Nawab Jehan Begum: I want to represent India in every country

Story by  Rita Farhat Mukand | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 08-07-2024
Nawab Jehan Begum with her famous work Wheel
Nawab Jehan Begum with her famous work Wheel


Rita Farhat Mukand

Nawab Jehan Begum is an internationally acclaimed award-winning artist and skilled painter whose artworks have earned accolades worldwide and in India. She was honouredwith the Yodha Award in Bhopal in 2023, Nari Shakti Award in 2024, Woman of Substance Award in 2024, and crowned with Pride of Madhya Pradesh in 2024.  Her painting of the tricolour, released on Republic Day, under the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign went viral on social media. It featured Jai Hind (Hail India) written in 12 different Indian languages, symbolizing unity in diversity and syncretic India. “It was a fusion of calligraphy and freeform,” she says speaking to Awaz-the voice.

Hailing from the Royal Family of Bhopal and her mother comes from a Jagirdar (feudal) family of Nashik, Maharashtra.

The Gold Mine, one of the finest works of Begum Nawab Jehan

During her college years, Nawab Jehan excelled in art and painting competitions. Her first international acclaim came in 2019 when Ferrari World Abu Dhabi invited her to showcase her Ferrari painting, which remains on display there. She further distinguished herself by setting a world record for painting with a kitchen knife and incorporating unprecedented 24-carat real gold into her artworks, a first-time-ever feat acknowledged by Harvard World Records London.

She has also created artwork for the Taj Lakefront Bhopal, and her work is on display at Bhopal airport and the Cymroza Art Gallery in Mumbai. "I have sold my paintings in every state of India and countries like the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, the Maldives, and Abu Dhabi," she says.

Ferrari - one of the most acclaimed works of Begum Nawab Jahan

Nawab Jehan Begum is known for her distinctive art style, using a palette kitchen knife to create paintings infused with real gold. She is also skilled in calligraphy across more than 20 languages. Nawab Jehan made history as the first artist to incorporate real gold into the Gond Art, a tribal art form from Madhya Pradesh, showcasing it on global art stages. Additionally, she creates Mandana art, another traditional Madhya Pradesh tribal art, demonstrating her commitment to honouring and preserving cultural heritage.

Speaking with Awaz-the-Voice, she describes herself as an introvert since childhood. “I had very few friends, used to talk very less and my teachers used to complain to my mom that your daughter talks very less, so this was the thing.  I was always creative, wrapping myself in a world of painting, embroidery, and stitching.  While being an introvert, it became tough for me to make friends and socialize with people, but due to my extraordinary creativity, I used to attract people and they used to connect with me because of my work.  I was especially inspired by my Mom, a very dynamic personality and extremely empowering and she was always there to support me so my big inspiration was my Mom.  When I went to college and got an appreciation for my art, my professors played a very crucial role in lifting me upand validating me for being extremely talented in the field of art and painting, calling me an extraordinary artist who could work on it and make it a career, something which I had not previously considered myself.

What was the first memory of you painting something as a child?

As a child in school during art class, I used to paintvery random things.  For example, when I used to sit in my class where we could paint anything we liked, I used to look out of the window and garner some scenes out of the window, trees, birds andeven draw my favouritecartoons or anything imaginary.  Since I had very few friends and was not a very social person, art became my passion. Since childhood, I was always peaceful, sensitive, and calm, observing things quietly and this is probably how my greatest artworks manifested.

Celebrating Independence day

Who is the greatest painter in your mind and the one you inspired you?

Leonardo Da Vinci was a great inspiration for me. I admired his numerous paintings including his celebrated Mona Lisa.  A genius in many fields, he was an Italian polymath of the High Renaissance,known for his mastery as a painter, draughtsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor, and architect, who worked on human anatomy. 

When we look at modern artists and their lifestyles, I was inspired by Pablo Ruiz Picasso who was a versatile Spanish artist known famed for his abstract paintings, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and theatre designer.  He had a very different style.  I looked up a few paintings including Claud Monet, the French painter and I found my painting style similar to his.  When I studied MA drawing and painting, we used to study the history of art, where I realized that our Indian culture and art were exotically beautiful this opened my world to a whole new vision of art, leading me onto pick on a completely fresh style of painting.  Discarding the normal European trends, I decided to do something to depict the soul of India, our culture, our heritage, and our history. I read about Raja Ravi Varma, whose works exemplify a fusion of European academic art with a distinctly Indian sensibility and iconography andmotivated by his style, Maqbool Fida Husain is celebrated for his bold, vibrantly colored narrative paintings in a distinctive Cubist-inspired style, S. H Raza, known for his strong Indian cosmological vibes and values in his art and many others.

Victory Painting (Abstract)

Which artwork of yours gives you most satisfaction?

While there are so many paintings and all are my favouritepaintings, my special one that I painted was the Ferrari painting which is a high level of realism and when people see that painting, they instantly get attracted to it.  For the general public, even a five-year-old kid to a 70 to 80-year-old person can appreciate it.  Some of them even think it is not a painting but a photograph. 

My favourite abstract painting which I did was The Gold Mine where I broke a world record.  That painting is a bit of a tricky one because one needs to be an intellectual to understand that.  While a 10-year-old or 15-year-old may find it beautiful and it maybe a treasure to the eyes, to get into the depths of that painting, one needs to be an intellectual to understand so that the love for the painting increases.  The theme of this painting is the importance of knowledge. I gave it the title because The Gold Mine because one becomes gold with the depth of knowledge. You cannot find gold easily; needto work hard for it.  We all have gold within us, but we need to see it with hard work.  I believe in a quote that when you know yourself and your enemies, you know the outcome of your battle which will be victorious. I always give importance to knowledge and literature because I believe art and literature go hand in hand.  Painting is a form of poetry seen with the eyes. 

What are the highlights of abstract art above portrait paintings?

Being an artist, every artist has their style and view of paintings. I believe that one level is when you start making very realistic paintings and the highest level is when you start creating something that does not exist. Abstract art is something one does not plan to make, no one can plan to make.  It is mysteriously connected to our soul.  When I draw abstract paintings at night, my subconscious mind takes over my conscious mind.  I am in a state of flow where I am out from this materialistic world and reality and that is when thoughts come and I try to bring these on my canvas. When I bring abstract art, I am not creating something that has existed before; I am creating something unique that can never be copied.  It is a one-piece art, a single piece that can never be replicated. We can recreate anything but to recreate abstract art is impossible. 

Nawab Jehan Begum

For me, my abstract art is very specialand very unique.  I cannot say that I will make five paintings in a month and decide categorically I willmake five abstract paintings. When I am making abstract art, I have no idea when something will click in my mind which would inspire me to start working on it.  Sometimes, it can take two days and sometimes, it can take two months. Some night while working on a painting, I suddenly realize I want to make something new, so I get into that zone andI start painting abstract art due to that sudden inspiration. So abstract art is very random, unpredictable, and I can never decide how many paintings I can do in a month.”

How do you think your paintings positively impact society?

I went deeper to discover more about the fascinating tribal arts and literature. I love to include the literary culture in my paintings working on script whether from the Vedas or the Quran, to pour in positive messages.

I have also studied colourpsychology and the impact colors have on us. I want my paintings to have a very positive impact on the people seeing them. I never want my paintings to be depressing. If someone has my paintings, he has a part of me. My wish is that whoever looks at my work should get very positive and powerful energy. Looking at a lifeless tree, you find it depressing and get negative vibes, but whenyou see a green tree it fills you with fresh and positive. I believe we are absorbing whatever we see around us, so I want my paintings to be very positive so that people can draw in positive energy from itand get inspired to be fruitful and happy. 

Is there a Renaissance movement for art in India and the world, is there hope for painters in the future?

Yes, art is not limited to just exhibitions and paintings. There are artists everywhere, so much scope for artists; they can go into graphic designing, fashion designing, architecture, cartoons, etc.  The art field is vast. Art is a very beautifuland vastfield and there is a movement growing for more appreciation for art, like a Renaissance movement. We are reviving things.

Receiving an award

What is the ultimate goal of your painting, and where would you like to see it go especially years from now?

I wish to see my paintings in every country; I want to have an exhibition in every country.  I am a proud Indian and I wantto represent India in every country. I want people to explore the art of India in a very positive way and since our culture and literature are so rich I want to represent that in every country. I also want to help and care for the poor so whenever I sell my paintings, I keep a part of my earnings from my paintings to feed the poor because I believe in giving back to society. The best way to give back is by either educating someone or feeding someone. 

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I would likemy paintings to be known, appreciated, and valued and this is what I look forward to it. I believe what goes around comes around.  I believe in Karma and when I die, because we all have to go from this world, I want people to remember me in a very positive way. Even when I am not there in this world, I want my paintings to always give a good joyous energy.” 

Rita Farhat Mukand is an independent writer