Nun paints and prints over 1,000 Christmas cards a year
By Divya Shekhar
Bengaluru: Sometime in the past decade, Sister (Sr) Claire of the Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (SMMI) in Bengaluru received a unique invitation.
Pope Benedict XVI had come across her paintings on the passion of Jesus Christ and wanted her to visit the Vatican to be felicitated.
Sr Claire, however, did not go. “I was too overwhelmed,” says the frail 80-year-old nun, looking at some of her 400-odd exhibited paintings. “So the Pope sent his Cardinal to Bengaluru to honour me here.”
The 1800-square-feet gallery that displays her artwork is just six months old. Located in the St Mary’s Convent premises in Chamarajpet, it is run by the missionary that wants to throw it open to the public. The days leading up to Christmas, however, are when Sr Claire’s works also make their way to greeting cards that are sold to people across India. It happens to be her favourite time of the year and the most dominant theme in her artwork.
“When I started printing my artworks on Christmas cards, parents of the children studying in our school (St Teresa’s Girls’ High School) started ordering more for their friends and relatives. It was not about a particular faith anymore. All religions feel at home with my art,” she says.
Sr Claire’s paintings use bold colours to reflect her personal journey, stories and themes from the Bible. All of them have a rural setting, with typical Indian backgrounds, dress codes and motifs. For instance, her version of The Last Supper sees Christ and His disciples dressed in dhoti-kurta, sitting around a rangoli and lit earthen lamps. Above their heads hangs a traditional toran of flowers.
“Art is who you are. I am Indian, so my paintings reflect the culture best-known to me,” says Sr Claire, who was born to a Naidu family in a village near Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. She was called Meera as a child and wanted to be a hermit, a decision opposed by her family. When her parents tried to forcefully get her married at the age of 16, she ran away and boarded a bus that took her to the doorstep of the St Joseph’s Church here.
She initially assisted Sister Genevieve (who died in 1995), a trained French artist inspired by Indian mythology, ethnicity and religious symbols. The paintings of both nuns are exhibited in the gallery. Sr Claire is trained in art from the University of Dharwad and was an art teacher for 30 years before retiring recently. Her works have been displayed in around 200 churches worldwide.
Now, Sr Claire paints only on special request but continues to sell around 1,000 art-inspired Christmas cards annually. She prints them at Rs 3 and sells them at the same cost. “My art is the result silent meditation. I have to patiently wait days together for inspiration to strike and it takes over a week to complete one painting,” she says.