Find out everything you need to know about pigmentexplosion and its founder, Sanchita Islam.

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At a glance

Headed by artist Sanchita Islam, pigmentexplosion was initially set up to perform live art events in the Brick Lane area. Since 1999 pigmentexplosion has branched out into projects that spill into film, painting, drawing, writing, plays, photography and book production.

Sanchita Islam (also known as Shonchi)

If you read Sanchita Islam’s CV her journey into the art world has been an unusual one.

Artist, writer and filmmaker Sanchita Islam has worked extensively in the Tower Hamlets region since 1999 and has participated widely in exhibitions and screenings, working closely with organisations such as the Arts Council, British Council and Commonwealth Institute. Pigment Explosion creates projects that engage people through painting/drawing, film, books and photography and aims to reach out to sectors of the public who would not ordinarily have access to the arts. To date Pigment Explosion has worked with old people, women suffering from domestic violence, kids living in the slums of Bangladesh, street kids in Jakarta, kids living on the estates of east London and Kuala Lumpur and most recently patients with mental health problems in Brussels.

Sanchita Islam completed her BSc (econ) and MSc (econ) at the London School of Economics before embarking on a Channel 4 sponsored MA at the Northern Media School in Directing and Screenwriting, and a BA in the Practice and Theory of Visual Art at Chelsea School of Art and Design. She has produced and directed 15 films to date including shorts and one-hour films and exhibited and screened her films in London, Brussels, New York, Paris, Bangladesh, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Rome, India, Pakistan, Frankfurt and Yangon. She has shown at the Whitechapel, ICA and Hayward Gallery and completed over 100 group/solo shows and screenings of her films including the show Schizophrenia Part one where she showed as four artists at the Truman Brewery in 2007. She was artist in resident at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and artist in resident at Artscape and Shoreditch House, and her art has featured in various venues around London such as Shoreditch House, Mark Hix’s restaurants, and the Clifton Hotel Group in Bristol. The Arts Council, BBC and British Council have funded her films and five books. These include From Briarwood to Barishal to Brick Lane, Old Meets Young, Hidden, Connecting Kids and Avenues. Pigment Explosion branched out into book publication producing its first publication The Cloud Catcher. Chipmunka Press published her first volume of poems Eternal Pollution of a Dented Mind and her novel Gungi Blues in 2008. The theatre group ESTACA ZERO TEATRO in Portugal performed her two plays, The Suitcase and Hello. In 2010 the UK Film Council commissioned the animation film The White Wall.  

She had a mid-career retrospective at Rich Mix in March 2013. Brussels based art organisation vzw KAOS and the Psycho-Social Centre St-Alexius awarded her a grant to complete the second scroll project with patients suffering from mental health problems in Brussels 2014. Rich Mix invited Pigment Explosion to exhibit this second scroll and perform a play about art, madness and disability in June 2015. The Arts Council and British Council awarded her an Artist International Development Fund grant in 2014 to complete a new scroll project in Bangladesh and Burma. In January 2015 she screened her film White Wall at the Dhaka International Film Festival and in March 2015 she screened White Wall and read excerpts from her new book at Pansodan Gallery in Yangon, Burma.

Muswell Hill Press published her new book, written under the pseudonym Q.S Lam Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, in January 2015. The book was launched in London at Shoreditch House and Rich Mix in June 2015 and at Brick Lane Bookshop Feb 2016. She exhibited her War on a Scroll Part 1 created with patients suffering from mental health problems at KAOS, Brussels, Feb 2016.

In June 2016 she spoke at the House of Lords about mental health hosted by Baroness Kennedy; in collaboration with the 1001 First Critical Days campaign. ‘Tomorrow’s Child’ Sanchita’s work featured in this landmark show emphasising the importance of maternal mental health on the baby’s future mental well-being. This year she is publishing her first children’s book, The Tree People, Oyez publishers. She just published her second volume of poems, Dented, Chipumka Press 2017; her work was published in the book The Recovery Letters, 2017 Jessica Kingsley publishers; she also designed  two book covers for author Aron Bennett, and her essay featured in A Day in the Mind, Chipmunka Press, 2017.

Invited by the Malaysian Mental Health Association she spoke at a conference in Singapore about mental health, October 2016, and spoke again in December at the House of Commons, invited by the obstetrician Dr Raja Gangopadhyay.

In 2016 she formed her foundation MentalHealth4All to conduct scroll projects with mentally ill people around the world and raise basic mental health awareness. She has now completed scrolls with mentally ill patients in Brussels (KAOS) and in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysian Mental Health Association).

She completed her first global Mental Health 4 All project performing her mental music, exhibiting her scrolls, performing spoken word and showing her visuals across KL, Brussels and London, October 2017, during mental health awareness month.

Represented by Open Gallery, her video paintings have been screened in London at the How The Light Gets In festival in 2018 and also in 2019 at Haye-on- Wire. She has shot video paintings in Miami, Nepal, Bangladesh, Japan, London and Brussels.

In February 2019 she was selected to participate in an artist's workshop programme in Nepal, Kathmandu, part of the Creative Heroines British Council initiative.

In June 2019 she was invited by the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester to present her story to a selected audience.

In May 2018 she worked as a volunteer at the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and presented this work in the form or art, film, photography and music at Galeri Wulder, Belgium, Shoreditch House and Rich Mix, London, July 2019.

In 2020 she was awarded another Arts Council grant for her latest project Fight or Flight related to CPTSD.

Sanchita is campaigning globally for better mental health, already presenting her books/films/art related to mental health in Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia. She writes a blog artmotherhoodandmadness@tumblr.com and has contributed for Asylum magazine and the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/author/sanchita-islam/ writing about mental health, politics, social issues and motherhood

Our approach

Pigment Explosion has developed a reputation as an innovative arts organisation operating within an international framework completing projects for the Arts Council, the Barings Foundation, the British Council, the Commonwealth Institute and the Peabody Trust, to name a few. When Pigment Explosion was commissioned to make several films in Bangladesh for the Commonwealth Institute, the organisation trained local Bangladeshi youth to help in the production of the film in order to transfer Pigment Explosion’s skills and expertise. The organisation deliberately works with marginalised groups and individuals who otherwise would never have an opportunity to work in the creative industries. Pigment Explosion believes in the empowering impact of the arts and has completed projects with the elderly, to battered women, to old people, to street kids in Bangladesh to people suffering from mental health problems in Brussels.

Shonchi remains staunchly independent and has tried to create a buzz outside the contemporary art scene while keeping one big toe firmly in it. She has been running Pigment Explosion, an organisation specialising in international art projects, since 1999.