Tag Archives: Artists

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

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. 

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 

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.

Cambodian, Odissi, Jazz Artists

Ancient Contemporary: Odissi, Jazz, & Cambodian Classical

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. 

“Children are taught racism. Children are taught diversity. They don’t see it; they only see human. Two words: education and exposure. What are children educated about and what are they exposed to?” Coleen Lorenz, artistic director of New Ground Theater asked, and went on to affirm that she loves the Arts because they are the symbol of universal being-ness, of who we are at birth

This was part of the conversation when Coleen; Niharika Mohanty, artistic director of Guru Shradha Dance; Charya Burt, classical Cambodian dancer and teacher; and I met for the sixth episode, Ancient Contemporary, of Mosaic Connect, an online series designed to explore our common humanity through the performing arts. 

The episode aired when the country was in the grip of civil unrest. Shelter-in-Place had, on the one hand, unified us, on the other hand, protests against police brutality seemed to have uncovered a series of deep fractures among us…and within us. All of us, it seemed, were questioning our identity and purpose. More importantly, we all seemed to be looking at ourselves and each other with new eyes, asking ourselves the question – Where do I belong?

Some were looking to rediscover or reclaim their identity and some were challenging their neighbor’s very right to be included as Americans.

Programming at Mosaic Silicon Valley addresses this issue: how to move multicultural American communities from diversity and inclusion to belonging. We highlight the common roots or representations of any two artforms, such as in Ancient Contemporary, which mediated a course between Odissi and Modern Contemporary one the one side; Odissi and Classical Cambodian on the other. This was done deliberately, to create awareness about our common humanity and celebrate our beautifully rich traditions. Thus, the online episode showcased each style and artist, as well as their collaborations and was followed by discussion.

Mosaic Fellow, Charya emphasizes in Ancient Contemporary, “Arts can provide a model that is inclusive. For culture based artists like us, Arts can provide us with dignity, cultural identity, and pride to those in the community.” 

That pride is the basis of our collaborations. In contrast to the “Melting Pot” model, we welcome artists as they are, to build bridges organically, through discovery and connections.

Niharika was wondrous of the fluidity of vocabulary in the Jazz Contemporary style.

Coleen was impressed by the level of complexity incorporated in Odissi dance.

Charya was amazed at the similarities that her artform and Odissi had, to temple sculpture and mythology.

Clips from both explorations are included in Ancient ContemporaryLet us explore our identity and shared futures through the arts practiced in America today. Let diversity not be relegated to the label “ethnic” which by its very definition, excludes. Instead, let’s come together and include one another in this wonderful American mosaic. Let us be unafraid to express ourselves truly, in order that we may fully Belong. To sum up in Niharika’s words, “There is an ultimate truth. We are One. We stem from the same roots. Arts are more than ever, an expression of who we are.” 

Watch it all come together in the video below!

Follow the Mosaic movement here!

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.

Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil: Soul Sisters

At the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Frist Museum of Art in Nashville, a pair of dark eyes followed me. The exhibition displayed an expressive vista of twentieth-century Mexican art by Frida Kahlo, her husband Diego Rivera, and many others. More haunting than the breathtaking murals in public buildings were the black-and-white photographs of Kahlo’s crutches, corset, and bed. These relics testified the magical paintings created by Frida despite her  painful crippling disability. Frida was petite, yet her self portraits accentuate a distinctive un-plucked-v-shaped uni-brow, un-depilated upper-lip, brown eyes, braids, and colorful Mexican clothing.  

Amrita Sher-Gil

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), born in Coyoacán, Mexico City, from  a German-Hungarian father, and a Spanish-Tehuana mother; reminds me of Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941). Amrita was an avant-garde artist, the second daughter of an Indian father who was a Sanskrit scholar and a Hungarian-Jewish mother. She was known as India’s Frida Kahlo for her unconventional style. 

Beloved Frida, Immortal Amrita

During their impressionable childhoods, both artists showed commonalities. Frida learned the human structure from her photographer father, while Amrita filled her sketchbooks with portraits of their servants. Kahlo had polio at six and a bus and a tram accident at eighteen. Multiple injuries and 37 surgeries left her bedridden. She painted in her bed, painting her own face for hours, depicting graphic anatomical details of her suffering body. 

Prodigious Frida did not attend art school but sought out Mexico’s leading painters, including Rivera, to teach her. Their friendship became a courtship and then a turbulent marriage.

Amrita got evicted from convent school by declaring herself an atheist. She went to Florence with her mother to study the Italian renaissance. Later she attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under Pierre Vaillent and Lucien Simon. She drew inspiration from Paul Cézanneand Paul Gauguin. She made her first self portrait for another artist friend, Tazlitsky, as a gift: bold red lips, flowing hair and prominent eyes.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Self Portrait, 1930

Amrita was homesick for India and she returned to Lahore, there she was shocked to see how the British rule had impoverished the Indian stock. They were emaciated versions of themselves, “shadow women with sunken eyes and skeletonized men.” Distraught, she began painting  in earthy hues, reds, ochers and whites, dramatic canvases reminiscent of Gauguin.

 In 2006 her painting, Village Scene, sold for ₹6.9 crores, the highest amount ever paid for a painting in India. Amrita used the despondency of her paintings to ignite a social epoch. 

Longing for Home

Both these artists lived abroad. In America, Frida yearned to go back to her native roots in Mexico. When she returned back to Casa Azul, she played in the courtyard with exotic pets, the spider monkey (her surrogate baby, a gift from Diego), a black cat, African parrots, a hummingbird.They are all immortalized in her paintings.  

Amrita was restless in Hungary and said, “Paris belonged to Van Gogh and Pissaro, India belongs only to me.” She returned to India and painted tirelessly.  She was getting ready for an exhibition when the trajectory of her life was ended by a sudden death at a young age of 28 years. Frida lived longer despite her disability and kept herself busy making rudimentary paintings. When Frida bid her final adieu, she was in excruciating pain and prayed for deliverance. 

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), Harry Ransom Center

Worldwide Acclaim

Both artists received accolades for their work. Amrita’s “Young Girls” won a gold medal and election as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933. Frida was acclaimed for her “Birth of Moses” a complex surreal masterpiece invoking Spanish grand masters.

Amrita’s art was encouraged by her mother but she dressed in a sari. Frida’s art was groomed by her father but she donned her mother’s attire symbolic of common life. 

Both artists became National treasures. Amrita became the most important modern artist of the 20thcentury from India and Frida established herself style distinct from her husband’s. Kahlo’s paintings attracted international acclaim following her death. Her work continued to resonate with Frida, a 1983 book by Hayden Herrera, and the 2002 biopic with Salma Hayek. Amrita’s paintings are in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

My Aunt Tripta

Tripta Sareen was my aunt who reminded me of Amrita Sher-Gil. It was her, who sparked my research of both these artists. She had her hair in braids, twinkling eyes and generous smile. She wore a red bindi and colorful Punjabi juttis. A soulful poetess, she  tried to adjust to the banality of domesticity. Tripta lives on in her poems. She enjoyed teaching the literary arts in Chandigarh till her final breath.

Their paintings and portraits luminesce in my heart, as I tiptoe in the wake of their glory.

Monita Soni is a pathologist and helps diagnose cancer. Her writing style weaves Eastern and Western cultures. You can hear her commentaries on WLRH-Sundial Writers corner and on “All Things Considered.”

U.S. Bank Recognizes Young Artists in San Francisco

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year, we celebrated the occasion in San Francisco with an integrated marketing campaign, including sponsorship of the Asian Pacific Fund’s “Growing Up Asian in America” art contest.

Community Development Regional Manager Michelle Brega served as a judge for the contest and presented the awards on May 5, 2018, on behalf of U.S. Bank. “It meant a lot that we made the commitment,” she says. “I’m thrilled the bank sponsored the event.

“I was misty-eyed the entire ceremony as I juggled both the themes of the day and the emotions that it evoked,” she continues. “The youth voices were moving, powerful and optimistic. They spoke on complex themes and shared deeply personal stories.

One of the contest winners, Emma Li, was moved by the gender inequities she sees in the world, from kids’ movies to Congress. Her artwork, titled “Women of the Future,” symbolized her hope for what’s to come.

“We still have a long way to go for women to reach parity with men, even in the US,” Emma said in her acceptance speech. “It is reflected even in popular kids’ movies! In The Smurfs, male smurfs outnumber the girl 100 to 1. At school, I discovered that women have a much lower average salary than men. There has been no woman president, and less than one-fourth of the US congress are women! In addition, in US universities, only 24 percent of full professors are women.

“I have a dream that someday there will be a female president, a woman astronaut on Mars, more women winning Nobel prizes and all people of all genders having equal opportunities,” she continued. “Finally, the glass ceiling will be shattered!”

The winners inspired Michelle and reminded her of her own childhood, growing up Asian in Maryland. “I did not feel as confident or supported as these children do today. I am overjoyed that they’ll carry their communities into the future with such passion and optimism, and hope all of us will support all of our youth in their commitment to make community possible.”

See more of the winning entries here.


South India Fine Arts: Spring 2018 Season

South India Fine Arts (SIFA), is the premier organization in San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and presentation of South Indian fine arts. SIFA is proud to present its Spring 2018 Season artists.

We started off the Spring 2018 Seasion in February by celebrating Saint Thyagaraja’s Aradhana. A lot of talented local Bay Area artists and Bay Area Music/Dance Schools presented their tribute by presenting various Kritis of Saint Thyagaraja. Check out our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/carnaticmusicbayarea/ for photos/videos from this program.

We kick off April with a concert by the dynamic duo – Dr. Krishnakumar and Smt. Binni Krishnakumar, followed by amellifluous Flute concert by Shri. Shashank Subramanyam.

In May, we have a blockbuster Vocal concert by one of the giants in Carnatic Music — the great Shri T. V. Sankaranarayan, followed by a scintillating performance by the dynamic duo – Shri Ganesh and Shri Kumaresh on the Violin.

In June, we present a grand Vocal concert by Shri Palghat Ramprasad, the grandson of the legendary Mridangam player Palghat Mani Iyer.

In July, we have a divine Harikatha / Music Discourse by Harikatha exponent, Shri. Dushyanth Sridhar. We have also planned for an enchanting evening with a Vocal concert by Kum. Pragathi Guruprasad, who was the runner-up in the third season of the reality-based singing competition Airtel Super Singer Junior.

SIFA is super excited to present the above line up of artists and hopes that all rasikas would attend and enjoy the above concerts. We also would like to remind that SIFA sponsors get FREE admission to most concerts.

Please signup for Sponsorship here: https://care.way.com/#/public/13492

For the latest Concert information, including artists information, venue, timing and other details, please check our website http://www.southindiafinearts.org.