Monday, 29 May 2017

My friend Divya….

I have been very fortunate to have friends in my life that make special seem an ordinary word. How these friendships grow are perhaps those areas of magic we hold in our lives that do not get explained by logical  means because perhaps they defy norms. One such person whom I hold close to my heart is my friend Divya. Only twenty-eight years old and previously a student of mine, she could be called the antithesis of what people imagine me to be - but in fact we have many similarities that we share.

Our delight of travel has taken us as partners in crime to cities and counties which have given both of us the scope to imbibe and learn about the world outside of what is familiar to us. But perhaps it is our love of similar literature that underlines the feminist space of our belonging which has infused our conversations with enquiries of common concern and connected us to the world with a shared map of hope and belief. 

There is a story Divya shared with me that I carry as the spirit of what determines her journey to know herself. When she first came to Baroda and applied for her admission to the painting department, she did not get the seat.  Instead of calling it quits or being influenced into taking another stream available in the fine arts college (which was offered to her),  she chose to stay on and worked through that year and got in the painting department the following year. But hang on….that's just to contextualise the story I wish to share. Staying in the university hostel was a nightmare yet she decided to just dig her heels in and not complain about it. And when she would speak to her family they never knew that she was silently crying through those conversations with them on many occasions  Around the end of that first year her mobile phone packed up and so she took it to get it repaired. When she went to collect it they informed her that salt water had seeped into the machine so deeply and completely destroyed the mechanism within.

To me this story epitomises my friend Divya. Stoic and quietly determined, she makes her own journey in the image of what she comprehends is meaningful for her. Today she is an artist whose work holds the attention of her audience through the meticulous details she embellishes her art work with. Both Surendran and I have always valued her natural ability to paint which appears as though effortless. She takes from her everyday world and transforms the most mundane to give to you parables of personal insight and reinvented fables from the realities of her urban existence.

What marks our friendship are those silly things that only perhaps matter to the two of us. We both have the tendency to have tears stream down our face when we laugh uncontrollably, both love to cook, both love to eat, both pay the price of loving to eat with having to keep an eye on the weighing-scales, both love saris, both love dancing, both love tattoos, both enjoy soppy films that are tear jerkers, both hate the heat, both love turkish delight, both think Begum our cat wears a bigger attitude crown than our dog Miss Lily, both roll our eyes over Surendran's bad malayali puns and even more painful P.J's, both love solitaire diamond rings….and both enjoy beating the other in ludo! 

Divya has lived with us in Suaparnika and been a permanent resident of The Collective Studio for many years. We are in the exciting phase of helping her in her search to purchase a flat for herself. As we trudge in the heat from one building site to another we chatter like old ladies looking at things within the premises with a checklist that sometimes goes crazily out of the budget….yet undeterred  we march on with this wish-list because it once again defines the individual Divya desires to be, where she sets her own agendas and finds a way to make it part of her life.

No one can ever be sure of how life pans out and where circumstances and situations place us. But I know for sure that the delight of this friendship is precious to both of us and will be fiercely protected for longevity. From my end I have selfish reasons for always wanting my Divya in my life….Oh didn't I tell you why? ….Ok I will keep you in suspense no more.  Whenever I am low I get what I call my "Divya hug"….It is warm and encompassing and lets all your hurt and sorrow drain away. It is an embrace where in an instant you feel whole and complete again…. and she doesn't say a word at all when holding you close in her arms. She just hugs you and lets you know you are loved. She has it patented I think because its not replicable anywhere. So  Divya's friendship is something I will always hold close to my heart and cherish  forever, and will go knock on her door wherever she lives to get my comfort hug whenever I need it. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Who's that knocking on our door….?

The dining table in our home has always  been the central place at which the most interesting discussions take place.  Lunch and dinner are meals where everyone sits together and conversations flow. Sometimes from a simple comment or an observation, what unfolds becomes pertinent areas that require contemplation and self reflection - to be chewed upon or reassessed. All in all these interludes are always impactful and keep us all alert and intellectually sharp each waking moment. 

I find it stifling without the inputs of  intellectual stimulus. It has been a conscious choice to create platforms of informal engagement within The Collective Studio Baroda to host different interactive events, and this insistence to bring other worlds to view more closely,  makes one more vigilant to be open to learn.

As artists who are predominantly engaged with figuration perhaps what has delighted Surendran and myself the most is the engagement with other artists whose language choices are different from those that we work with. Two years ago Ankush Safaya, a young artist who had earlier trained and worked as an electronics and communication engineer, came to reside as a permanent resident at The Collective Studio Baroda. Coming from the bustling ethos of Delhi where art events are jam packed into the schedules of artists who life there,  we were initially a little apprehensive of whether Baroda and the quiet studio practices that is the hall mark of this city's artist's community would be the best environment for Ankush to shift to, and discussed this at length with him. He was however very certain that this shift was crucial for his self growth as an individual and more importantly as an artist. It soon became evident that the discipline of studio practice, the everyday communication about art that occurs in our home and the intellectual rigours of TCSB provided him a space of creative nurturing; and today, two years since his shift to Baroda, this young artist has a body of work under his belt  that showcases a maturity of  language and a distinctive individuality that both Surendran and I are most impressed by.

Learning really does come from the decision to take control of what you can do with opportunities. We often confuse learning with mouthing what we have read or have heard ….not realising that we must internalise knowledge for it to become significant for oneself  and this is that crucial process that creates  the depth/substance of who we are. There are periods of gestation each individual may need- where we sort out and rearrange or look at things we know with more deliberate consciousness - in order to feel/know it's truth again. To merely fret for the "dream existence" without that quiet endeavour to know ourselves  will perhaps leave one with a compass that has no needle, and therefore lost forever unknowingly.

Artist's do not conform usually to the normative notions of societal expectations. So therefore the road one travels may take longer to that destination we desire to arrive at….and this becomes what often scares young artists into opting for more prescriptive and conservative ways of living their lives. I have taken many a plunge into an abyss of "not knowing" what an outcome to a decision or choice being made by me maybe. But I held a wish-list very close to my heart and knew which check boxes were crucial for me to tick. No other influence would lure me, nor would my lack of financial security scare me away from living my life with those principles that mattered, and the ideology that I chose to shape my personal  politics. 

So it is special when one encounters a young artist who knows why they turn away from the prescriptive and opt for something that holds difference for themselves,  and feel energised  and committed to the experience that may hold more uncertainties despite the rewards of discoveries. Hats off to you Ankush…. both Surendran and I are delighted to be part of this journey of yours where we too grow in the bloom of your knowledge.

* Ankush Safaya and myself in conversation at the dining table with Surendran Nair

Thursday, 25 May 2017

It's good to wear your heart on your sleeve….

I have chosen to always be open as a person. To understand the difference between privacy and secrecy, and to above all nurture relationships with friends and loved ones that encourage sharing without second-guessing what the out come maybe for me. Many people believe that cultivating an openness that allows others to share your life is easy. Be rest assured that is not true. It takes more courage to allow people to know you without camouflaging masks to hide behind. I  decided never to blink in the face of adversity  but meet all factors of life head on. I am an advocate of the belief that if one can cope with reality then life can get lived more meaningfully.

Shutting down, switching off or living in a bubble of make-belief merely holds off the process of encountering truth for oneself. Having opened our doors to so many people over the years who have lived in our home I have witnessed the struggles many young people have with owning up to who they are. Art in itself has this system where doors are kept shut (quite literally!) in the process of self-discoveries in ones art practice, inside the hermitage that ones studio often can be. But this should not lead us to  believe that life too can be lived with such "shut" doors. I wonder what we fear in wearing our heart on our sleeve? 

The pressures that we place on ourselves to be the way we imagine others would like us to be becomes the biggest pitfall  that derails the journey of testing out who we really are. We muzzle ourselves without realising that this can lead  to us becoming dysfunctional in the space of communication and sharing. Or on the other hand we adopt the path of communicating that holds typicality. The other day a young mother accidentally let slip the remark  to her little boy saying..."don't cry like a little girl". When I pointed out  that it was inappropriate she changed it to "don't cry like a pansy"….! These structures of language that perpetuate certain histories of gender stereo-typing are yet another space where we disallow the uniqueness of an individual to become nurtured; instead straight-jacketing emotional transactional spaces to become labelled and to conform to societal dictates  to at all times -even if unintended - which perhaps is even more insidious and dangerous. 

The modern woman is wise but too often shy's away from celebrating her wisdom because of the norms that would need to be tweaked by her to do so. So what happens is the head-space becomes the easy territory where she reviews her scope for freedom and liberty, instead of making it a practice within her life. Therefore when life starts throwing the curved ball then these scripted spaces of empowerment (inspiring as they may be), get enshrined like the postcards of a once-in-a life-time trip - to be taken out and lingered over, but never to be revisited ever. 

I watch young women in particular struggling to comprehend what liberty and freedom really  means. What part family love plays and where charting roads of self-travel formed from feminist engagement needs to take them. They need to read the road map of personal journeys that seek the ideals of gender equality with the desire to imbibe it as a lived practice and not merely as a theoretical playground alone. Where self-dignity is realised by the battle to fight to endorse the truth of what you want your life to display as the game plan you have devised solely for yourself. The challenge therefore is to develop an intellectual clarity that would formulate/establish the methodology of how to wean oneself away from influences that are cast from the modules of conservative mindsets.  However when we allow for the smoke-screen of our own sentimentality to cloud our perception on family matters that endorse conservative gender typecasting, then we will never see things as they really are, but how we wish to pretty them into becoming something acceptable for us.

I struggle everyday of my life to stay on that chosen tightrope of mine where I do not wish to be toppled from. If it means I have to point out the transgressions of loved ones that impinge upon my freedom and liberty even by the smallest of gestures, body language of in areas of jest, I am unapologetic in the rigour of my protest towards it -  because this space of equality and the place of my freedom and liberty must be always visible and transparently on view for all to observe as the choice in my life - and therefore,   and most importantly,  be lived by me each day with the conviction and credibility that makes it real and meaningful.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Keep real with yourself

Life is simple if you are able to identify what your priorities are and what you hold as a mission statement for your purpose in life. As a young mother I was not thrown off balance at the enormity of shouldering the responsibility of being a single parent and simultaneously studying to be an artist, because I had already found the anchor of purpose for my energies; and so to address life by living it became a natural consequential process that allowed me to experience the journey of living without fear of failure. That life holds all kinds of difficulties is a given, so it becomes important therefore to break down self-constructed doubts that hinder one from moving towards ones goals, whatever these maybe.

In the tutorials that I have lately been having with young art students and artists, I find one similarity that re-occurs time and again which is the perception of how they view the term "future" for themselves. Success seems to be without strife and It appears always as an entitlement without the realisation that hard work is truly the only transport that takes you to success. The idea that an imagined ideal becomes a reality because we desire it to, is the folly of many young people. With the commercialisation of life bringing the rivers and dales as everyone's space of paradise with rainbows and butterflies thrown in for good measure,  we lose sight of the personal space of endeavour as being the real motor behind success  -  presuming instead that success will be available to us because it has happened for others. The norm however does not endorse one being able to trip over success as though it lies waiting to be acquired like a commodity in a mall.

A young  artist who is self-taught visited me today, taking an appointment to do so. When I went down to meet him, leaving my work aside to give him an hour of my time I was astounded by his audacity that he had come by merely for a casual chat ! Now given that he isn't a friend  who believes they may take such a licence but was coming as a young professional seeking an appointment for a discussion on his art, it appeared rather bizarre to me that he was without any visual aids to present his work. There was no PPT or hard copy images of art and his excuse for this was that he imagined that as I had seen his work two years ago (!) it was therefore sufficient that I would remember it, (which I thought was presumptuous)  and therefore that I should make the initiative to structure a discourse (from that memory) two years hence! 

It is important to note that on the occasion of seeing that particular exhibition of this young artist I had in fact spent almost  an hour and a half talking to him at length. When I questioned him today on whether he had followed up on the many points I had outlined that he needed to work on - such as travelling to see art exhibitions in India as well as to visit art events like the KMB in Cochin and the IAF in Delhi, and to visit via appointment senior and young  artists in the city to share his work with,  plus importantly to read up on world culture, art, history & politic -  his reply was that he hadn't done any of these things !

Endeavour is something of extreme importance. The dictionary meaning of endeavour is: (verb) try hard to do or achieve something - (noun) an attempt to achieve a goal. To endeavour within your life places you smack in the centre of your own reality and insists of you to then figure out things with clarity so that you perceive your personal needs of fulfilment without excuse. Focus and attention on work and utilising time effectively offers you experience  and knowledge,  and above all,  a grasp of who you are.

I like to embrace my world of belonging with a completeness that disallows me any route of escape. My mantra is to keep things simple….hold your heart and mind accountable for your deeds and live life from understanding who you are. It keeps you real with yourself. For me that is terribly important.

Friday, 14 April 2017

No wolves down my chimney!

For many years we chose to have blank walls in our home keeping away our small but precious collection of art that has been mostly gifted to us by our artist friends; carefully packed away. It is only since the last decade that we have put up the art works that hold special personal significance to us - to live with and interact with, everyday. We do not see them as precious because of their monetary value but love them for what memories they evoke for us, and the relationship that we have with the respective  artists that gave them to us. The very first exchanges of art was when we were students and these perhaps are the most memorable of all within the treasured works we have  because they were transactions of belief and faith in which the shared journey of discoveries was the anchor of engagement.

As we are not collectors  of art our approach to the art what we surround ourselves with in our home is slightly different.  We believe that at the end of the day what matters most for is that we must love the work that surrounds us. Our very intimate but precious collection of art has works by Raja Ravi Varma, Jyoti Bhatt, K.G Subramanyan, Nilima Sheikh, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Bhuphen Kakar, Vivan Sunderam, Peter De Francia, Amit Ambalal, Nagji Patel, Karl Antao, K.P Krishnakumaran, Vasundhara Tewari, Trupti Patel, Anita Dube, Jyostna Bhatt, Rajashekharan Nair, Manisha Parekh, Kim Kyoungae,  Sachin Karne, Malavika Rajnarayan, Sonatina Mendes and Ankush Safaya to name a few. However not all of these works are on display. For me perhaps my most beloved work is a black and white framed photograph my son Mithun took as part of an exercise during his NID program as a student that I have in my studio proving that not all that is precious comes with a price tag!

But perhaps it is the objects and other items in our home other than the art that has something more particular to say about us and our lives. As an artist my love for objects has seen me collect many things that now, in my personal space of belonging, hold stories about my own life because of what they carry with them as the memories that brought them to belong with me. I also have a love for a particular type of kitsch and for  dolls and toys that can  appear a rather strange fascination to others. My studio and my bathroom are the two places in our home that reflect a pastiche of many differing things that all hold together within an aesthetics that makes up my special brand of delight in many ways. Right now,  perched upon my rain shower is a pink rubber dinosaur that belongs to my grandson Mehran who sits in conversation with a pink plastic monkey, whilst a red  African beadwork rooster sits near my bathmat in contemplation of my old worldly tiled floor that evokes memories of my Parsi ancestry. Each day as I encounter these rather idiotic things, I feel a sense of childlike enjoyment from the landscape of memory it opens up for me….and in that I find that stolen moment of happiness.

But most of all it is the sentiment that prevails around me, like a fragrant aroma that holds my senses, which is embodied in all that surrounds me in my home. I can never acquire anything simply for its style alone or because it is the trend of the day. My vision travels in a way that somehow is always connected to my heart! All things I buy in someway offer me narratives that beckon me to bring them into the larger tapestry of my world - creating a living storyboard of new age personal fables that lead my imagination to come alive. A tin with old white buttons bought in an Amsterdam flea market  sing me songs through the rattling noise it makes each time I shake it and the  zari elephant embroidered by anonymous kutchi women, that is framed in my studio, whispers the  conversations I imagine they would have had whilst creating this beautiful piece of magic that now lives with me, whilst a bust of sculptural paper Madonna with the infant Jesus hangs suspended with serenity.

I love my home because it it like the imaginary dolls-house I had constructed in my head  as a child. That dolls house was a home that I filled with objects that always spoke to me. It was a place I could  find sanctuary within without anyone ever really knowing where I was. Most importantly it was my happy space. So therefore perhaps it is no matter that I am 58 and live in a real home today constructed from brick and concrete,  because  what fills my home are things that create pure magic for me each day, just like that imaginary dolls house  I had all those years ago….quaint but where the truth of my imprint exists.