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.
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.
Like other performance artists, dancers and dance instructors depend on human interaction to convey their artistry to their audience. COVID situation presents unique challenges for dance instructors. Most dance teachers have had to replace their studio-based classes with online sessions, in line with the “stay-at-home” state guidelines. As they move their classes online, they are finding innovative ways to keep their audience and students engaged.
I am an Indian dance instructor based in the Greater Seattle area, teaching Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance. As I have transitioned my classes to Zoom, it has been somewhat of a challenge due to various technical issues, as you can imagine.
Some funny moments arise from online classes:
Recently I have noticed a funny development…
My students were performing their mudras (hand motions) while chanting Sanskrit shlokas. As most of my younger students are US-born and lack fluency in their native tongues, I take time after each class to make them practice both the mudras and their accompanying shlokas. I teach my classes on a laptop connected to a large flat screen tv, with the sound ramped up. My daughters join me for some of the classes too and we perform together.
My husband, who is an IT professional, sometimes sits and works in the adjacent kitchen area while I take classes. It seems that our shloka recitations have started affecting him too, as I can hear him repeating the mudras with us as we practice. During one of my online classes, I remember quizzing my students. “What is this mudra?”, I asked. “Kartarimukhaha” (a scissors shaped hand gesture), chipped my husband before the student could answer. The students and parents attending the call broke out laughing. He keeps humming these shlokas as he works around the house these days. I successfully implanted the Shloka bug in him finally after 16 years of our marriage during lockdown!
In another incident, two adorable sisters, Aleyssa(8) and Ameyssa (5), were in the middle of their online Bharatanatyam class, working on a movement called “Araimandi” (a half-sitting posture where the dancer creates a typical diamond shape with her legs). As Alyessa was practicing, her Labradoodle, Sugar, decided to run through her legs. She took it in stride and exclaimed that Sugar was her “Horsey!” So, in the middle of our class, there was my student, Aleyssa, riding atop her dog Sugar, like a princess on her horse! This ended when her 5-year-old sister, Ameyssa, came and held sugar’s ears and finally managed to stop her. Usually, an online session is very stressful for both teacher and student, but this incident made me laugh and brought in a much-needed bit of joy in this pandemic crazy homestay.
I am also inspired on a regular basis by my adult students. Most of them have kids at home and have to squeeze out time out of their daily schedules to attend classes.
My student, Pallabi, has two active girls aged 4 and 7. Normally, when Pallabi would attend Bharatanatyam class, her daughters would play at the church nursery or at the park. After I moved the classes online, Pallabi decided to continue attending the online sessions. One day she was learning a complicated travel and sidestep, where she was trying to create a V shape on the ground with her feet, and as she danced, both her little girls were using that V-shape as a zig-zag path to run around.
How she learned that complicated step amidst all the chaos that was going on at her home, is beyond me. This is funny as well motivating too, as it shows that if we are resolute in our focus, no chaos can be considered as an excuse.
I have also started teaching Bollywood dance lessons. I am currently teaching a sequence of Warrior queens from Period Bollywood musicals. For these lessons, students need to use props as swords. We were about to order these props and distribute them to the students but the lockdown came about before I could hand them over. However, the energy and positivity of my senior students came to the rescue. They decided to meet online and finish learning that sequence. For the prop swords, they turned to whatever they could get their hands upon in their respective homes. One took a rolling pin from the kitchen, another picked up her husband’s cricket game stick. Someone else picked up her kid’s toy arrow from a bow and arrow set, and another person grabbed a Jedi’s sword from her son’s desk.
I am blessed to have these passionate people in my life. When I moved my classes online, I offered a discounted fee structure. However, all my students waived off these discounts and they pay the full fee amounts as they all think that more labor and prep time is involved in teaching online classes. I decided to contribute some of these earnings to other artistic communities, as a way of giving back.
Theatres, auditoriums, and other dance studios shut down across the country in response to COVID-19. Many studios are quickly exploring the option of teaching classes online. Many non-profit studios are asking for donations to help them stay afloat. Being a freelance Indian dance instructor with a decent IT job, I decided to donate online dance earnings to a dance studio named “Da Vinci”, which always provided space to people like us to continue our passion.
As the world continues an uncertain battle against the invisible COVID-19 virus, performing art communities worldwide have been among the first to be affected due to restrictions on public gatherings and concerts. The virtual world is flooded today with free offerings of all kinds of art, movies, museum tours, music festivals, dance concerts, music festivals, to keep up the morale of the world as it copes with the lockdown and the cultural climate. As a society, we need to help the arts survive as it helps with inner healing.
Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps.
COVD-19 has caused worldwide concerns in the higher education space, especially in the middle of the ongoing decline in the number of international students studying at American universities. They are losing billions of dollars as reported in the March 2020 report of ‘NAFSA: Association of International Educators.’ There has been discussion on how it has impacted schools, colleges, next admission cycle, financial funding, how teachers are told to teach online. Most of the universities have moved to online teaching.
Some, like Boston University, are considering the possible postponement of their Fall 2020 semester, which will again put International students at higher risk because if they are not enrolled for a specific number of credits during a semester, they will not meet the visa regulations, initiating possible deportation proceedings against them. However, these are not the only challenges international students are going through, there are many more things we need to think about as we move forward.
Take financial insecurity. Many of my American friends don’t know that International students are only allowed to work on campus for a limited number of hours to support themselves financially. These hours are further reduced during the summer semester for international students. Due to this unprecedented situation, international students are worried about how they will earn their livelihood and pay their bills with campuses closed.
Traveling is extremely expensive at this point. Canada, India, and many European countries are on complete lockdown. International travel is expensive, and that is why international students choose to go annually or biannually.
Someone I know can afford tuition fees, but they depend entirely on their on-campus cafe’s job to pay bills. In these extremely uncertain times, the educational institutions are doing their best to offer most of their classes online, providing free food, supplies, and virtual support, but this is a temporary solution. International students have sustained the economy of American Universities and though international students may not be citizens or permanent citizens, they pay similar kinds of taxes on their income; another contribution to the US economy that has been impacted.
I have been worried about my friends and family. I am not at home to take care of my parents, and to seek solace, I have been talking to other international students. I realized that I am not alone, we are all stressed. One lost their family member, a few have economic challenges, my friend’s elderly parents are alone without any help. We do not know if traveling is safe, from both, an immigration and health point of view.
Many students have invested their hard-earned resources for a dream to earn their degrees from America. University of Chicago’s Business Professor and Economist Anil Kashyap and Jean-Pierre Danthine at the Paris School of Economics are predicting a massive recession that will likely hit the job market shortly, which would be again detrimental for international students trying to find a job. Graduate students who are joining US schools from Fall 2020 also see an uncertain future because after they graduate in two or five years, depending upon what degree they are pursuing, may not have a stable economy waiting to welcome them.
This situation is of global concern and everyone should take steps that are guided by morality and compassion. The American economy has benefited immensely from the contribution of immigrants. Far from home, they don’t have much direct physical support, unlike most other students, and everyone should come forward with a different approach to meet our challenges.
Saurabh Anand is an international Ph.D. student and a Graduate School Research Assistantship Block Grant (GSRA) fellow in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of Georgia. A version of this article was first published in Duluth News Tribune.
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This Indian-Born Designer Is Helping Military Families Across America
Founder Sheena Newman launched the company as a need to create beautifully designed spaces at an affordable price. As the wife of a Marine Corps officer, the couple moved over six times in the span of three years. As a result, Sheena had to find a way to make each new house feel like home. With the cost of hiring a traditional interior designer out of the question, Sheena launched Apartment 73 – a simple, fast and affordable alternative.
Seeing tremendous success in such a short amount of time, Apartment 73 launched their Military Discount Program, where any military member or veteran can receive 50% off Apartment 73’s interior design services. “As the wife of a Marine, I understand the need make each new place feel like home. It’s my privilege to provide professional interior design services for the families who sacrifice so much,” said Newman.
Extremely organized and design obsessed, Sheena grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. She is the daughter of a dentist and an aerospace engineer, and the older sister to an attorney. She had the opportunity to explore the arts at an early age thanks to a progressive academic curriculum and parents who championed creative pursuits such as figure skating, drawing, sewing and an endless array of crafts. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree from UCLA followed by a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (M.B.A) from Northeastern University. Soon after graduating from business school, Sheena met her husband and together they began investing in and re-designing real estate properties throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
Apartment 73 is an online interior design and decorating company. For a one-time flat fee, the platform allows users to work virtually one-on-one with a professional interior designer to create a beautifully designed space. The final design includes everything the user needs to set up their room including: a style board, floor plan and click n’ buy shopping list. Within a few days, the professional interior designer creates a beautiful and functional space, no matter what the user’s budget or style is.
Apartment 73 utilizes a curated team of in-house interior designers to give each user a more personalized experience. In addition, with access to over 250,000 online brands and products they provide stunning interior design for a fraction of the cost of a traditional interior designer.