Puja Bhakoo – Creating Art, Transforming Lives
Puja Bhakoo was born in Saharanpur (U.P.), India.
A senior advertising professional, creative writer, blogger, poet, and tapestry artist, Puja experimented with several mediums for creative expression.
After enjoying a fulfilling career as a senior advertising professional for over two decades, Puja decided to devote more time to pursuing her auxiliary interests including helping under-privileged children.
Turning her passion for tapestry-making into a business to fund her initiative: Tapestry-For-Charity, Puja reinvented the art of Needle Point embroidery by lending this European art form a unique indo-ethnic dimension.
Drawing inspiration from the rich and myriad cultures of India, Puja creates handmade tapestries that combine the aesthetics entrenched in Indian traditions with the intricacies of Petit Point/needlepoint embroidery. It takes Puja 6 to 9 months to finish one masterpiece.
Puja Bhakoo now holds solo exhibitions of her tapestries and thread paintings which enjoy a global clientele and are showcased in some of India’s leading home furnishing stores.
Read on to know more about her extraordinary journey.
1. Take us through your journey into the professional arts space. Also, give us some highlights of your 35 year-long illustrious career- your biggest challenges and some key successes.
I am a small-town girl from Saharanpur in U.P. As a teenager, I loved sticking my finger into every creative pie: embroidery, crochet, macramé, carpet-weaving, singing, painting, playing the piano & guitar.
I started my career by converting my passion for embroidery into a cottage industry named PJ Crafts, where we supplied handmade childrenswear to leading brands in Delhi. Simultaneously, I also ventured into advertising and communication. The advertising business expanded so rapidly that I was forced to relegate PJ crafts to the status of a hobby, albeit one that I pursued with passion and commitment.
I briefly embroidered on pre-painted cross-stitch kits but the unimaginative designs flooding the market didn't quite tickle my pituitary gland. Since I was keen to take my hobby to the next level, I began to toy with the idea of painting my own canvas and using my knowledge of Petit Point embroidery( an 18th-century European art form) to create my own indigenous tapestries.
Around the same time, my regular wool supplier's store had a short-circuit, in which most of his woolen yarn got burnt at both ends. In a bid to help out the distraught man, I bought a room full of yarn scrap from him.
Finally, I put together my passion for embroidery, my knowledge of Petit Point, and my exposure to various designing software to create giant Petit Point portraits and became a tapestry artist.
2. What made you retire from your primary career at 50? How does a day in your life look like post-retirement?
My husband and I were in our mid-forties, when one day, reminiscing over our career graph, it struck us that for over two decades we’d had only one string to our conversational violin: how to make more money or where to open our next office.
Somewhere in the corporate rat race, we had become so profit-oriented and unidimensional, that we were ignoring all other aspects of holistic living. Our bucket list was waiting. Our world travel was waiting. Our auxiliary interests were waiting.
We then asked ourselves a simple question: what was it that we really want now?
More money, at the cost of being busy 24/7? Or more time, while age was still on our side?
That day we both decided that we would retire at the age of 50, irrespective of what stage our business was on. And so within a few months of the stipulated age, we passed on our business to new promoters – and opened ourselves to all the experiences that a non-regimented life had to offer.
For me, it was as if unexplored, vibgyored vistas had suddenly opened up. The world was my oyster – for the first time in 32 years, I was time rich. I joined singing and dance classes; writing clubs and book clubs; floated a blog called planetpuja and started to write on social and political issues for publications such as The Huffington Post & Times of India. I also got into poetry and was thrilled to win the New York Literary Magazine award for one of my poems.
In 2015, I launched my Tapestry-For-Charity initiative where I create and sell handcrafted tapestries and use the proceeds to fund the rehabilitation of underprivileged children.
I am now authoring a book that will be an anthology of my poems, write-ups, learnings, and life experiences.
3. How does art impact a person’s life? Has practicing art impacted your mental health in a positive way?
Being a tapestry artist for over 30 years, I can vouch for the physical and psychological benefits of having such a hobby. Creating an intricate design, stitch by single stitch, and watching a pattern evolve from the abstraction can induce a calm state similar to yoga or meditation.
Studies have shown that needlecraft is beneficial in alleviating depression. It also lowers the stress-causing hormone cortisol in the body, while enhancing the production of dopamine and serotonin, the happiness hormones.
4. What are the challenges posed by artificial intelligence and now the pandemic? How can one cope up with these challenges?
AI (Artificial Intelligence) has made our lives convenient on one hand but it is threatening to swallow our livelihoods on the other. The challenge now is to create jobs that humans can perform better than algorithms.
The pandemic has further exacerbated an already fluid and insecure job market.
For a couple of centuries, life was divided into two main parts: a period of learning, followed by a period of working. The new model, however, requires us to keep learning throughout our lives; to reinvent ourselves repeatedly, and to be all-rounders in every respect.
Hard skills are brittle. They have a propensity to break and become redundant over a period of time. For example, you are a skilled taxi driver, and in comes Tesla with its self-driving taxies; overnight your skill becomes redundant.
Soft skills, on the other hand, make you strong from within, so market displacements cannot touch you. And the number one soft skill that you can consciously acquire, in today's time and age is resilience.
Resilience acts as a buffer against the onset of stress and burnout. Resilient people are focused, decisive, and optimistic; they can sustain positivity and optimism in times of stress or sudden change.
5. How/Where do you find inspiration for your artworks?
I am always greedy for inspiration. Anyone who does his job exceptionally well inspires me to do better in mine. I keep my notepad handy and note down everything that touches me.
I have folders under a few heads and each folder has sub-folders from A-Z. I file my inspiration meticulously. So every time I have to search for something I can do it in a flash.
Exceptional talent makes me emotional. And there are so many exceptional artists, writers, and human beings out there.
Your running Skyshot Media Channel and creating a platform that gives so many artists a chance to reach out to their fraternity as well as their target audience is hugely inspiring.
6. If you could change anything about yourself what would that be?
Curiously, I would like to change what I like best about myself: being self-destructively and all-consumingly passionate about whatever I do.
I spend every wake-up moment immersed in one creative pursuit or the other: embroidering a tapestry, writing a poem, working on my book, creating a video of my art, ideating for my next tapestry, reviewing a novel, pruning my website, or collaborating with my granddaughter on some creative project.
I protect my time zealously and even during intimate family conversations, my hands are busy creating tapestries.
This greed of mine to squeeze in more and more into the 24-hour time limit robs me of proper sleep and affects my health sometimes. Neck pain, frozen shoulder, bleary eyes are part of the collateral damage.
7. Tell us about the Tapestry For Charity initiative and the impact you are making through this initiative.
Charity work was always an integral part of my bucket list. After retiring from advertising, I began volunteering in different NGOs. I was also extending free designing support to NGOs and young start-ups. But still, every time I sat with my embroidery, I felt guilty about not devoting enough time to my charity work, and every time I would be out there, I would miss my embroidery. In 2015, while looking for funding options for my charity, I had this eureka moment that I could use my passion for embroidery to fun my mission for charity.
We belong to a developing nation. And you can plant a little bit of kindness anywhere and expect green shoots of talent and prosperity to grow.
8. What is the theme of your artworks and do you know how many pieces have you made so far?
My theme varies with every series that I do. My petit point tapestries were inspired by the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan in the western belt of India.
As long as tapestries were just a hobby and I was creating them only for myself, spending 4-6 months creating a single piece was no big deal. But once I founded Tapestry-For-Charity, I could no longer afford the luxury of time that Petit Point swallowed in copious proportions. I needed an embroidery style that would be less time-intensive and have a more global appeal.
After infusing tactile elements like turbans, scarves, and mustaches, etc in my work for over two decades, I chose to create art that was the opposite end of the spectrum: Nude Aesthetics, which came with a timeless quality and no cultural or social baggage.
Similarly, last year I was extremely pained with the excesses of consumerism I saw all around me and vowed to declutter my life and prune my consumption.
This is when I curated Mystic Strokes – a creative line that minimalistic and uncluttered.
My Mindscape, Pandemic, and Aftermath series are all about mankind's struggle to deal with all the unforeseen global challenges and situations flung at us by the current pandemic.
Over the years I have created over 500 tapestries that mark my evolution and journey as an artist.
9. Art has no rules. Do you agree?
Well, if it's only for self-consumption, art requires no rules. But for a universally appreciated design that's for the consumption of others (entertainment, sensitization, appreciation, investment, etc.), art has to adhere to certain guidelines and parameters that are understood and accepted by such others.
Being ‘creative’ means the ability to take a risk. Yet one needs a certain skill set to achieve anything.
Creativity can be highly unpredictable at times. Therefore, for any art to be understood and appreciated, the creator and the viewer must use the same vocabulary.
We need rules in art but obviously not at the expense of creativity. So the first rule of art is to play with all rules — master them, so you know how to break them…
Go ahead. Find a rule and break it. Or make a rule and keep it.
10. What is your perspective on art and creativity?
A work of art is a collaboration between the artist, the receiver, and the world. They say that every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks a password.
Art is a verb. It communicates the concept that a noun alone does not.
Art is a blend of harmony, balance, contrast, and proportion of texture, form, space, shape, colour, and value.
Let’s face it. On a long enough timescale, all the creative work we produce - the art, music, LITERATURE, science…is destined to turn to DUST. SO ARE WE!! Yet it is the ELECTRICITY of those moments when we put life's constant demands on hold and become one with our creation that makes the creative process worthwhile.
No wonder creativity is the bloodline for every individual, and its reward is the creative process itself.
11. If you had a superpower what would that be?
I wish I had the superpower to build my mental muscles without having to surrender my embroidery even for a minute.
But on a more serious note, I would really love to have a magic wand that can eliminate all suffering from the world so that I get zero-guilt enjoyment of all my creature comforts without feeling any guilt, and I can’t get myself to do that as long as there are people suffering right under my nose.
12. Any final advice to the readers?
Identify and implement your strengths
Weed out your weaknesses or they’ll keep pulling you down
Look for an opportunity in every challenge. You’ll always find one.
Find your flow
Get outside your comfort zone
Extend your skill level
Puja JI, it was a pleasure knowing your inspiring journey. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Written by Anubhav Gaur, Creator & Founder at Skyshot Media