditation for me. As Rumi [the poet and Sufi mystic] says: “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know.” I hope the message that I am trying to convey through this series can be a form of spiritual healing and purification for the soul.

Are any of your works that feature portraits of women based on personal experiences?

They are not based on my personal experiences but on my observations. The ultimate aim of creating female portraits is to create an environment of empathy. I try to capture what I see and feel, being a woman, about women, as a way of recording their beauty, their power and capabilities as well as their fears and insecurities. I believe art is not just an object for aesthetic admiration, but could also invite the viewer to question their social and political landscape.

You are represented by Kobo Art online gallery – how important has that been in raising your profile?

Kobo Art has been very important in my journey as an artist. It provides a huge platform to connect with other artists and collectors, and the founder, Shan Fazelbhoy, has always been very helpful and offered her guidance. She has also provided me opportunities to take part in many exhibitions.