Tag Archives: Art

Sushmita Mazumdar's work, 'Something is Missing/Present - Grounding'

Albela Sajan Aayo Ri: Finding Myself in My Art

During the pandemic, my home changed as my family members worked, attended school and college from home. The museum where I had volunteered weekly for 20 years was closed. My work at my studio, Studio PAUSE, a community space for art and stories changed, and I found myself week after week, month after month, thinking, “Nobody is here. Still, there is nobody here!” The wall where anyone could show their art was blank. The writing sessions had moved online. Zoomceptions were few. 

It took a while before I noticed someone was here. It was me. As I started to explore my work in a new way, I watched what I would allow myself to create. 

When I finally felt okay playing music in the dead silent community center, I found the good old Hindi songs, playing on shuffle from my iTunes app, still spoke to me.

One day “Kafirana sa hai, Ishq hai ya Kya hai?” stopped me. It feels blasphemous, Is this love or what is it, the lyrics asked.

Sushmita Mazumdar painting at Studio PAUSE.
Sushmita Mazumdar painting at Studio PAUSE.

I had not seen the 2018 movie Kedarnath, but the song had moved me greatly. I pulled out four canvasses I had bought for a commission which I had discontinued. I had been asked to remove some elements related to George Floyd from that project and was given no explanation for it. So instead, I painted on it an intense deep green-blue. A month earlier the actor from Kedarnath, Sushant Singh Rajput, was believed to have killed himself. The shock had rippled through our community. He will never smile or sing again. I wrote the lyrics in my expressive calligraphic style, carving into the paint as well as applying paint to write in the Devanagari script and the Roman cursive. I wrote a new word, “Kafirana” written by new poets. I had lost touch with my native scripts while I lived my life in the US. They had gone quiet. Sushant, I found, also means quiet.

Another blue-green canvas sang, “Albela sajan aayo ri, Mora ati man sukh payo ri”. My charming beloved had come, My heart feels very happy now, it said.

I remembered the video from the 2015 movie Bajirao Mastani where Kashibai runs through the palace carrying a huge flag, thrilled at her beloved’s return home. I re-discovered my old favorite Devanagari letters which I had first fallen in love with when I studied calligraphy in art school in Bombay in the late 1980s. Who was this classical Hindi song speaking of? 

Hawa Hawa played, from that most special album from the 2011 movie Rockstar. I had made all the art for my first solo show in Oct 2012 listening to this album. But I had never made any songs visual. This song, meaning Wind, Wind, tells the story of a queen who couldn’t stay within the golden walls of her palace and needed to run bare feet into the wind, along with the wind. It clearly spoke of me—the old me. As I made a deep rani-pink, a red-infused variation on the pink color of queens, and wrote the lyrics on it, I saw myself now, sitting here every day. Who am I if I am not running? 

“Yeh Zameen chup hai, Aasmaan chup hai, Phir yeh dhadkan si, Charsu kya hai.” The earth is silent, the sky is silent, then what is this heartbeat, I hear all around me, asked an old favorite song, as I stood painting among my studio walls painted in the colors Baked Clay and Endless Sky. A question the queen Razia Sultan had asked herself in that 1983 movie – the poet imagining the state of the first Muslim woman to be emperor of the subcontinent of India in the 13th century spoke to me during the 2020 pandemic. What is it then?

I entered Sing to Me, Mr. Shuffle!, the story of a collaboration with an app and an algorithm for my first online presentation at Our Stories Virtual Festival hosted by Asian Arts and Culture Center, Towson University, Maryland. As I write this, I document a journey towards a new beginning, and a return to bring along the old me. 

Sushmita Mazumdar's mixed media artwork, ‘Albela Sajan/Charming Beloved’ on the AA&CC graphic
Sushmita Mazumdar’s mixed media artwork, ‘Albela Sajan/Charming Beloved’ on the AA&CC graphic.

I went back to yoga after years. I had first learned it when I attended the first standard in Bombay. I learned about chakras and found connections with stories I have collected from friends. I explored the bright colors in my paintings.

“Whose work is this,” an old friend asked when she finally left her home in July. “Mine,” I laughed. She looked at me in surprise. 

Then, poems! Bazaar, a recurring dream I had made into an artist’s book in 2012, was selected to be part of the Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria’s Poem-A-Day project in April 2021. It was also made into a poetry video by artist Mary Louise Marino who saw how it connected with her own experience.

I had finally applied for citizenship, and found a poem emerge on an emotional afternoon before the test. In Kanyadaan, Again, I think about the ceremony where a father gives away his daughter at a Hindu wedding. I beg my father—who had fought for the freedom of India and had given me away to my American husband when he came for our wedding—to give me away again, from one flag to another. 

“I hope he will he say: Go! Be a freedom fighter for yourself

in the country which fought the same imperialists

And vote! So its children can always be free 

and so yours can be assured that their country

is also their Motherland.” 

— Excerpt from Sushmita Mazumdar’s Poem ‘Kanyaadan Again’

Colors, languages, and scripts had exploded out of me—my heritage, a leap past the 21 years in the US and beyond! I put it all into my new website.

On June 8, I voted for the first time in 21 years. I will be heard. I went to vote with my husband and my son.

On June 10, I was at a poetry reading where I read aloud my first Hindi poem, Aaj Summer Camp Mein, American accent and all, accompanied by its English translation which was published earlier this year in Written in Arlington. It’s about a new staff member who was at my daughter’s camp and how my daughter loved her long black hair, her dark eyes, and had asked: Is Ms. Maheen like me? Is she Indian? 

This was all new for me. It had taken a global pandemic for a flood of the old me to emerge and merge with the now me, leading to a new me, hopefully moving toward a more complete me. 


Sushmita Mazumdar is a self-taught writer and book artist, writing stories from her childhood for her American children and making them into handmade storybooks. Encouraging everyone to share their stories of home, heritage, and migration she opened Studio Pause in 2013 mixing community voices into her own work, allowing cross-cultural collaborations and dialogues to inform her creations.


 

Dhokra art

Dhokra Art is a Sustainable Tribal Legacy

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

When we talk about Mohenjo-Daro, immediately the famous statue of the dancing girl appears in front of our eyes. It is one of the earliest known ‘lost wax casting’ artifacts and this technique of non-ferrous metal casting, known as Dhokra (or Dokra) is 4,000 years old and still popular and in use. 

Influence of Tribal Themes

Dhokra art is the famous art of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, a state of east-central India, whose rich tradition of craft and culture has always attracted art lovers from all over the world. This art is influenced by tribal themes related to animals, mythical and human creatures, and nature. The folk characters used to make the artifacts make this handicraft more valuable and that is the reason in every household or office, we find these pieces decorated as a pride possession. Dhokra artists make each piece with delicate attention to retaining its authenticity. The process involves manually casting brass and bronze metal with the help of a wax varnishing technique. 

The unknown beauty of this art, in which metal crafts are made through wax casting techniques, is that it is eco-friendly! Most pieces are made with waste and scrap metal. 

Dhokra art (Image from Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons Licence 4.0)
Dhokra art (Image from Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons Licence 4.0)

History Tells a Tale 

The Dhokra craft has been discovered in the relics of the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan civilizations and is proof of its historical and traditional importance as an art form.

Today in Bastar region, the small artisan group of the Ghadwas produces brass or bell metal objects. In Bastar, many folk stories are told about the origins of the Ghadwas. According to one most popular story some three hundred years ago, the ruler of Bastar, Bhan Chand, was presented a gift, a necklace crafted in Dhokra craft, for his beloved wife. He was so mesmerized with the beauty of craft that to honor the craftsman, he decided to bestow the title of Ghadwa on him. Ghadwa, derived from the word Ghalna, means to melt and work with wax. 

Fascinating Process

Natural raw materials are used in the process of making Dhokra pieces. The famous Dhokra artist Rajender Baghel explains that the basic mold is made with fine sand and clay. Goat and cow dung or husk is added to it, which is then layered with pure beeswax found in the jungle. Then wax threads are prepared and wound around the clay mold until its entire surface is covered uniformly. Then it is cooked over a furnace while the wax is drained via ducts. The wax burns in the furnace leaving a free channel for the metal to flow. Molten metal (mainly brass and bronze) is poured inside the mold. The molds are taken out and water is sprinkled to cool them, once the metal is melted. By breaking them the cast figures are removed. It can take up to nine days to complete a three-foot-high sculpture.

Dhokra art styles
Dhokra art styles

Themes and Inspirations 

This art is unique, not only because of its process or intricacy, but because no two Dhokra artworks are alike. Every single sculpture is crafted to be different from another and exquisite. Inspiration and themes generally come from mythology, nature, and day-to-day traditions and rituals. Intricate works of the local deities, sun, moon, jungle, flora, and fauna are used to give a decorative look to it.

One of the popular themes is the local deities – Jhitku-Mitki and an interesting story accompanies these characters. Jhitku-Mitki were deeply in love with each other but their families were against their relationship. As a result, Jhitku was killed by Mitki’s brothers, when she refused to stay away from him. The people of Chhattisgarh worship them and usually make their figures.

Tribal Legacy

Dhokra Jewelry, which is crafted using motifs of gods and goddesses, floral shapes, and rustic designs, is a creative and contemporary expression of an ancient technique. These days Dhokra artists are experimenting with designs to give it a stylish and international look. A woman can match it with her both ethnic and international styles.

Not only jewelry, items like decorative platters, containers, vases, photo frames, tea light candle holders, wall hangings, dining accessories, and cutlery and sculptures are also in trend. These objects are a smart mix of tribal designs and contemporary styles – each piece tells the enchanting story of the tribal legacy, culture, daily lives, and environment-friendly orientation.

Each Piece is Unique 

Dhokra art is also practiced by the artists of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal also. No one can make the same Dhokra piece as every object is exclusive because each artisan of each state, creates it in his distinct way. Thin hands, legs, and a slender body – if you look closely, you will find that this tribal art is not perfect, body parts aren’t proportionate but it reflects its own history. Simplicity mixed with intricate work and tribal designs are the beauty of this art form.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 12 books on different subjects and translated around 150 books from English to Hindi. 


 

Chamba Rumal: Paintings in Embroidery

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

When we say Rumal, a small square piece of cloth or handkerchief, an everyday use item, flashes in front of our eyes. Rumal is the Persian word for kerchief…but this Chamba Rumal is not used for wiping hands and faces; it is a pure form of art, culture, and heritage — a perfect display of Himalayan embroidery and crafts traditions. ’The Chamba Rumal gets its name from Chamba, a hill station in Himachal Pradesh, where it has been practiced for centuries and patronized by the kings of Himachal Pradesh. This region is also known for its miniature Pahari (mountain) paintings.

Originating from the Chamba Valley, a flourishing 18th and early 20th-century mountainous region of North India, the Chamba Rumal is a form of hand embroidery.  Due to the theme being similar to those painted on miniature paintings, it has also been called ‘Paintings in Embroidery’.

Chamba Rumal embroidery process (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)
Chamba Rumal embroidery process (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)

The History 

Queens and ladies of royal families use to do Chamba Rumal embroidery in the 17th century for wedding dowries, important gifts, and ceremonial coverings. It was a tradition in the Royal houses that as a gesture of goodwill, the bride and groom’s families would gift it to each other. Gradually local craft people, especially women, began practicing the art and it transitioned outside the palace walls.  

In the 16th century, Bebe Nanki, sister of the Sikh spiritual leader Guru Nanak, reportedly embroidered a Chumba Rumal and that piece was preserved in the state’s Hoshiarpur shrine. Another exquisite piece of this embroidery made its way to Britain in 1883 when Raja Gopal Singh presented a Chamba Rumal embroidered with a scene from the Mahabharata to the British and it was later added to the collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Stich Is Key

Flawless needlework on the Chamba Rumals is derived from the art movement of combining miniature art with embroidery. They are usually made in square or rectangular fabric of different sizes. The base art, characterized by intricate lines, is drawn by miniature art experts. Once the art is complete, the embroidery—usually done by women—is accurately completed on the fabric. A fabric used is mostly naturally dyed silk floss on unbleached muslin or khaddar. National Award winner, Lalita Vakil says, “the picture on both sides of the fabric is almost the same. The drawing is done in outline with fine charcoal or with a fine brush. The embroidery is done using a double satin stitch carried forward and backward alternately in a variety of colors. Simultaneously both sides of the cloth are stitched so that the space on both sides is filled up making the design on both sides look equally effective and similar in content, thus this technique is called dorukha (two-faced).”

Chamba Rumal Stories (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)
Chamba Rumal Stories (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)

The stitch is carried both backward and forward and covers both sides of the cloth, giving it a smooth finish that is flat and gives the impression as if colors filled into a miniature painting. The best part is that the embroidered Rumal can be viewed from both sides and not a single knot is visible, and so it can be used from both sides. The embroidery is primarily done with a double satin stitch. The background is hardly visible but, it is very difficult to identify the right side. 

Over time, this embroidery has been done on coverings, belts, blouses, caps, scarves, pillow covers, household accessories, chaupar (a game of dice) cloths, bedstead, wall hangings, chandwas (ceiling covers), and pankhas (fans). 

Vibrant Colours Makes Lively

Very bright, vibrant, and bold colors of threads are used and the thread is untwisted silk floss, more commonly known as ‘Pat’. The colors which are mainly used are purple, pink, orange, carmine, deep red-brown, lemon and deep yellow, dark green, parrot green, ultramarine, and Persian blue, black and white. Silver wire (tilla) known as badla, is also used on the old Chamba Rumals.

Motifs and Themes

The motifs on these big-size Rumals have traditionally drawn from the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata,  figures of Krishna, his Gopis, scenes from the Bhagavad Puranas, nature, the daily life of Chamba, folk stories of the region, floral designs, etc. In the beginning, Raasmandala (an episode of the dance of Krishna) was the most popular design, followed by Gaddi Gaddan (man and woman of a shepherding tribe that resides in the hills of Himachal Pradesh). You’ll find themes like Kaliya Daman, Rukmini Haran, Ragas, Ashta Nayak, which depict the mood swings of the relationship between a male and a female as part of this art form. This art, where miniature painting meets weaving, opens up a world of stories carried through generations and traditions that speak of nature, faith, and life – thus, it functions as a piece of literature. 

Post-independence, freedom fighter and crafts revivalist, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, revived this art which was on the verge of death due to lack of patronage.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 12 books on different subjects and translated around 150 books from English to Hindi. 


 

Left to Right: LaToya Fernandez, Urmila Vudali, Lisa Rosenberg, and Ray Furuta.

Celebrating Good Trouble in Bay Area Arts

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Coined by the late Congressman John Lewis, the concept of “Good Trouble” is rooted in the belief that certain types of expression and feather-ruffling are necessary to fight back against injustice. At Mosaic, we believe that art is a perfect vehicle for causing Good Trouble and bringing awareness to the important issues we must tackle as an ever-evolving nation.

To celebrate this idea, we recently hosted four of our dear artists and friends who are committed to creating their own kinds of Good Trouble through their art, music, dance, and poetry, in “Celebrating Good Trouble”

  • LaToya Fernandez, an educator, poet, and youth advocate from San Jose
  • Lisa Rosenberg, an author and former Poet Laureate of San Mateo County
  • Urmila Vudali, a high school student, dancer, and leader of the Mosaic Saratoga High School Club, and
  • Ray Furuta, a flutist, composer, and music professor

While each artist’s work carries a thread of Good Trouble and cross-cultural collaboration, they also each lent a unique perspective.

LaToya’s reading of her poem “Angry Black Woman, A Letter to Women,” which delves into the stereotypes that are put on Black women for being vocal, sparked a reverence for how that can penetrate one’s psyche. Her art, she says, is grounded in the pursuit of doing what’s right — even if it’s not easy, because it’s what’s necessary. “I’m always in trouble,” she laughed, reflecting Lewis’s sentiment that the quest for freedom is not a state of being, but the “continuous action we all must take.”

And as a reminder of how art is a necessary critique of the systems that reinforce societal ills on marginalized communities, Lisa shared some of her works, including poems titled “Space To” and “Perseverance.”

“All art is considered criticism or an act of political power, just because you are claiming your voice,” Lisa said. “Even creating a disturbance with a new voice, a new observation, a new point of view, we are disrupting the status quo and creating an opening to start perceiving things differently. And that includes our opportunity to take back some power.”

This is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of creating Good Trouble in the arts — using your voice and creativity to create something utterly different and challenge the status quo. And when it comes to breaking the mold, Ray Furuta’s journey from the conservatory to becoming an innovator of music here in Silicon Valley provides a perfect representation.

Ray, who also founded the Silicon Valley Music Festival 10 years ago, shared two of his works — Precious Scars, presented by Mosaic, which created a powerful, cross-medium remembrance of the Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants who were incarcerated during WWII; and Primal Reboot, which brought together artists of different backgrounds and genres to reimagine Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

These two works stood as a testament to how Ray said he viewed the concept of Good Trouble in the arts: “It alludes to this idea of coexistence — that in the arts, we can all exist, and we can all amplify each other in a really positive way.”

The concept of working together to amplify the voices of all is critically important to our mission of creating a sense of belonging within our communities and in our country. And naturally, that played out in introducing dancer Urmila Vudali, who also participated in Primal Reboot. Now, as a high school senior, Urmila aims to bring together students who are culturally isolated and develop greater cultural awareness across their real and imagined silos. Two of Urmila’s collaborations, Confluencia and The Flower Seller, both focused on the commonalities between various forms of dance and music.

“Finding those commonalities allowed me to learn a little bit about a culture that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about otherwise,” said Urmila. “And pushing the boundaries of my traditional dance and causing that Good Trouble really allowed me to widen my horizons.”

Each of these works and perspectives allows us a greater look into how artists view their own role as Good Trouble-makers, and how we can learn and grow together by simply being curious.

How are you making your own version of Good Trouble? 

 

Good Trouble was the theme of our partner the New Museum of Los Gatos’ (NUMU) annual juried high school art exhibition ArtNow, which invited hundreds of high school students from across Santa Clara County to submit their interpretations of the global issues facing our world. In partnership with NUMU, we collaborated to bring another iteration of this Good Trouble programming to the public.


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.


 

IC’s Buddha Purnima Portraiture Workshop: Fusing East With West

The story of every immigrant is to integrate their roots with the society they currently live in. Every aspect of our lives contains both aspects of our lives, the past, our Indian roots, and the present, our western environment. This weaves its way into our expression of art as well. 

I am a professional artist and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been painting.

The stories in the Indian diaspora are as rich and diverse as the history of Indian art. Art can be used to show the world how the Indian diaspora incorporates its culture of origin with its life outside – how our trials and tribulations are both unique and common. In my art, everything is beautiful and everything deserves to be told.

Because I studied art in the United States, I integrate all the western techniques and employ them to showcase my Indian identity – to tell stories of people like us. My art is colorful because our stories and culture is so colorful. My grandmother always jokes that those who have their origins in the Indian subcontinent cannot wear subdued colors. While I disagree, I do think our culture conditions us to have an affinity of color. That love of color makes its way into my art. After all, what is a celebration of our stories without the color to go along with it?

The thing that has surprised me in my artistic journey is how people see reflections of their childhood, their experiences, and even their bygone family members in my art. I think that’s a reminder that while fine art may not be something most people pursue, it is an evocative medium.

Join me at my FREE workshop, in collaboration with India Currents, on May 26 at 6pm PDT/9pm EDT to celebrate Buddha Purnima! With my guidance, you will use the basics of portraiture to create your own work. 

Get tickets to the event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ics-buddha-purnima-portraiture-workshop-tickets-155714824231

If you’re unable to join the Zoom, the event will stream on Facebook Live here: https://www.facebook.com/IndiaCurrents

Prepare for the event with these materials:


Muthulakshmi Anu Narasimhan is trained in Fine Art and a Graphic Designer by profession.


 

My mother's Rajasthani painting (Image provided by Author)

My Mother Shines Through Her Paintings

The most valuable painting in my art collection is one of my mother’s masterpieces.

My mother, Kaushal Kapur, was born in Sikar district of Rajasthan. The city was studded with large airy havelis with white-washed walls decorated with colorful Rajasthani folk murals. My mother loved decorating her parents’ courtyard with colorful rangolis or painting henna tattoos on friends’ and sisters’ palms. Once at the School of Art in Jaipur, she saw an artist engrossed in painting a miniature.

Miniature art was introduced to India in the sixteenth century by the Mughal ruler, Humayun. He brought with him Persian artists who specialized in the fine art of painting. Humayun’s descendent Emperor Akbar built an art gallery and many schools of painting. Akbar era paintings were aristocratic and strong in portraiture. Elaborate court scenes and hunting expeditions were favored.

The word miniature comes from ‘minium’ which is red lead paint used in illuminated manuscripts. These paintings are very intricate and rendered in minute detail. Strong line drawings were rendered on paper, ivory, wood, leather, marble, and cloth. Colored with vegetable and mineral dyes in complementary colors: pale greens, reds, blues, and yellows. Embellished with real silver and gold they sparkle like multifaceted gemstones. Preparing colors and mixing is a complex process. It takes several weeks to get the desired results. The fine brushes were made from the hair of squirrels, and were highly valued. Today many artists replicate the originals in poster colors for affordable merchandising.

My mother was mesmerized by the king in light blue skin as Krishna with his beloved as Radha. She requested the master to teach her how to paint. The art teacher was reluctant, thinking that it was a passing fancy for her. He tried to dissuade her. But the pursuit of creativity takes courage and persistence. My mother visited the art school daily and did not give up. Her resolve was apparent at a tender age. One day, the teacher asked her to draw straight lines on blank paper. Before he could say Radhe Krishna, little Kaushalya had drawn hundred straight lines on the paper. Impressed by her steady hand, the artist enrolled her in his class. 

Mother painted several gouache watercolors under his tutelage. I grew up with her paintings in our home. They are exceptional works of art in delicate harmonious colors. I adored her paintings as a child but over time I have grown to appreciate her style even more. There is unique clarity of form and apparent ease of composition. My eyes linger for hours on fine uninterrupted lines, and exaggerated features in the frames. Long necks, large almond-shaped eyes, long fingers, and elegant toes.

My mother’s full-length painting of a maiden in her hut. (Image provided by Author)

My mother’s art is imprinted on my mind. Perhaps that explains elaborate doodles in my workbooks. My classmates would line up at my desk to request their doodles. School chalkboards were also covered in my art in all free periods.  My teachers can vouch for that.  After coming to America, my mother visited me and we both made a Bani Thani style painting together. I can clearly visualize her able hands patiently mixing the watercolors for me. This painting is my anchor. It portrays the universal twin souls Radha and Krishna engrossed in mutual adoration. I have the painting on my mantle. In the grandeur of this rendering, I can visualize my mother’s being in the Bani Thani. I also have her painting of Ahalya, the most beautiful woman petrified in stone kneeling in front of a handsome Lord Rama. Another one of a lovely young maiden on a tuft of lotus leaves with a serene expression which I think is a self-portrait. 

I never feel alone when I paint because my mother’s hand guides me from across the oceans.  But my piece de resistance is her prize-winning painting of a maiden in a hut waiting for her beloved. It is a 9 by 11 monochromatic watercolor painting in shades of green and aqua. She has created a wonderful rustic atmosphere and depth with a limited palette. Color blending is flawless. I can enter the living space, hear the rustle of her skirt. Touch her long fingers, admire her delicate lashes as she engages in small talk with her parrot.

As a child, I often wondered what she was cooking on the earthenware stove. The solitary lamp in the alcove and four flickering flames are so poetic. But more than anything else, I love her beautiful feet strongly planted on terra firma despite the faraway look in her eyes. The painting embodies the body, heart, and soul of my mother. She is an angel and the salt of the Earth. And she is mine. 


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.


 

Musician, Raja Kumari (Image provided by Raja Kumari)

‘I Was Told to Tone Down My Ethnicity to be Successful in America’ Notes Raja Kumari

Indian-American rapper, songwriter, and singer Raja Kumari is a force of nature. Hailing from Claremont, California, she is best known for her collaboration with notable artists including Gwen Stefani, Fifth Harmony, Knife Party, and Fall Out Boy. A fearless, charismatic personality and natural-born storyteller, her mission is to create art that blends her Indian roots with her American upbringing.

In this exclusive interview, she talks among other things about the challenges she had to face as an American of Indian origin, her latest tracks ‘I Am A Rebel’ and ‘Hello World’ which released on Women’s Day, and philanthropic activities that she participates in through her music.

Musician, Raja Kumari (Image provided by Raja Kumari)
Musician, Raja Kumari (Image provided by Raja Kumari)

Being of Indian American origin, tell us more about the challenges you had to face and the uniqueness you bring to your music. 

RK: One of the main issues I faced trying to get started in America was racism. I was always told to tone down my ethnicity, that I was “too Indian” to be successful in America. I struggled to find someone to look up to as a South Asian kid in America. I remember, on weekends I would travel for classical dancing and wouldn’t necessarily share that with my friends. I would come to school with the Alta (painting the palms and feet with a red dye) fading on my hands and they’d ask me, “What is that? Do you have a hand disease?” 

Things are evolving in the US now. I like to call it the ‘brown renaissance’ Indians are more relevant in so many fields, especially entertainment. On the other hand, some people in India called me a ‘culture vulture’. How can I be a ‘culture vulture’ in my own culture just because I’m born in America? I’m not just another South Asian. I still have put in my time to be Indian enough to talk about India without being an appropriator of culture. My family did a really great job of preserving the culture for us. We don’t fake it. We wear sarees for pujas, my mom does Vijayadashami and Navratri, I have studied Indian music and dance. As a result, my style is just a balance between the East and the West. 

I think learning to navigate both worlds with authenticity has helped me become the artist I am today. I have carved a place for myself in the male-dominated music circuit by staying authentic and rooted in my culture. I think there a lot of women in the industry who say a lot of things from the female perspective about relationships, broken hearts, love lost, pain, sadness, happiness, or sexiness; there are so many of those voices. I felt like we were missing my perspective. Of course, I could sing soft and beautiful songs but there are many people to do that.

You are also a trained dancer in Kuchipudi, Odissi, and Bharatanatyam. Tell us more about this passion of yours. 

RK: My passion for Indian dance started at a very young age. My mother had always wanted to be a classical dancer and it wasn’t feasible for her to pursue it growing up, so it was always in her heart to have a daughter who was a dancer so I came out dancing. My attachment to classical Indian dancing really gave me so much of my personality, so much the way I dress and the way I perceive the world, and also the stories that I relate to. Some kids grew up to Batman, Superman and I was really obsessed with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and the stories of Hanuman. Those were my superheroes, and so I think classical dance really made that a part of my life. 

Tell us more about philanthropic activities you have participated in in the past through your performances. 

RK: I always believed art should be used for the greater good. Since I was a child, my parents always involved me in a lot of charity work and I was able to help build the meditational hall in Hyderabad and donate a wing for a hospital in Bengaluru. I consistently performed for so many temples to raise funds for building certain temples in Southern California. I think now I definitely use my art to open doors for others to create an opportunity to inspire. There are many philanthropic activities I am a part of but I mostly like to support the charities that support the girl child because I believe in India, we need more attention and more support to encourage young girls to be in art and not just sciences or leaving school as we usher in an era of more creative artists. I think we have enough of everything else and I would hate to lose our artistry as a culture with the idea of modernizing ourselves and lose everything we are, so anything that will help support the art, I am there.

Who are some of your inspirations? 

RK: Madhuri Dixit, Lauryn Hill, Kamala Harris, Missy Elliot, and Beyonce.

Tell our readers more about your latest tracks ‘I Am A Rebel’ (featuring Kiara Advani and Bani J in lead roles) as well as ‘Hello World’ (with Hollywood actor Rita Wilson and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte), both of which released on Women’s Day. 

RK: Both these tracks were created from the inkling to motivate and inspire young girls. Teaming up with Rita Wilson and Claudia Leitte on ‘Hello World’ was amazing, as these are two women I have so much respect for and it was really cool to see how our styles complemented one another. When boAt approached me to write ‘I Am A Rebel’, I was so excited to collaborate with my longtime friend DJ SA on the music. I’ve always considered myself a rebel in my music choice, my career, and my unapologetic nature! I loved crafting the lyrics to depict that energy and I’m so happy to have been joined by so many strong women like Bani J and Kiara on the campaign.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 


 

Bay Area Poet Relives Oral Traditions

Divine Blossoms is the kind of book I might have never discovered if I was not the founder and host of a poetry group called the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. I am so glad that I agreed to review it and have had it on my bedside table for easy access for the past several weeks.

The poet, Anuradha Gajaraj-Lopez brings wholesomeness to the ordinary life as a householder. As a former journalist, she has a facility with words, using them to reach everyone, regardless of where they might come from. The 134-page book is more than a poetry book. It offers poems that are also prayer, a wide range of ways of worship, and several ancient stories from epics of Hindu mythology, as spiritual fables with lessons for young and old. These are all wrapped and delivered as short poems, with the cadence and essence of a bhajan, a devotional song, in simple English, that makes it accessible to everyone.

The book has two parts: the first called Murmurs from Beyond and the second called Whispers from India. The poems in the first part deal with faith in God and the metaphor of divine love. The latter part has poems in six sessions, on topics of devotees, folklore, epics of Ramayan and Mahabharta, gods Shiva and Krishna, Christ and Yogananda, women in India, and on death. The poems are rich in detail with the pathos of lived life in human form combined with a yearning for the inspiration from the deep faith in the divine, through the references that evoke not just the main characters that are highlighted in the index, but also the poetic traditions, with Kabir, Ramakrishna, Chaitnya Prabhu and others who were seekers in the same vein.  

Anuradha invites the reader into her world with an authentic and heartfelt outpouring of the essence of all that she cherishes. The Indian mythological stories have a living oral tradition such that retelling these timeless stories allows for making them relevant in contemporary times. Anuradha’s rendering does that. If you are not familiar with Hindu mythology, she helpfully provides a short introduction before the poem, to make the story be set in the context, and for them to be rendered in a poetic form. The poems are crystalized into the essence of the story, almost like a bhajan, an Indian devotional poetic form.

I will not be surprised if someone reading them decided to set them to music and create a musical or chant form for these in the future. As many of the stories were familiar to me, parts of the book took me on a journey to my childhood when I had first heard these. The poems leave a fragrance, and it makes sense that she called the book Divine Blossoms. While the poems are light reading, they offer comfort, surprise, hope, and the adventure of a story. The moral lessons are conveyed gently like what the poet believes, and not a lecture on morality. Her voice brings the easy access of an Amar Chitra Katha comic book version along with the message with the clarity of her spiritual guru, Yogananda. The deep convictions of the poet are what make this poetry transparent and luminescent. These are conveyed in an easy manner that makes it clear that the poet practices these effortlessly and speaks her mind genuinely, wearing her faith as easily as a well-loved garment, and releasing the poems with trust that they will find their own readers. 

The book is self-published and shows care in how symbols and images have been added to enhance the presentation. It will feel different from a professionally edited book since it has its own unique layout. This makes me wish that it will inspire others who are carrying their poems and stories within them to also be willing to create their own books. The creativity and fire of the work are best experienced, rather than described by me, so I have selected one of my favorite poems, reproduced with her permission.    

The Stone on the Temple Floor

It is so unfair

I am trodden on by hundreds

Who rush by without a thoughtless care

To seek a glimpse of your form

And yet,

I was hewn on the same old rock as thee

 

Here I lie on the temple floor

While you are daily worship

With honey, milk, curd and

Precious gems galore!

 

“Ha” laughed the divine statue

Standing erect and tall

And gently said,

“Brother, don’t you remember at all?”

 

The days when we lay on

The stone mason’s yard

With hardly a few blows you were

All set, and proudly carted afar

While, I cried each time,

The choice and hammer

Moved relentlessly on

On every inch of this form

You now see and envy from afar

 

And so, the Divine sculptor

Deals the hardest blows on those

He holds very close

Not to be discarded on an old temple floor

But to merge with Him and

Reach the coveted destiny that is His alone!


Dr. Jyoti Bachani is on a mission to humanize management using the arts, specifically poetry and improv, as a founding member of the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley, a co-founder of the US chapter of the International Humanistic Management Association, and an associate professor of business at Saint Mary’s College of California.

‘I Want My Work to Encourage People to Stop & Think’ Says Michelle Poonawalla

(Featured Image: Michelle Poonwalla and Circle of Life Artwork)

Artist, businesswoman, philanthropist, and socialite Michelle Poonawalla recently showcased a series of her new artworks at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. Michelle’s four oil on canvas works—Blue Wave, Desert Rose, Forest Flutter and Flutter Fly—come from the artist’s Butterfly Series, and feature three-dimensional, sculptural elements affixed to the canvas. Painted in bold colors, the works feature gold-effect butterflies.

Futter Fly

Poonawalla lives and works between London and Pune. Her practice combines cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic mediums, often utilizing sound, video mapping, projection, motion sensors, and other techniques. She has previously exhibited her work at the Saatchi Gallery, London; Alserkal Avenue, Dubai; and as a collateral project at the Kochi Biennale, India. More recently, Poonawalla has also begun exploring work with shorter digital format films.

In this exclusive interview, she spoke to us among other things about her earliest artistic influences, nature as inspiration, her favorite art medium, and the butterfly symbol in her works.

Tell us a little about your oil-on-canvas works at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend.

MP: The four works come from my Butterfly Series which evolves beyond traditional 2D painting, incorporating sculptural elements that bring the artworks off the canvas and into the viewer’s space. A lot of my work features the butterfly symbol which for me represents both beauty and freedom–an ephemeral creature that is the result of a metamorphosis.

What was the idea, inspiration behind them?

MP: The works all have different inspirations and stories behind them. For example, Blue Wave is inspired by Mumbai and references the city through its free-flowing language and color. Desert Rose, which also features butterflies, represents the inherent beauty in nature’s patterns as I allowed the butterfly sculptures to fall naturally on the work before affixing each one where they landed.

A theme often addressed in my work is the strength and beauty of nature and the importance of preserving it. This is perhaps most obvious in Forrest Flutter. Painted in dark earthy hues and greens, the work celebrates the forest. 

You are the granddaughter of the iconic south Mumbai architect Jehangir Vazifdar. Tell us about some of your earliest artistic influences.

MP: From an early age, I was taken to some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world. I have always loved art and painted throughout my life and studied Interior Design at university. I was perhaps most inspired by my grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned painter and architect. My grandfather had a very special technique in oil painting with a ruler which he shared only with me, and it is important for me to carry on his legacy.

Your work is known to explore universal, socially engaged topics. Tell our readers about some of these themes.

MP: Art is a universal language with a powerful voice, and I’m conscious my work is used to spread a positive message. For example, I have recently produced a series of video works that explore environmental change and other issues around us today. I want my work to encourage people to stop, think, and introspect. Be it climate change, water scarcity, or violence in our world, people should always stop and think.

Desert Rose

Which is your favorite art medium? Do you feel that digital art is the future of art?

MP: I enjoy acrylic and work in acrylic for my butterfly paintings. However, I wouldn’t say I have one favorite medium. I’ve worked in oils a lot and I am looking forward to exhibiting some drawings at the 079 Stories gallery in Ahmedabad soon.

Digital art is certainly something we are seeing more of but I think physical painting will always have a place – it is important to be able to physically engage with artwork in person. I’ve always been interested in combining cutting-edge technology and traditional art forms, and digital art has allowed me to create huge immersive installations where the viewer is completely emerged in the visual image. Technology gives an artist the freedom to explore endless possibilities; it allows a greater feeling. I also think digital art speaks the language of the younger generation, and it keeps their interest in art growing.  

What are you working on next?

MP: I’ve got several projects coming up, including showing work in a drawings exhibition at the beautiful 079 Stories in Ahmedabad in February. Later in the year, I will also be showing work in a group exhibition in Delhi. Alongside this, I am exhibiting work online with several platforms including digital work with SeditionArt.com and several new works I have just produced for House of Culture. Hopefully, there are a few international projects on the cards which I will be able to announce later in the year. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: From Trinidad to America

Being newly retired, memories of my childhood bubbled up, as I finally had time to daydream. My father’s grandmother, Gangee Maharaj, arrived in Trinidad from Raipur, India in 1900. Many Indians came to Trinidad as indentured laborers eventually earning plots of land from the British. Thus, my great-grandparents received their own land, passing it on to my grandparents, on whose farm I grew up. I remember vividly our two beloved cows, Rani and Raja. We were often blessed with fresh and nutritious milk.

To become an eligible bride, one requirement was to be able to skillfully puff a paratha! Achieving the perfect architecture and weight of the delicious and well-known flatbread takes practice. Only then could you have your handprint painted on Grandma’s kitchen wall. This meant that you were allowed to enter her kitchen and prepare a meal under her supervision. My first painting had to be of this kitchen!

I also remembered the wonderful folklore of Trinidad infused by the many African immigrants. We heard many stories of mythical creatures. Moko Jumbie was invoked to protect the people during the long and arduous slave boat journeys from Africa. The Soucouyant is a vampire, popular in many Caribbean countries. I remember being very scared hearing some of these stories as a young girl!

My paintings are of memories from my childhood, which was steeped with traditional Hindu ceremonies, African folklore, the natural beauty of the islands, and the array of cultures of the diverse population.

The world is a family 

One is a relative, the other stranger, 

say the small minded. 

The entire world is a family, 

live the magnanimous. 

Be detached, 

be magnanimous, 

lift up your mind, enjoy 

the fruit of Brahmanic freedom. 

—Maha Upanishad 6.71–75 

The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors is the title of my newest painting collection.

Imagine that these ethical principles, the yamas and niyamas of the ancient Upanishads are embedded in all my paintings. The sage, Patanjali expounds on them in his Yoga Sutras. Sutra means “thread” in Sanskrit, which you can see represented by the many-colored line segments in this painting collection. 

Indra Persad-Milowe’s Art Piece, The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors.

YAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists five yamas, or moral restraints, which apply specifically to how you behave outwardly toward other beings.

1) Ahimsa – Non-violence in thought, word and deed 

2) Satya – Truthfulness 

3) Asteya – Non-Stealing

4) Brahmacharya – putting the “path to the Divine” first and foremost in life 

5) Aparigraha – Non-hoarding, freedom from grasping 

NIYAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lists five niyamas, or observances, which apply specifically to how you conduct yourself on a more personal level. 

1) Saucha – Cleanliness 

2) Santosha – Contentment 

3) Tapas – Self Discipline 

4) Svadhyaya – Self Study 

5) Isvara-pranidhana – Surrender: offering yourself completely as a vehicle of the Divine will 

My ten-piece paintings capture religious and cultural life in so many patterns and colors, just like our world is full of varieties of patterns and colors. They reflect many disciplines and ideals of life: faith, fortitude, sacrifice, respect, and love. Love and respect for all patterns (ways of life) and colors (global cultures) are a very important Hindu worldview – “VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM” (The world is a family).


Indra Persad Milowe is a visual artist living and working in Salem, Massachusetts. She is currently working on an extensive series of paintings, drawing upon childhood memories of growing up in Trinidad during the 1950s.

The Mask: Art Therapy Can Ease Anxiety About COVID

In a perspective published in the journal Science, a group of scientists reiterates that masks are not only helpful but necessary to combat the spread of the virus from people without symptoms.

The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:

  1. No vaccine is 100% effective.
  2. Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
  3. Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
  4. Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.

Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.

“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire

It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19. 

  • Creating an hour of activity.
  • Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
  • Teaching the basics of Masks.

I have authored the coloring book  “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon 

With the intention to educate the younger generation, I  have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:

  •  To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
  •  More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art. 

Thanks to the No Birthday Left Behind and Lavanya Reddy, Washington Helping Hands for helping in this great cause.

As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:

  • Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
  • When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.

Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks. 

Stay Safe! 


Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness. 

Educational Challenge For Kids – Win Cash Prizes!

Towards the end of the year 2016, I started searching for things that looked like the symbol in nature and in manmade structures. As you may already know,, which is pronounced “Om”, is a very sacred symbol for Hindus.

Initially, I did not find anything natural or manmade that looked like , but my search trained my eyes to recognize other patterns that looked like art. As I walked on paved surfaces, I started noticing art-like patterns in areas that looked a bit dirty, the kind of areas that people normally walk around or unintentionally step on and keep walking. Using the camera in my smartphone, I started taking pictures of these art-like patterns and started showing the images to people I knew.

The collection of photos that I called “Art That People Step On”, because people tend to step on these art-like patterns while walking, started to grow and I was able to exhibit some of the photos in four solo exhibitions. My photos have also been displayed in some juried group exhibitions so far. 

 In the month of February, on a particular day, many people in the United States give and receive greeting cards to express their affection to others who are close to them, such as good friends, relatives, and their teachers.

Do you know what that day is called? Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to show appreciation to those you love. 

In case you are interested, I found the featured image in the photograph on a walkway. To me, it looks like the wear and tear of the paved surface created the image. Does the image look like a heart?

I have a challenge for you:

  1. Find an image in your environment or online that reminds you of the people you love. 
  2. Using crayons or paint and brush, add to and make changes to the image and create a greeting card with your own message. 
  3. Your greeting card can be one-sided or two-sided and can be as small or as big as you want it to be.
  4. If you have the necessary software, you can also create the greeting card on your computer.
  5. Take a picture of the greeting card that you created. Take pictures of both sides if your greeting card is two-sided.
  6. Submit the picture(s) to the challenge via email to editor@indiacurrents.com
  7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, February 28, 2021.
  8. After you submit the picture of your greeting card to the challenge, give it to the person or persons that you like.   

There is no entry fee! Cash prizes will be awarded to winning entries: 

First Prize: US $50 

Second Prize: US $30 

Third Prize: US $20

India Currents Magazine will feature all prize-winning entries and a few other selected entries. Adult supervision is strongly recommended when using scissors or other sharp objects. Have fun, and be creative!


Dr. Mandayam Osuri Thirunarayanan was born in Madras, India. He became a citizen of the United States and currently lives in Miami, Florida.