South Asia Institute
South Asia Institute

Living their larger-than-life dreams

Wed, November 15, 2017
Living their larger-than-life dreams
Naveen Shakil and Divya Patnaik

She may be from Pakistan but at heart she is a Texan! Naveen Shakil wanted her art to be larger than life, so she quit the “prestige beauty” conglomerate in New York where she was working as a senior designer, and started painting – full-time.

Over the last 12 months, Naveen has painted 9 murals – in her birthplace, Karachi, and in Brooklyn which is where she came of age as a “creative”. It was in the Big Apple that she met Divya Patnaik, creator of the Austin-based CraftHustler, who had just quit her job at Apple, and launched a portal to help artists in emerging economies find lucrative markets for their work.

Dotted with the black-and-white paint that is her signature color palette for her stunning murals, Naveen takes a break from painting to smoke a cigarette and talk about her art. “Why murals? Because I wanted to paint something larger than life, that no-one can hang on their wall, no-one can steal, no-one can take. Plus, I love being outside, so why would I want my work to be inside?” says Naveen. “A Pakistani, Muslim, female street artist – how rare is that!” exclaims Divya, who read Naveen’s comment on an artist’s Instagram post, looked her up and said, “Wow!” They met for coffee in New York (Divya was on a visit), and “that was it,” says Naveen. Or at least, that’s what she thought. A few months later, Divya called and invited Naveen to come to Austin to paint.

The Offices at Braker Center on Braker and Metric, is a labyrinth of single-story office buildings painted a thundercloud gray. This concrete jungle is slowly transforming its drab exterior, and that’s where Naveen makes her entrance. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is helping the office complex engage artists to paint murals on the gray walls.

Divya’s friend Paul, who is capturing this project on film, has a different take on what the story is. It’s an angle that appeals to us at the South Asia Institute. The story here isn’t the mural – it’s the two women, Naveen and Divya. This spontaneous connection between a Pakistani and an Indian, all the way across the world from their roots.

Watching the two of them interacting together, talking about the future, both immediate – “Where shall we go for dinner? I feel like eating a plate of creamy pasta,” asks Divya – and distant – “I want to organize a mural festival in Austin,” says Naveen, one can tell that this connection is going to outlive the mural.

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