Towards the end of the year 2016, I started searching for things that looked like the symbol ॐ in nature and in manmade structures. As you may already know,ॐ, which is pronounced “Om”, is a very sacred symbol for Hindus.
Initially, I did not find anything natural or manmade that looked like ॐ, 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:
Find an image in your environment or online that reminds you of the people you love.
Using crayons or paint and brush, add to and make changes to the image and create a greeting card with your own message.
Your greeting card can be one-sided or two-sided and can be as small or as big as you want it to be.
If you have the necessary software, you can also create the greeting card on your computer.
Take a picture of the greeting card that you created. Take pictures of both sides if your greeting card is two-sided.
The deadline for submission is Sunday, February 28, 2021.
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.
Anyone that participates in this challenge will be entered in a raffle forArt Supplies!
Guess what I saw in the parking lot one day when I returned to the apartment complex where I live?
Yes, you are correct if you guessed “The image in the photo.”
There are a few ducks in the apartment complex near me and to me, it looks like the image in the photo was formed by duck droppings.
Look at the image with your children or grandchildren, and discuss what the image looks like. There are no right or wrong answers, only your answers.
Here is the challenge for this month:
Walk around in a safe area with your children or grandchildren, and find images that are formed by bird droppings, or smudges or leaks or spills of some kind. Surfaces that people walk on are good places to start looking for patterns that look like art. Anyone is welcome to submit but we encourage those under 18 to attempt the challenge!
Using the camera in your smartphone, take a picture of the art-like image you find. Try to find something on the ground that isn’t an obvious object.
Provide a title for the image in your photo and explain what you think it looks like.
You can also submit your explanation of what the image in my photo looks like. I will tell you what I think the image looks like after I hear from you.
Send the image, title, and possible explanation to: email@example.com by Dec. 31st!
Use the email header: Art That People Step On – Submission
India Currents will feature selected photos in a future issue and all who send submissions will be entered in a raffle for Art Supplies!
Have fun, and be safe. Adult supervision is strongly recommended.
While walking, have you ever walked around or over a spot that looks dirty because of leaks, spills, smudges, or splatter? How about bird poop?
The next time you come across what looks like a dirty area, don’t just keep walking. Stop and look, and have your smartphone camera ready. You will be surprised to find patterns that look like art in the area that looks like it should be avoided.
I initially started looking for patterns in nature and on paved surfaces, walls, and in other manmade objects that looked like the symbol ॐ“or “OM”, which is a symbol that has religious and spiritual significance for Hindus. I only found two patterns that looked somewhat like ॐ. .”
At the end of the year 2016, I started noticing other patterns in spills, leaks, stains, smudges, splatter, spit, and weathered, eroded, and repaired portions of sidewalks and other paved and semi-paved areas that people generally step on without paying much attention. To my curious mind and eyes, some of the patterns looked like works of art. Soon I started noticing more and more ‘works of art’ as I walked on paved, semi-paved, and unpaved surfaces. Using the camera on my smartphone, I started taking pictures of the artistic patterns observed.
I, now, have a growing collection of photos called “Art That People Step On” and am able to quickly spot art-like patterns in dirty-looking areas on surfaces.
Some of the skills used to identify patterns of art in what appears to be dirty-looking areas include focused observation, identifying patterns, making connections, rotational visualization, asking questions, curiosity, and imagination.
Viewers’ interpretations of what the pictures are and the artist’s interpretations may be quite different, and this is perfectly okay. Everyone perceives things differently, based on their prior knowledge, experiences, and cultural perspectives.
If the pictures provoke some conversations among strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family members who view them, I will be happy.
Photos from the “Art That People Step On” collection have been exhibited at the Beverly Hills art show in May 2019, October 2019, and October 2020. During the show in October 2020, one photo was awarded the Third Place ribbon by the judges and also won the People’s Choice Award in the Photography category.
Why don’t you try your hand at it? What would you title this picture?
Dr. Mandayam Osuri Thirunarayanan was born in Madras, India. He became a citizen of the United States and currently lives in Miami, Florida.
It is a disheartening reality we live in where people won’t attend protests in their community due to misinformation. The reporting and headlines have highlighted the few instances of violence, instances that may have nothing to do with the protest itself. I was also very hesitant about going to the protests in my community. I saw news channels, YouTube videos, and articles all over the internet explaining how violent these protests are.
I wanted to take photos, so against my better judgment, I attended my first protest. Quickly I realized that protests can be very peaceful and that a majority of them are.
At the protest, I was astonished to see so many members of my community come together in solidarity to fight racial injustices in our nation. I had expected to see students, young adults, and the black people in my community show up to the protest, but to my surprise, I saw Indians and Asians in my community show up as allies as well. I have never seen these many Indians and Asians in my community actively speak out about the racial injustices within the black community. It was really empowering to see older members of my community come together in solidarity.
My photo journey began as we marched around the city. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to capture. I took shots of people marching peacefully around our community and different protest signs.
One picture stood out to me as I went through my camera roll. It was of a speaker, carrying an Indian flag and advocating for Indians to help their black brothers and sisters.
The theme of Indian allyship continued.
One speaker was a middle-aged, first-generation Indian man who helped black men and women out of the judicial system in Oakland. He talked about how the Indian community needs to be there for their black brothers and sisters because, without them, many immigrants wouldn’t be here today.
The Immigration Act of 1965, the law that allowed many of our own parents to come to the United States, was made possible because of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without black people fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights Movement, there would be no Asian-Americans in the United States.
He then spoke about the model minority myth. The model minority myth is the notion that since Asian-Americans are doing well in the United States, all minorities should be able to achieve the same level of success, perpetuating that racism does not exist. But as the name states, this is just a myth.
He concluded by talking about the biases within the Indian community. There is a stigma within the Indian community about dark-colored skin. Since the time that India was occupied by the British, Indians have continued to adopt the same beauty standards as the British, i.e lighter skin is more beautiful. Indians actively oppress and chastise those with darker skin. The problem still persists as many celebrities endorse skin bleaching products. This innate bias towards people with lighter complexions has caused a divide between Indians and black people, keeping Indians at an arm’s distance from black people – never allowing us to truly understand them or their struggles.
At the end of his speech, he told us to self-reflect. He asked us, “What can you personally do, with what you have, to make a difference? What type of member do you want to be in this community?”
In this process of self-reflection, I knew that I couldn’t just attend this one protest to fight racial injustice. At that moment, I finally had a purpose for my photos. I can spread awareness about racial injustices by using my current photography platform, Desai Photography, and use it to show others how peaceful protests are and capture the Indian-Americans in my community who are doing their part in supporting the cause.
I will try to influence others that think protesting is inherently dangerous and change their minds, and I want to inspire other Indian-Americans in my community to be allies. I want to make a change and I can start by using my photography as a means to do so.
This is just the beginning…
Ashwin Desai is currently a Junior at Monta Vista High School. He has a passion for photography and business. He also operates as a pro-bono marketing consultant for businesses suffering from COVID and is the marketing lead for a climate change newspaper called theincentive.
What happens when you take a businessman with a keen interest in photography and put him in an artist’s studio? Raj Shahani’s career and creative force is proof that when you live life with a passion, creativity unfurls and takes you soaring upon its wings.
The New York based businessman with a successful career in the finance industry had always nurtured a creative side. Born in Mumbai, to Sindhi parents who held education and stability in high esteem, Raj was raised with a firm belief that a career must be a means to financial security. His early attempts at art were considered a distraction from his studies. He does not remember being exposed to much art, except for one instance when he saw the famed sculptor Auguste Rodin’s work on display. This was a moment he took with him as his life coursed through various career paths onwards to New York.
Having made a decision to retire upon turning 50, he decided to pursue all the things that inspired him creatively. Photography had remained with him throughout his career mostly as a keen hobby. Now free to explore other avenues, he took a sculpting workshop at the Art Students League in New York. And that was the beginning of a new love affair. This new found passion culminated in his first solo exhibit at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai in November 2019, featuring dancers captured in graceful motion through the medium of clay, bronze and fiberglass. He has also recently unveiled a site-specific, contemporary installation titled ‘Jayanti’ in Mcleodgunj, a small village outside Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh – home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
India Currents caught up with Raj Shahaniin Mumbai as he worked on several private commissions.
IC: We live in a world where specialization in a particular field of study carries weight – status – respect – identity. This begs the question – why & how did you choose to leave behind your successful career and change lanes so to speak?
R.S:My parents migrated from Pakistan and went through a lot as they made their life in India. So fiscal responsibility and being able to support your family with what you earned means everything to them. As a boy I loved to paint and draw. But since Art was not considered a viable option, my parents and my school discouraged me from my attempts to pursue it. I am a parent now, and I understand where they were coming from!
I ended up majoring in Chemistry and then went on to other things. More and more I was left with a feeling that I wanted to retire at the age of 50. But after that what? All I knew was that I wanted to do something which was not dictated by others. I had never envisioned making art, and only pursued photography as a hobby. Until I stumbled upon sculpting. It became an obsession!
IC: Did you see yourself working towards a goal while you were exploring sculpting?
R.S:There was no plan. I just lost myself in the studios sculpting for hours every day! The human form came easily to me, maybe because I have taken so many pictures of people. The form is ingrained in my head and I could translate it into clay. But the results were only for me. I did not intend to show it publicly. Friends urged me to show my work and I remember thinking “what a crazy idea”!
IC:I ask this question of all artists. How difficult was the idea of monetizing your work?
R.S:I haven’t accepted it as yet! While curating my work at the Jehangir Art Gallery, I wanted to keep all of it – could not let go! Even though I understand money and finance, it is very different when it comes to putting a dollar value to what I create. I cannot believe the response to my work! This is still something I am learning to deal with.
IC:Your show at Jehangir Art Gallery titled ‘Caesura/Continuum’ is a celebratory series of the human form captured in the course of executing ballet movements. The work is crisp, highly detailed, and has a wonderful, lyrical tension in some of the pieces. Tell us about your journey with this series.R.S:I don’t see my sculptures ‘ballet dancers’ – I know that the dance form is ballet, but I have tried to go beyond it. Forms and people are very important. It is more about the emotion, the story behind that moment. The captured moment is just part of that overall story. In my head, the shapes have feelings. The movement, the tension, the emotion on their faces tell a lot more than the dance form itself. Ballet is the medium used to tell that story! It is a very spiritual experience although not in a godly sense. It is meant to transport you into that story – into that world, as a viewer.
IC:How much of your work is colored by that exhibition of Rodin’s work you attended as a boy?
R.S: As a kid growing up in Mumbai, we didn’t have much exposure to art or sculpture. At that time I remember going to an exhibition featuring Rodin’s work. I had never seen work on that scale in my life! So it made a definite impact. Having never had formal art training, that first exposure stayed with me.
IC:Tell us about your recent work,‘Jayanti’, the 17 foot site-specific permanent installation situated Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh. Both the sculpture and the location – a place famed for its Buddhist spirituality – are intriguing.
R.S:I was at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Dharamshala talking to the architects because they were interested in showcasing a series of photographs I had taken of Buddhist monks. The beauty of the locale inspired me to visualize ‘Jayanti’ – which is not a creation, but an energy. It has always existed in that place. I just let my inspiration reflect that energy, giving back and enhancing what was already present. It is like holding a mirror to what exists.
IC:Your use of the word ‘mirror’ pretty much says it all! ‘Jayanti’ is highly reflective in the choice of materials you have used. It seems almost otherworldly, somehow placed in that area amidst the lushness of nature. How do you go from sculpting the human body in its lyrical and exquisite complexity to creating something like ‘Jayanti’?
R.S:Like I said before, ‘Jayanti’ has always existed as Energy in that place. She is the monolithic, Mother Goddess of Dharamshala who has been worshipped for all time. Jayanti is in the trees, the flowers, the beauty of the place itself. The sculpture is made of mirror-polished steel. It is multi-faceted, like a precious gem. You are meant to drive or walk around the installation. The form reflects different things as you drive around it, including the viewers themselves. So for me, it is more of a feeling, an experience. And a conceptual homage to Dharamshala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
It also carries a Sanskrit shloka inscribed on its reflective facets – a tribute to the Goddess Jayanti.
IC:What next? Which aspect of life & creativity do you intend to explore?
R.S:I am currently working on commissions and enjoying that process. Inspiration comes from everyday things that make me happy. I don’t have the constraints of being dictated to by the world around me, which is a blessing! So, for now, I just want to create. There is a hunger within me which lets me vent out my creativity in new and exciting ways.
It is a little like jumping off a bridge and feeling the wind in my face… while knowing that I will hit the water eventually! In the meantime, it is all about the present moment! All about the NOW! And about experiencing the wind in my face!
The installation ‘Jayanti’ is part of Hyatt Regency, Mcleodgunj’s permanent collection, paying tribute and homage to the ethos that is part of its fame.
India Currents wishes Raj Shahani many more travels along uncharted paths, drinking from the well of creativity.
Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.