Sunday, 28 November 2010

In the foot steps of Christopher Columbus....

Yesterday some newly made Indian friends took us on a jaunt in their car to a quaint town called Half Moon Bay. The drive from Montalvo to this town was via winding roads, through a landscape that makes you understand the history of settlers coming to this land with the hope of a better future. Picturesque, with the promise of plenty, we drove through farming lands where fields of late pumpkins sat in their blazing orange splendour; and fir tree farms had begun their Christmas tree sales.

Half Moon Bay high street was the picture postcard advertisement for American-pie day-dreams; and Hollywood films with happy endings. With the sun out, and with my new thirteen year old twin girl-friends and their jovial father and Surendran and myself, we all walked about from one shop to another; each guided by the whimsy of the moment and enjoying the novelty of being somewhere one normally isn't. In one shop we drooled over rabbits and baby chicks and watched in fascination at insects that were being bred as live-feed for pet reptiles; whilst in another shop the band of three girls on a window shopping spree bought "ugly dolls" as a memento of the day! They come with names and personal biographies. My doll is bright red with buck-teeth and is called Mynus. She will sit very well on my studio couch with my Wo-men dolls from South Africa, and my doodle cats from Japan, in companiable silence!

We visited a shop that specialised in beautiful wooden contemporary crafted items that were functional. From intricate standing clocks, to beautiful inlay boxes, head steads and cabinets, jewelry and objects; the range of items were vast. Extremely refined with aesthetics that made them beautiful and quality that validated their price tags, it made me realise how much we could do with the craft skills we have in abundance in India. If only designers of repute could create venues of collaboration with the crafts people on equal parity, wonderful new products could be marketed that would showcase the wealth of heritage we possess as a geographical territory that is so diverse and talented.

In another shop I chanced upon a Mexican wooden sacred heart that I immediately purchased to add to my tiny collection in Baroda. I am most often fascinated by tiny quirky objects and picked up a Mexican clay deity with wings, who is a fertility goddess with an unpronouncable name! The delight of our home in Baroda, is that over time, shelves and cupboards, corners of rooms and curtain rods, dressing tables and kitchen cupboards, all have become spaces that hold the bric-a-brac from my various travels. Though I vow on each trip that I will not be tempted; low and behold something worms its way into my heart!

We ended our evening at Half Moon Bay in a cozy Italian restaurant where we were hosted to a sumptuous meal and the fun of a wonderful band of live jazz musicians. We finished off our meal with a cheese cake shared between us with careful precision and much lip licking! The drive back to Montalvo in the dark was equally beautiful, on smooth roads with the dark silhouette of the red wood trees that line the highway like sentries, on either side.

Today the rain clouds are visiting Montalvo once again and like brave Trojans Surendran and I went out for a short walk this morning with tiny umbrellas that really served more as head halos!!! So we have opted to spend most of the day working. I finished another small water colour, bringing the total to eight completed! A family of four deer sat under my window in the wooded area today, and kept me company whilst I worked. If that isn't magical, what is?!

Friday, 26 November 2010


Being a person who thrives within the chaos of an urban existence, I am enjoying the absolute isolation of Montalvo, where really it is nature alone and yourself that you spend most of your time with over here. In my studio in Baroda I have by choice very few windows, and so my cave-like world shuts out the outside sights and sounds, keeping me in a protected womb of peacefulness; and here, I have entire walls that are windows that allow the outside world to exist inside, along with me. The paradox of different needs in different environments is perhaps what I am reflecting upon and which makes you realise how opposite factors in fact bring the balance of harmony to one.

Zen gardens fascinate me too. The order of them that offers you the exquisite infinities of peace, is completely different from the rambling woods and groves that are the wild gardens of this earth; gardens of Eden that hold mysteries and unknown surprises in their disorder. At home in Sauparnika, Surendran often teases me that our tiny hacienda like garden is a wild jungle that needs to be kept more trimmed and neat. I, on the other hand, love plants to tangle and weave into one another; and want trees to bend their branches to brush against my hair as I pass. This is in complete contrast to the order and neatness that exists just a few feet away, inside our home, where all things have their designated place and nothing is left to tangle into anything!

Perhaps both the wild and the tamed are factors of emotion that need to co-exist. I know that my head is a consistent space of madness, where like a colourful kaleidoscope, it arranges itself momentarily into ordered patterns before scattering again into other complex configurations. However, my exterior composure most often, will never let you know the inner circus of my thoughts!

The struggle of Nasreen Mohammedi who fought her neuron disorder and continued with the precision of her art that required complete steadiness of her hands; is for me one of the most compelling life lessons where the conflict with opposing forces existed and how one often battles to find those infrequent moments of balance and harmony for oneself.

For me the conflict sometimes is in how much of the outside world should I shut out and how much must I let in. Like a see-saw, this is the balancing act of opposing forces to which my own plumb line of balance and harmony is connected. Sometimes I topple over, at others I can find that wonderful moment where everything in the universe is exactly right!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Heads or tails?

Tonight at dinner a musician resident talked with passion about how often injustices have a way of repeating themselves within society in ways that don't make any sense; and yet history has these deep roots that lead you to those spaces of hurt that have fermented the potential of any rationality, producing instead perceptions that can wound those very places where comfort had once been sought. She talked of her mother who had been an English teacher in a very poor and black dominated American town, and who had devoted her time to this space of learning rather than be in a more affluent educational space of teaching, because she believed so passionately in the cause of those oppressed communities having the opportunity of learning. However when she was to become the head of the department she was denied the job on the grounds of being white. How strange is the story of the fight against racism when it comes back in another framework of practice. Her mother won her case in the courts, not for financial gains, but to address a system that had failed itself by become what it had attempted to fight against.

But the truth is that we often fall into these traps of inflicting the very wounds we wish to have healed. I read a moving interview of an American soldier who fought in the recent war in Afghanistan, where she recounts the horrors she witnessed of human atrocities people inflicted on one another which were so dehumanizing and beastly. Today she is one of the many who live with the terror of nightmares that haunt her subconscious, and in her waking hours she is filled with the anxiety of having witnessed a history of violence that she knows will seep through many more centuries.

The conversation with the musician at dinner led to the issue of the massacre of the Native Americans in the USA. A community where their leadership was silently killed and their proud heritage pilfered and ransacked to finally become Hollywood fodder for C grade films. She spoke of the vagueness of memory; where we conveniently avoid the remembrance of the forsaken because it would shame us to do so.

I come from Gujarat where we still have the stain of a genocide so fresh in our history, yet very few care to want to remember this self inflicted tragedy. The land of the greatest freedom fighter, the land of the Mahatma; yet the magic wand of divide and communal unrest is still clasped so firmly in the hands of many political agencies. Of which womb do we come from when time and again we re-enact the same deeds of pain ; sometimes we are the victims and at others we are the perpetrators.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Welcome home....!

Welcome to Studio 41!

Working at my table, suspended; with my window over looking the woods

Surendran working on his writing.

Friday, 19 November 2010

A visual treat....

Some treasures from the Asian art museum

Thursday, 18 November 2010

News from Studio 41....

We arrived at Montalvo last afternoon, after a one hour drive and a small mix-up in communication regarding the pick-up time. The Montalvo Art Residency is situated in a truly idyllic landscape with individual homes built in a collaborative team-up of artists and architects designing them. Our space is studio 41. Surrounded by trees on all sides with steep winding walkways that wind up the hill, it is a paradise away from urban living with no sounds except that of the birds. The studio/home is large and spacious with an L shaped studio that is the major section of the space along with a bedroom and bathroom and kitchen facility too. After an initial hic-up of some basic management issues that the office immediately took care of, both Surendran and I are on the way to being well settled for the next 30 days......where we can just be two artists, with only our work to focus upon; in this retreat away from our respective routines of Baroda.

The sun streams through the large glass windows of Studio 41 and a variety of birds hop around on the grassy areas that cover the sloping hill upon which the studios are located. There are many tiny lizards that scamper about in and out of burrows in the ground, who appear quite friendly despite me gingerly side stepping them on their attempts to make my acquaintance! The evenings are cold and the mornings slightly chilly; but otherwise it is rather warm through the day. Last evening we were driven to the shops that are a slight distance from the Montalvo Art Centre, to stock up on food and supplies; and so we bought things that we could make quick and easy meals with and fill ourselves on without too much fuss and botheration. I missed Mithun whilst doing the shopping because it brought back memories of the three of us in Noosa Australia in 1999, when Surendran and I were both on a residency there for two months. So smoked salmon and oysters, boxes of sushi and strawberries, assorted olives in herbs and a roast chicken are amongst some of the "groceries" that now nestle in the shelves of our fridge.

Last evening we went for the collective dinner where we met with the other residents of the program. Sitting at this table with a fire to warm us, eating delightful food cooked by Andreas the resident chef, we chatted with the connection of intimacy that only such programs can offer. There is a diversity to the group with musicians and opera script writers, conceptual artists and video artists.....and of course ourselves. The food was sumptuous. On the table was a goat stew, roast beef and a humongous bowl of crisp delicious greens with grated cheese and a pasta with chic peas. The desert was apple crumble that was just straight from culinary heaven!

Today a lot of scrubbing and cleaning and repairing is occurring at studio 41 for us, and so once that gets finished I am going to begin my painting. I believe there is a resident cat who I have yet to meet up with. The electric kettle has been plugged in and basic kitchen essentials are being put in place for us, and the management are very kindly unearthing a radio from their barn for me so that I have a supplement instead of TV, which is unfortunately not available out here. The surrounding acreage has many walking trails and there is a Greek garden that promises to be enticingly tempting to wander through.

So much to do and only 30 days....tick-tock, time starts now!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Post Cards From SF!

From the 14th floor of Hotel Adagio.

At the Fisherman's Warf Pier 39 : the hoopla of American tourism

Second from the left: Where Alice Walker once lived.

Sandwiched between two favourite artists: Rothko and Motherwell.

Magic moments...

Yesterday was a day out with the Fey Norris Gallery director and his wife and tiny infant daughter. They picked us up from our hotel at 9 in the morning and we started with a breakfast in the mission district, at a bakery that is famed for it's amazing food. People spill out of it's doors and there is hardly any room to sit at the tiny tables that are squashed against the wall. The bustle of jostling elbows and hot chocolate served in bowls, as is the tradition of the French, was a lovely kick start to the day out.
With our host leading the way on his Yamaha motorcycle, leather jacket and all, and the rest of us in the Honda 4 wheel drive; we set off with Surendran as the baby-sitter in the back seat with little Siri, who should receive the best behaved baby award of the year! We drove to the Red Wood forest over the golden gate bridge, which somehow didn't hold the "spectacularity"(!) I had envisaged from all the Hollywood hype it has received through the years. Also I stupidly imagined it would be painted gold in colour!!!!
The Red Wood Forest is a space that holds silence and magic, and you become dwarfed and insignificant standing under the intimidating scale of these giant trees. The strong fragrance of bay leaves assault you, and for those of us who use them in cooking, it holds the strains of a nostalgia that wraps you back into your grandmothers aprons, in metaphorical memories that are preciously private. The quiet of these surroundings are honoured by all who are umbrellaed by the shaded shadows of these magnificent trees, and who silently walk in ceremonial like lines whist paying homage to these wise elders, in meditative self-reflection.
The landscape of the city of San Francisco is hilly, and because of the strict building laws it has maintained a shallow skyline as most of it's vista; with only small clusters of occasional sky- scrappers reminding you that it is indeed America that this city belongs to! These laws have not been prompted by the fact of San Francisco being an earth-quake zone, because Japan too has such similar geographical fault line and yet the Japanese have built massive architectural buildings that are linear and deify gravity (!), incorporating technology that withstands the assault of these natural disasters. Though some city dwellers here would lobby for more innovative architectural experimentation's in San Francisco, I must say that I rather delight in the conservative caution that has kept this city able to breath in ways that are hard to come by in most other urban centers. There is also hardly any pollution which is perhaps the best gift of all to receive as a visitor.
At around 2 we stopped at a beautiful English pub to have a quaint lunch. I ate the most delectable fresh salmon on a bed of lightly cooked spinach, with baked farmers potatoes that had been drizzled with a vinaigrette that was tart without it being over powering. I think Vir Sanghvi too would have been rather impressed by this wholesome but finely flavoured cuisine! I of course have to mix and match food (!), so I stole from the collective plate of cheeses to wipe up the residue of dressing on my plate, as well as dunked some crisply fried potato wedgies into an apple chutney that tasted completely divine. Should I say heaven visited earth in that moment?!
We came back to our hotel by 4.30 and then wandered around the streets, bobbing in and out of stores to poke around the Christmas fare that winks and blinks its charm at you. The only purchase of the day was a gift for missy Begum! Oh stop that raised eye-brow look all of you!!!! Of course she heads the gift list!!!! What did you imagine!!!! My alphabet only begins with the letter B!
Today we are all packed and ready to head out to Montalavo Art Centre. My dream of being no where near a kitchen for a month has been crashed to the ground (!!!) as the Centre only provides an evening dinner from Monday to Friday. All other meals are to be self generated. I will have to see whether there are any possibilities of take-outs, order-in facilities or nearby restaurants. The Residency management have not been very clear or articulate in defining the structures of what conveniences to expect too well, so it will have to be a see and adapt process for us. I am quite happy with my instant noodles fix for a meal. It is Surendran who will be out on a limb, on a sandwich trail treasure hunt perhaps!!!!
With the temperature turning hotter each day I look in horror at the woollies that I have packed! Oh well, live and learn is my motto!!!!

Monday, 15 November 2010

With my head in the sky....

Today we started out with a bus ride around San Francisco. With the sun shining the city was picture postcard in it's beauty, and the highlight was passing by the home that once used to be Alice Walker's residence. The architecture of this city blends both the traditional Victorian stick houses with modern day architecture, in ways that keep the skyline with open spaces and a harmony of styles. In an uncrowded open air bus, the city held a charm and the people everywhere just engulf you with a friendliness that is unparalleled, in my experience of travel to date.

The Jewish museum was our next port of call where we saw a project titled : As it is Written, which involves a Jewish woman named Julie Seltzer who has chosen to train as a scribe. The project is to write the Torah which is the sacred book of the Jewish faith, over a period of a year, using the museum room as the site at which she does this. She sits in the museum on most days and writes this text in the traditional methodology that is mandatory. A Torah is always standardized with strict laws that govern how they must be written : 62 sheets of parchment paper, 248 columns, 10,416 lines and 304,805 letters. Every Torah must be copied from another existing one and each word must be verbally said aloud before inscribing it. I found this process fascinating because Julie Seltzer is a woman, and traditionally Torahs are only written by men. So in doing so she breaks a huge taboo; yet, she faithfully upholds the sacredness of this ancient tradition in all other ways.

In another room of this museum I saw a selection of works titled Reclaimed :paintings from the collection of Jacques Goudstikker. A Jewish art dealer from Amsterdam, his collection was looted by the Nazi's when he was forced to flee from Netherlands, leaving behind approximately 1,400 art works of historical significance and extreme financial value. In February 2006 the Goudstikker family were successful in reclaiming 200 art works from the Dutch government. The paintings showcase imported goods like Chinese porcelain or luxury English silver, French wine and Japanese silks which were what the middle classes of that era held as being reflective of their wealth and status; and so these paintings were much in demand as they reflected aspects from their daily lives. Normally I am not a great admirer of this style or genre, but these works, not very large in scale, were quite precious in nature.
We returned to revisit the Asian Art Museum again today because it is a space that one can go to many times. I say a beautiful exhibition of traditional Japanese screen paintings. The skill and delicacy of brush work is comparable for me to the Indian traditions of miniature paintings in many ways, only the subjects are so different as is the scale.
Today I felt hugely grateful for Surendran nudging me back into photography, by gifting me a camera when we last travelled to South Africa. After years of adamantly putting aside my camera with a "forever" attitude; today it has blended itself back into my life almost like a silent lover returning to re-seduce me all over again. There is another concentration and focus that "seeing" through a lens offers me.
Tonight I shall head back to a Thai restaurant for my favourite roast duck with jasmine rice. It is yummy beyond description and I fear my waistline is soon going to resemble the duck too! So quack quack and lights out on that note!!

Friday, 12 November 2010

A show to remember.....

When art is relocated into the formal space of a gallery it has to stand tall without any other props whatsoever. Surendran Nair's show Neti Neti opened yesterday in San Francisco to a response that was truly heartening. What becomes important within such endeavours is that the artist must hold true to themselves a genuineness of intention, and keep all doors of communication always open.

Our love story is a special one. Feisty and full of the delights of being friends and lovers; we hold the expectations of truth and honesty of one another, as the circle of belonging uncompromisingly. We have allowed the shadows of one another to be our resting places of comfort at all times, and yet drawn into our personal world an inclusiveness of others that can widen the circle of our lives. It hasn't always been that we can see the light at the end of our tunnel of shared existence, but what we do know is that we hold the desire to survive and live lives of passionate engagement with all that we do.

Watching Surendran engage an audience into entering the world of his imagination during the gallery talk at the opening, was a space of special reflection for me; because what I witnessed was the truth of conviction of self belief define that crucial space of belonging, effortlessly.

Neti Neti is a show that commands you to be silent, and to listen. And somewhere in that silence the quite voice of Surendran percolates the consciousness of his spectators; and what occurs is a moment of wonderment in that visual dialogue, that is quite stunning.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Seven into seven......

San Francisco is sleepy in comparison to New York city. I know that comparisons are odious, but it really is a small city that is only seven mile long and seven miles wide; and the pace of life appears to be quite laid back, with no real urgency that can be noted. The number of homeless people are really quite sad to see, because unlike the poverty in India, many of these people are those who appear to have just fallen through the cracks of a system, and not because they were necessarily born without opportunity.

We visited the Asian Art museum and it made my heart stand still. The brilliance of the curators of such institutions stand out, and it makes you cringe when you recall the pathetic management of our National Gallery of Modern art in Delhi. Also the collection of art objects indicates the serious nature of acquisition that institutions of such repute and significance are committed to. Many pieces on display are gifted or on loan to the museum, making a connection of personal pursuit and collective consciousness result in a public having access to facets of world history from the insightfulness of individual contributions.

We walked into an art gallery that exhibits Picasso's and Chagall's and Miro's amongst a host of other "big names", and both Surendran and myself were rather amused to note that even the great masters had a bad day once in a while! But maybe the wily art dealers live in the hope that a great discovery will emerge, to become the next "great find" that will make headlines in an auction one fine day.... some time soon, hopefully, maybe, perhaps....?!!!! Anyway the gallery management thought we were potential buyers (!!!) as I commented upon "favourite works"; and they inched closer towards us hoping a sale would materialise!!! Poor souls....what they don't realise is that a big name doesn't always guarantee excellence, and much of their stock looked sadly substandard, to put it mildly!

I'm still on the lookout for a cafe that has bagels with sour cream and smoked salmon on their menu....and a blueberry muffin is a ritual that has yet to be had!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

First Blog Posting from San Francisco.....

The sun was waiting in the skies to greet us in the Golden Gate city! After a rather zig-zag route over the seas that took us from Baroda to Mumbai to Singapore to Seoul and finally to San Francisco, my tolerance for bad Hollywood films was at a low! Sincere advise to any traveller: take a route that does not seduce you with short stop overs. Looks good on paper but is a nightmare in reality We were like two India spies in a remake of a James Bond film that started with two Singapore airline officials waiting for us on the threshold of the Mumbai international departure doorway (!) and scuttling us through all formalities as we bounced behind him like bunny rabbits on steroids. We jumped queues and elbowed out other passengers who were waiting patiently for their turn, and high-pole vaulted security ropes whilst looking every inch the part of shady undercover agents, with a dubious art mission on hand!

At Singapore we were whisked off once again with poor Surendran who almost fell off the in-service buggy-cart that took off before he had actually sat down! With shin cuts and band-aids in place, we reached our next destination, only to be power-walked from one end of the Seoul airport to the other, with seconds to spare to meet the take off time! Any hope of wandering into duty free shops or using a toilet facility were only a distant wish that never materialised.

The Frey Norris Gallery Management are truly wonderful. One of them were at the airport to meet us with a smile that dissolved all my fatigue in an instant. The Hotel Adagio where the gallery is hosting our stay is just a few doors from the gallery which is on Geary Street, and it offers a very relaxed and easy paced schedule for us for the next six days that we are here in San Francisco. At FNG Surendran's paintings were all lined up against the gallery walls in their bubble wrap petticoats (!) waiting to be placed up on the walls. The gallery management sensing our tiredness very lovingly sent us off with strict instructions to have fun and leave the work to them to do.

After settling in to our hotel room Surendran slept for a while, and I chose to unpack and get that chore out of the way. Then we both showered and stepped out to wander the main street we are located on. We finally went into a bar and toasted ourselves with the old Bacardi and coke concoction, and ate a cozy dinner at a Thai restaurant next to our hotel. At 11 pm local time even missy RR was with her batteries down to zero (!), and all I know next is that I woke up at 7.30 am this morning to yet another sunny day.

Well Mr. Obama don't say I didn't bring a gift with me! An email from home told me it was rainy and over cast back in Baroda. So sunshine and clear skies are wrapped up in ribbon clouds with a message that reads: from India with love!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

If you are going to San Francisco.....

Am flying off tomorrow......
Wish all of you could be with us for the opening on the 11th....
What fun that would be!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Packed, strapped and ready to rock!

The last fortnight has been hectic! With our trip to San Francisco looming closer and a zillion things to attend to (!!!!), I felt as though each step up the mountain of chores only found me slipping back to the starting position each day, as more chores got written on the bright blue pages of my rubberband book that has pages of "to-do" lists. However with all this I had a precious interlude of family and friends on the 31st of October which rejuvenated me to jump up like wonder woman on a steroid fix and dive back into operation go to USA!

In the midst of all this my TV unfailing spilled out the news of my nation like a soothsayer with a time warp. Much ado was made of Arundati Roy's views on Kashmir, and like a bad reality show, eager viewers took bets on whether she would become the next celebrity jailbird to grace hotel Tihar jail! Mores the pity that diverse discussions that are serious and contextualised are not encouraged, and that liberal thinkers are quickly labeled hard-line extremists if their views do not subscribe to mass appeal. Well so much for the maturity of my great nation; and with Arnab Goswami and his tribe at the helm of media debates on topical issues, we can only expect The Great Indian Tamasha to be what finally becomes the most credible news program to watch on TV soon!!!

Well Obama comes and the babus in amchi Mumbai sulk! What the khadi brigade needs to understand is that most often security issues related to visiting dignitaries are meant to be stringent and probing, so as to avoid the embarrassment of shoe throwing specialists and their likes making it to the front page news each day! Sometimes goof-ups do occur in the over zealousness of enforcing security measures; but aren't we forgetting that as the hosts we need to stop pouting and extend a generosity of spirit to this state guest on his visit? Let us instead focus on being firm on issues that effect the economic and strategic relations of the two nations, and drive a hard bargain where it matters the most, showing therefore that India is firmly capable of parity on the world stage of international politics. But hey! Let's get real here. At the end of the day most of our elected representatives in government office would look rather bewildered if asked to put country before the self!

Sticking to the topic of Barrack....I was considering dropping him a line and suggesting that I could send some of my woollies on air force one back with him to the US. Given that there is a decoy plane and the real thing, it would seem only fair that he understands that the two bag 23 kilo each luggage allowance is a bummer for me; and I am going to freeze my sweet ass off in his country unless I can lug my various layers to shroud myself with. I hope buddy Obama understands that generosity is reciprocal!

Well my next blog will be from the considered land of opportunities! Ta ta for now. Next stop mission USA!