“Because faith, belief, forever are only words, no matter. Because matter disappears, always and eventually.” Excerpt from After Words, by Kimberly Blaeser
After over a decade, I met a friend who was just starting out on an IVF journey while I had just come out on the other side with a new baby. We are friends in faith from a long time ago with paths so intertwined that it seemed apt that I find her again. Her journey turned out to be long and tumultuous- filled with love, laughter, loss and longing- like most such journeys are. I know she is stronger for it and I know her faith is going to make the world a better place.
After her baby boy passed away, she was gifted a rainbow child and she asked me make her a artwork to commemorate her story- a story with heartbeats and daimoku, a story with angels and lotuses, a story with one chapter that ended too briefly and another song that came shortly after.
Dear Smish, Alex, Anik and Avi- May this visual depiction of color, line and memories bring you joy in the everyday!
Sometimes as an artist I just have an itch. I can’t seem to explain what I’m trying to make or why or how it’s connected to my other work but I just need to get it out of my system. I read about different artists who pick up a piece of nature from every place they travel to and I wish I was that precise in my collection of things and items- my process in the everyday seems so arbitrary- though I guess there might be some method to my madness.
I picked up these beautiful layered stones in Australia from Byron Bay and lugged them to India and then back to Chicago- so they are well loved, well traveled and coddled several times by TSA. I glazed them up, glue gunned some beads to them and then just strung them up with invisible string on a collection of sticks to appear like they’re floating.
Husband thinks they look like something from True Detective. It made me think of the poem #sticksandstones when I was working on them. Kid just thinks they are very cool.
I visit every city that my husband works in and this trip was to Detroit. I went there from Chicago on the Amtrak, my first long-distance train journey in the United States. A very comfortable one, with picturesque moments as we passed the great lakes and some incredible ones as the city approached- abandoned, dilapidated houses (called ‘blight’ by some locals), shattered panes of glass and huge lots filled with tyres and scrap metal cars. Walking through a deserted downtown, the city just has this feeling of a ‘has-been’. There were several silent moments for self-reflection- while I was the only person in a café for breakfast, or the only passenger in the compartment of the ‘people-mover’ or the only human at the plaza on the riverfront. There was so much ‘ruin porn’ to photograph and still I couldn’t make myself do it. I would feel too much like one of those tourists who visit Mumbai and just take pictures of slums. It didn’t seem fair to be a visitor and do that to the city.
I am, however, posting an image from artist/ photographer Eric Holubow because I think this image manages to capture the essence whilst still being hopeful and wistful.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the DIA- the Detroit Institute of Art which I happened to visit on the 80th anniversary of Rivera’s completion of the gorgeous Detroit Industry Murals. In a beautiful sunlit hall, there are 27 panels dedicated to the Detroit labor industry, the finest Mexican mural art in the United states. These murals depict industry and technology as the indigenious culture of Detroit. A detailed ipad tour outlines the thought process, ideas, and every conceivable insight into the work. It gave a feel of what the city might have been like in its prime and really helped to compile the history much better than any Wikipedia page ever could have.
A couple of years ago, I featured in a magazine article with another artist, Shruti Mahajan. While refurbishing my website, I chanced upon that article again. Her poignant re-creation of her childhood, led me down Sojat Road, Rajasthan- my nani’s home that I used to visit every summer as a kid. I love it when an artist can do that- make you look at their work- very personal reminiscences and make you take a trip down memory lane. In those days photography was not as rampant so I have to re-create this place in my thoughts and maybe someday on paper.
I remember… a large lawn with large trees with small white flowers that we plucked at 5am and wove into necklaces, a deep well that we used to remove water from to bathe in a large steel tub, those cobwebs in attics where everything was a treasure, the large coolers- that gave cool air and humidity, a typewriter on the second floor where we enacted plays that we scripted ourselves, jumping on rooftops playing hide and seek with cousins, trips to the market and hogs in the gutters on the street side, mosquito repellents and nets everywhere to save our tender city-skin. I recall that the first thing we saw when we woke up were peacocks, dancing on the rooftops where all the kids made their beds and the last thought at night being that I have never seen so many stars in the sky before- millions of them, twinkling. I recollect the taste of that early lunch made with fresh home-grown vegetables. I recall a man who came every evening at the same time to sell us fresh malai kulfi ice-cream and how all the neighbors used to gather if we played a movie on the television screen. I remember all the help, who were like family- drying papads, chilies and spices in the sun, cleaning, cooking and letting us children ‘help’ them.
As I walk down this road in my head today, it invades my senses. I know when, if I go back- it will all be different. Some part evolution and some part recollections skewed from reality. Still, I look at kids today who will remember a childhood of IPad and X-box and I know I am fortunate to have what I do- even if it is just in my flailing memory.
This month has been an action-packed one. A holiday and long hours to make up in the studio! I feel like I have too much going on in my head at the same time and that results in absent-minded actions. I misplaced some prized possessions and hence have been taking steps to become more ‘aware’ of my surroundings.
One such effort has been to document random lost objects on the streets on my commute to the studio. I just photograph things that people seem to have dropped and forgotten and things that they might miss. Here are 3 of my favorites. I don’t displace the object- thinking that the disheartened owner might carefully try to retrace their route and come looking for it, like I did.
The song is intended to be a satire about mass development of suburbia and conformist middle-class attitudes. But for me, it transcends time. It makes me think of a city with everyone running after the same thing maybe for different reasons. We try to distinguish ourselves through gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, race, educational qualification, profession, food preference, hair color- but isn’t it important to remember that we all live in houses made of ticky tacky and we all are really the same?
I have a new studio space in the west of Lincoln Park in Chicago. As we moved my art paraphernalia with the assistance of my new studio buddy, I was amazed to note how the art stuff really multiplies. I started out with one bag of supplies from India one year back and now we filled up the back of her SUV with easels, boxes and chests of drawers.The studio is in a warehouse building, fully occupied by creative-types. Painters, photographers, encaustic artists, sculptors- we all work here together. No one worries about the floor getting dirty and no one is bothered by distractions (unless they want to be). Great lighting- natural and artificial, heating and our own toilet. A wonderful ‘Whole foods’ a block away and a ‘Blick’s art materials’ store right next to it. What more could I really ask for?
Incidentally, the plot right outside our window just went under construction. As my poet friend says “My karma is inextricably and eternally entangled with construction sites, workmen and scaffolds.” The inspiration is following me- from my home and studio in Mumbai to my studio in Chicago. The beautiful cranes- yellow and red- gracefully dance and move the debris all day long.
It may be time for new beginnings in some ways, while other things may never ever change, only evolve.
When in Mumbai, I remember the incessant steady sounds of construction- it seemed omnipresent. The roof of the building was being re-done at home, the lobby outside my ground floor studio, re-painting of the building walls- the workmen and scaffoldings all around. Sometimes at my home in Chicago, when it gets very quiet and cold, I almost miss that constant hammering.
Whilst adopting the principle that inspiration is best found in ones surroundings, I started putting on paper my little ideas and worked on collages. I enjoy the mundane activities of collecting, cutting, pasting. The joy of mindless repetition through instinct is hard to explain. The resultant work is simple but gives me a starting reference point for more ideas.
As I found pictures of them in my archives today, it made me remember the beginning. And many other beginnings and endings.
My musings today are small paragraphs from Salman Rushdie’s book ‘Fury’ which I am currently reading
“To live in metropolis was to know that the exceptional was as commonplace as diet soda, that abnormality was the popcorn norm”
“.. the anguish of lonliness and ignorance, needle sharp torment of cities and the dull mad pain of empty plains, the pain of wanting without knowing what was wanted.”
A diaspora (in Greek “a scattering [of seeds]”) is any movement of a population sharing common national and/or ethnic identity. While refugees may or may not ultimately settle in a new geographic location, the term diaspora refers to a permanently displaced and relocated collective. (Ref: Wikipedia)
As I visit the Chinatown market and ‘Devon Street’, the Indian market in Chicago, I am forced to think of what this term means to me. A set of people who moved away from their native land a few decades ago and collectively tried to recreate it where they lived. Families with temples in their home, dress shops with gaudy Indian dresses on window displays, greasy food in restaurants and even paan spit on the Indo-Chicago streets. Attempting to rebuild the India of the past, these lost identities- neither Indians of the 21st Century nor Americans.
How desperate are we not to let go of our roots and culture, how wishful to try to re-create them and how stuck in a time and space that no longer exists anywhere except in old flailing memories.
A visit to the Museum of Contemporary art in Chicago and looking at the exhibit Urban China: Informal Cities made me think some more about this displacement. Migrant workers: whether on scaffolding or not, all of us who leave our ethnic identity and either try to fit in or try hard to stick out- is any place where we set our foot ‘home’? Then the rules of which society apply? Or do we make our own as we go along?