Shanu Lahiri

Shanu Lahiri (23 January 1928 – 1 February 2013) was a Bengali painter and art educator. She was one of Kolkata's most prominent female public artists,[1] undertaking extensive graffiti art drives across Kolkata to beautify the city and hide aggressive political sloganeering.[2]

Shanu Lahiri
Shanu Lahiri image.jpg
Shanu Mazumdar

(1928-01-23)23 January 1928
Died1 February 2013(2013-02-01) (aged 85)
OccupationPainter, art educator
Known forPublic art and graffiti art in Kolkata

Early life and educationEdit

Lahiri was born on 23 January 1928 in Kolkata (then Calcutta) to the Mazumdar family of seven siblings. Her mother, Renukamoyee Mazumdar, though unlettered, practised calligraphy at nights.[3] Lahiri had two older brothers, writer Kamal Kumar Majumdar and artist Nirode Mazumdar. She was a student of the Government College of Art & Craft, Calcutta, from where she graduated in 1951. She was the first student of the college to receive the AIFACS President's gold medal. Also in 1951, she studied at the École du Louvre and Académie Julian in Paris on a scholarship.[1][4]

She was known for her keen sense of social responsibility, and had mobilised street-children into painting on the walls of Kolkata to beautify the city. She even had donated her eyes to benefit someone else's life.[5]


Lahiri was a painter of the Bengal School of Art.[2] Her first exhibition of paintings took place in 1950. In 1960 she received a scholarship to go to Paris, which was followed by a string of painting exhibitions both in India and abroad. Following her academic career in the West,[6] in the late 1970s, she joined the faculty of the Rabindra Bharati University as a reader in the visual arts department; later she became dean of its faculty of visual arts.[1][7][8]

Though artist groups had begun forming across Kolkata by the 1960s, few women found a place or a voice in them. In 1983, upon the request of artist Karuna Saha, Lahiri started the city's first women-only artists group. Called "The Group", it comprised four painters, including Lahiri, Saha, Santosh Rohatgi and Shyamasree Basu, and one sculptor, Meera Mukherjee. The local media dubbed it the Pancha Kanya (Five Girls). The Group's first exhibition was held at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata.[1][9] In 2008, The Group celebrated its 25th anniversary with an exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts. Though most of the original members had died by then, it had 17 member artists and a number of guest artists.[9]

Through her art, Lahiri addressed the contemporary realities of society.[1] She was recognised for her individualistic style and became a leading woman artist on Kolkata's contemporary art scene, along with fellow painter Saha.[10]


In 1951, she won the AIFACS President Award.[11]           

Book & PublicationEdit

It was impossible for anyone who had gone to meet Shanu Lahiri would leave unfed.  Whether it was fixing salads quickly or preparing elaborate meals, she was known to be an experimenter in the kitchen also. A book titled 'Tabled' by her daughter Damayanti Lahri has a collection of recipes, paintings, scribbles and doodles.[12]

Public art projectsEdit

"In 1984, I gathered some of my visual arts students from La Martiniere and told them that I shall give them 50 rupees per day if they come out and paint with me. We selected a public wall and started painting on it. We didn't erase the political jargons but turned the wall into our canvas. People were curious at first and then appreciative".

Shanu Lahiri[7]

Lahiri was also involved in public art and graffiti art projects throughout Kolkata. Beginning in the 1980s, she encouraged street children and students to paint on the walls of Kolkata in an effort to beautify the city.[2][13] The previous decade had been a politically tumultuous one due to the Naxalite movement, which left the city's walls covered with political posters, slogans, and aggressive graffiti. In 1984[7] Lahiri gathered students of La Martiniere Calcutta to paint over their school wall with colourful art and murals. Gradually this movement caught on, and in coming years Lahiri was involved in similar public art projects in various parts of the city such as Jadu Babu's Bazaar in the Bhowanipore area, the fish market at Sreebhumi, Fort William, and other areas in north and south Calcutta. Inspired by the folk dolls of Bengal, she created a statue of Parama on the Kolkata Bypass.[1][8]

In the 1980s she moved to the Lake Town neighbourhood, where she formed a local group known as bhavana. This group engaged in garbage clean-up drives and also painted neighbourhood walls with graffiti art. Lahiri had her own food stall at the local Durga Puja annual fete, selling kebabs.[14]

Lahiri released her autobiography, Smritir Collage (A Collage of Memories) in 2001. To coincide with the launch she also held an exhibition showcasing the work of her brothers Kamal and Nirode Mazumdar, other members of her Mazumdar clan, nephew Chitrovanu, and niece Oditi.[3]

Final yearsEdit

Lahiri was active in public art projects into her eighties. In 2010 she organised a project in Hyderabad, bringing together students from various schools, HIV-positive children, and differently abled children, to paint over the walls of the Lakshman Bagh temple as part of Rabindranath Tagore's 150th anniversary celebrations.[7] By 2010, 25 years after she first painted them, some of her graffiti art was still visible, including a 220 feet (67 m) length of wall on the Justice Chandra Madhav Road in Kolkata.[8]

Lahiri died in Kolkata on 1 February 2013.[13] She donated her eyes, and was cremated at Keoratola crematorium. She was survived by her daughter, Damayanti, and her son, Arnab.[1]


  • In 1951, she held her first exhibition.[11]
  • Open Air Exhibition: Paintings, Tapestries, Glass Paintings of Shanu Lahiri. Calcutta: Birla Academy of Art and Culture. 1989.
  • Smr̥tira kolāja. 1. Bikalpa. 2001.
  • Edo Gali Theke Benimadhab, Ananda, 2010, ISBN 8177569260
  • Rabīndracitra-cetanā. Ananda. 2010. ISBN 817756949X.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Shanu Lahiri dead". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. 2 February 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Noted painter Shanu Lahiri passes away". India TV. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b Ghosh, Labonita (10 December 2001). "Canvas of kinship: Shanu Lahiri releases Smritir Collage, organises Mazumdar family exhibition". India Today. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  4. ^ "Noted Painter Shanu Lahiri Dead". Outlook. 1 February 2013. Archived from the original on 11 April 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  5. ^ "Noted painter Shanu Lahiri passes away". 1 February 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  6. ^ Government College of Art & Craft; Birla Academy of Art & Culture (2001). Art in Art Colleges of West Bengal: An exhibition presented by Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Kolkata, on 5 to 23 December 2001. The Academy. p. 74.
  7. ^ a b c d Dundoo, Sangeetha Devi (12 November 2010). "A riot of colours on the wall". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Bag, Shamik (13 August 2010). "Not another brick in the wall". Mint. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Famous five women". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. 21 September 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  10. ^ Roy, Samaren (2005). "The Painters". Calcutta: Society and Change 1690–1990. iUniverse. p. 147. ISBN 0595790003.
  11. ^ a b "Shanu Lahiri dead". Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  12. ^ Ray, Kunal (11 August 2018). "Shanu Lahiri's book 'Tabled' is a living installation of memories". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Shanu Lahiri, the Renowned Bengali Painter Died at 85". Jagran Josh. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  14. ^ Pandey, Jhimli Mukherjee (9 March 2002). "An artist's crusade to beautify her para". The Times of India. Retrieved 16 March 2013.

External linksEdit