Ancient art, mural project show talent

Dennis Hanagan –

An artist from 11,000 miles away has brought a new kind of art to St. James Town. Except in India, where artist Poonam Sharma is from, that art is ancient—about 5,000 years old. It’s called Warli.

art1Sharma, her husband and small son settled in St. James Town last October. Her art, a style dating back to between 2500 and 3000 B.C. in central India, went on display in July as banners attached to St. James Town lampposts.

“It’s very, very old Asian art,” Sharma said in an interview. “There are many generations continuing it.”

She’s a member of St. James Town Art where fellow St. James Towner Paul Byron acts as artist coordinator. In May his group was one of six finalists that each received a $1,000 BMO grant to beautify their neighbourhoods with colourful creations.

“In St. James Town there’s a wealth of hidden talent,” Byron told The Bulletin. “We have sculptors, painters, artists of all kinds.”

In August he’s heading up a mural project that’ll be titled Welcome Home. Its intent is to make all residents of St. James Town—a diverse community of more than 15,000—feel welcome to Canada.

The BMO grant lets Byron pay an honourarium to youth to help with the work. Sisters Maryam and Mehdia Hassan, youth leaders from St. James Town Arts visual workshops, will the lead team.

“The Welcome Home project is such a wonderful way to make all residents of the community feel more comfortable here and welcomed,” said Mehdia. “I’ve always wanted to take part in a mural project that involves collaborating with other youth,” added Maryam.

Back in India, Warli artists use mud, made from the brownish earth, and rice to create their work. The mud serves as the base onto which figures are drawn with a sharp bamboo stick dabbed into a paste of rice powder.

These days Sharma uses acrylics to do her Warli work. Indian art, she said, is becoming more modernized but the switchover is a slow process.

Creating art gives her a chance to leave the world behind. “Whenever I’m lonely I just keep doing art and at that time I’m not thinking of anything in the world. It’s something productive I’m doing. Whenever I get a chance to exhibit it and people smile at it and say it’s wonderful that’s absolutely rewarding.”

As for the mural that she’ll be helping with, it lets her give back to her new country that’s made her feel welcome. “Even a stranger, he meets you and smiles. That’s very nice,” said Sharma.

For more about Byron’s art projects visit