Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Last evening in Delhi - soon flying to London

      There's something unreal about this day/evening in Delhi that's ushering in the close of this South Asia journey that began not simply by my arrival in Delhi on January 18, but over those 18 months previously when I'd fallen into the swirl of the planning stage. Not to say that I expect any letdown when I get home on April 7 after one final week in London. Two days later I'll be performing my new mask tale, "Hena Ackter's memorial." Besides falling back into my life in Connecticut, past experience tells me that reflections from the journey will be creeping into my mind and being for years to come. India remains a dense country where while it's easy to get into the rhythm of days, the input covered a broad spectrum of people (especially with all where I've been), and though there have also been the quiet moments with my watching the leaves of trees waft in the breeze with the occasional surprise of a peacock or monkey coming into view, the layers of the experience call out for a leisured accounting. I'll be reflecting and filtering this trip through the lens of my life and the other visits from 1976-77, Women's International Year to now.
     That first trip, with daughter Janet entailed travel throughout the country, while yes making welded masks, creating Indian mask tales, studying religious lore and legends and taking in that first immersion. Still I've yet to visit Kashmir nor the Indian Himalayas (though the two trips to Nepal have given a glimpse). It's surely a different India now. I'm grateful to have pictures in my mind of those past times. For India being a country of the young, I remember an India that so many here have never seen with being born well afterwards and knowing only the India that's changing and growing at the quickened pace.
      I haven't come upon one Sadhu this time round with my otherwise activities and current proclivity towards modern India, I haven't quested in that direction though in the past, there was the unforgettable one at Bhubanashwar. I'd also encountered Sai Baba outside Bangalore about that time and years later, Mother Meera surprisingly outside Frankfort, Germany. My yoga and meditation practices  have spanned decades and so become an integrated American discipline. Over three million Americans are practicing daily or nearly so. While I've been sounding my OMs at the end of my daily set of Asanas, I've been bringing my America here too.
      Yes, India has changed and grown, as has Dhaka in Bangladesh. On the outside, it's the traffic that is the greatest snarl, and I've spent many long hours in such passage. The buildings, and yes, there are so many new ones from the mundane to the grand that can quickly take on the patina of age with India's harsh weather spreading black mold on the cement and stuccoed facades. All things new also get  layers of trash regularly dropped by negligent passers by and seemingly unnoticed or perhaps accepted in the Buddhist way of not letting such things trouble the spirit or mind. Is that unfair? Why else are there no municipal workers cleaning it up? Why else are there so few trash baskets (I'm told they are swiftly stolen).
     One could focus on the squalor, and now that the heat has come, the innervation that overtakes in the course of the day. But not I. Though glimpses don't escape me, for example as I've picked my way, even by Caunnaught Circle in Delhi, over broken pavements and irregular steps, I've also spotted the ever present profusion of red blossoming bougainvillea, or a small tree pushing up between pavement tiles, representing for me the inexorable push of undying beauty that's here in the very air that settles down with its ever present dust emitting a fragrance that even sidesteps the air pollution. There's something in the stillness, and when it comes upon me, as it does indeed  between the crush and rush that's here too, the stillness is as a rare drug. It reminds me of the sense that permeates the air in Taos, New Mexico at the Indian reservation. Of course it's different in India, but surely I get the sense that those centuries of souls come and gone have left something here that adds to the stillness. India is after all a country where the spiritual is lifted high.
     Yet, I also remember in Israel, going to a site where there had been a battle against encroaching Egyptian forces. The Israelis fighters were bivouacked on a hill with only a few guns, yet they prevailed. That site of carnage so amazed me because when I climbed upon the hill, there was an overwhelming sense of peace, a greater peace than I'd ever felt before. Aftermath I thought, who knows what palable experience leaves behind. I've never been to Gettysburg cemetery and now wonder what that's like? Or Dunkirk for example? I ask, is it is also the centuries of India's impoverished who have also added to the uncanny stillness?
      Most importantly now. the beggars are few as are the sleepers on the ground. In the 1970's the sight of dying babies on the pavement and beggars suffering an array of the afflicted with the host of then traditional India maladies, those were haunting  visions clearly revealing the extremities that life can descend to, while on the other hand, history, beauty, majesty, and wealth sang out and still do.
      I'm mostly encouraged by the changes in women, and in the awareness of their position, their needs, their struggles, and their triumphs. Even here at the Sanscriti residency, there's a "Gender" workshop currently going on and in speaking with some of the women was told that the younger women are coming to the fore with great energy and enthusiasm.
      Having not written in this blog since March 13, I've not yet recounted my March 20-24 days in Jaipur with Sevanti Roy, my former student from Santiniketan and now wonderfully gifted fabric designer whose upcoming line I was privileged to witness taking shape. Sevanti wants to make scarves using the images of my Indian monoprints. Wat a great collaboration that will be, and likely bring me back again.
      Jaipur is a tourist city and if not now, with my having so much to tell about my stay in Mumbai March 24-30, I'll later tell you about the Sharma Museum, the wonderful people I met through Dadi Padumsee (friend of Leslee Asch our Silvermine Guild Executive Director) and Sevanti. Yes, I ate in Marharaji palaces turned into hotels, even swam one afternoon (so needed for this normally twice a week mile swimmer at the Wilton Y), and ate lunch at Anokhi where the food is organic and salads (even heavenly arugula) are safe. Yes, I yielded to the shopper who remembered all those at home hoping for some India treasure, and was brought by my driver to a factory where that indulgence is scheduled to arrive by my return next month.
     I'm always late with my photos because I write in this blog before I've downloaded all my pictures so you'll have to wait for the photos from my workshops through NGOs in Mumbai. Organized by the American Center there, they were conducted at various sites (without air conditioning). My workshop participants included poor women who were part of a clothing collective; children of prostitutes and women saved from trafficking, children at a municipal school partnered with CHIP the NGO that improves the physical facility. At that workshop site, they'd put in a gate assuring security with guards, added a grassy ground for play and cemented the dirt plaza off the classrooms. They also pay for the children's uniforms, and meals, and have bring in many volunteers from other countries and India to help. After school, most of the children go back to the slum dwellings that skirted the school.
     I also worked with teachers from the municipal schools; and women who signed up for my Secret Future Workshop at a local YMCA that normally gives classes in marketable skills, like an electrician course, and provides a playground for children among its many offerings. My workshop was a new experience for those women, asking them to consider their futures, their hopes and dreams, write about what they have overcome in their lives, and in fairy tale fashion we ended with their listing three wishes before sealing their envelopes that represent on the outside how they imagine themselves to be seen and on the inside, how they want to feel within. They stapled their envelopes closed to be opened again in eighteen months. Meanwhile, they will put theirs in a drawer to come upon from time to time and giving them a chance to reflect on their hopes and dreams. When I did that workshop with the municipal school teachers, one said that she never considered that planning and thinking about the future could actually be fun whereas she'd previously looked upon it with dread.
     The most remarkable and exciting workshop was the mask story workshop with the children of prostitutes and women saved from trafficking (there was one Nepali girl who gave me a beautiful smile when I asked if she was Nepali).They were fabulous - imaginative, reflective, wise young people. Hmmm - what does that tell us? The 38 kids in the workshop are all going to school - 5th to 10th grade. They study English too. One boy in particular stood out among the rest. When I was putting the staples in their masks to have them shaped to their faces, this boy, likely in the 8th to 10th grade came up with a green scary mask. He had cut out irregular teeth in the mouth and it gave his mask a sinister look. That in and of itself was innovative compared to the others. I said to him, "Ooh, I hope you won't get into trouble." Then I said, "I'm going to sweeten your mask." and then proceeded to make folds on each side of the mouth turning it into sort of a smile. It did very much soften the appearance while not doing away with its strength. He said to the boy next to him, "Sweetened my mask." Then, when the time came for each group of five to select one who would tell their stories (I had asked for them to give qualities of what they wanted for themselves in their future), this boy had put all of the masks one atop the other on his face. I pointed to him to start and he gave the name of each student and the qualities that oftentimes included what they wanted to be when they grew up. He set the tone for all the other presentations moving his body appropriately for each mask. At the close of the workshop, I asked what they liked about it and that boy spoke twice, first saying that he was amazed to hear all the qualities and what the children wanted to be, especially the boy who wanted to become an animal scientist. He went on to say that he now realized that he can become any of those things too, and adopt the qualities (kind, loyal, etc.) into his own life. Then at the very close he spoke again and said, "This mask won't last a long time, but what I learned today I will never forget." I felt at that moment, hearing him speak that if that workshop was all I did the entire time in South Asia, as said in Jewish scripture, "It would have been sufficient." Tears came to my eyes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tsunami, Sanskriti residency, Jaipur

     We have a Japanese artist here at the residency. She hasn't lived in Japan for some years- teaches Graphic Design in Seattle. After the tsunami, she couldn't reach friends or relatives in Japan. Then, she got a high fever and was holed up in her studio for a day without eating. We worried about her not answering when we called into her studio. Finally she got through to Japan. Now says things in Tokyo are fine. Seems to be in some level of denial. Her home town is far away from the nuclear plants. Is that the way it is for some people? Most people? Have to confess I kept packing my suitcases for Jaipur  in between checking the news on my computer. Couldn't bear to watch any of the videos on the catastrophe - so hard. Yet, here in India, I see the "hard" nearly every day.

    Tonight a group tour came to visit the residency, its museum and ceramic workshop. They are a group of about fifty Colorado College alums and parents of students. The flute music drew me out of my studio. The trees on the grounds were decorated with hanging leis of marigolds. Cut rose blossoms sat in water in bowls on each table. The air was delightfully cool. The food was great. Even strawberry ice cream. I had two helpings - the heck with the carbs. They are staying at the Oberoi. Doing 12 days of constant going/seeing and whatever. One woman told me of her shock in seeing a little girl begging with a baby in her arms. Fears she will be haunted by the image. Got a massage and was told to let it go, to do good deeds. They will filter into the world and make things better.I told her that in the 1975-6 there were babies dying in the streets and rings of beggars would surround you when you stepped into the street.
    They came yesterday so still must have jet lag. Were very friendly. OP Jain's grandson spoke to the group. Elegant man just back from the Kennedy School of Gov't in Cambridge. Lucky him. When I was a resident artist at Harvard I went to a panel talk there with Ted Kennedy on the panel. Fascinating to see POWER walk in and talk.
And, here's a quote from the Sunday NY Times Magazine section:
“I think the chance of finding beauty is higher if you don’t work on it directly,” Zumthor has said in describing his philosophy. “Beauty in architecture is driven by practicality. This is what you learn from studying the old townscapes of the Swiss farmers. If you do what you should, then at the end there is something, which you can’t explain maybe, but if you are lucky, it has to do with life.”  Peter Zumthor, Swiss architect   (TV interview – slides/comments) (performance photos)  (open studio visit) (monoprint artworks) (mask tale recording)

Winding down in Delhi - saw films by women - powerful, went to a mall, saw "Black Swan" an anti-feminist film.

     Went to a Delhi mall last night - ate Asian Fusion food - what a shock that was after all this India fare. I loved it - great wanton soup, great chicken, great shumai. Karen Ma, Gemma Gorga and I (they are/were Sanskriti writers in residence here) and I then went to see "Black Swan." Don't bother - it's simply awful, a very anti-feminist film (how come that's not been noted, or has it?), written by men with their usual throwback mentality. Alas!
    The theater itself was very nice with red velvet seats that were very comfortable, even able to recline. They're far more comfortable than the airplane seats I've experienced on this trip.
     On the subject of films, last week Karen Ma took me to see two films by women at the India international Center where I performed in 1976, had a show and presentations there in 1993 (and stayed at that heavenly place - or those delicious marsala dosas - yum. yum). One short one was very provocative, calls "Is it a Game" a five minute film of two women playing this traditional/popular Indian game. It was filmed in two episodes. In each one, a woman was on one side of the court with many men grabbing at her to keep her from touching the white line and safety. It's a huge metaphor not only on the harassment women experience at the hands of men,but also on the pulling back of women's progress and the fierce struggle to overcome. From the comments by the men in the audience, it was clear they didn't get it. I realized (and commented on) that they identified with the men's hands on the women's bodies, not on the experience of the women. So, what's a woman to do??
     The featured film that day was "Made in India," about the pregnancy surrogate "industry" in India. Shocking, sad, and weird with a very fat American couple and a small, thin Indian woman carrying their baby (babies actually as it turned out to be twin girls). I recommend it as how else shall we become informed on what has become a billion dollar + industry. The women who carry those babies for America's infertile couples, well their take is minimal! And their risks??????
   Last days in Delhi now off to Jaipur on Tuesday, then Mumbai next Sunday, back to Delhi onthe 28th, take down my show at the American Center and then off to London for a week. All this time - will be seeing friends from last visits and looking at the modern India. So glad I came originally in the 1970's, and again in the 1990's as it gives me a unique perspective. Can't imagine what I'd think if this was my first visit. Well, India as ever is a land of contrasts, and the divide between the rich and the poor is more obvious than ever with the rising middle class becoming dominant.
    With my taking the subway into downtown Delhi very often since my show went up, and oftentimes to the American Center for press interviews and showing the work to interested collectors and folk, I note again and again, the women on the subway in the Women's Car. They are the mix and from all over India (originally from where? or for how many generations in Delhi??). They are working women, students, mostly not married, some married, some in traditional garb and others, the younger ones in jeans and tee shirts.That's' indeed progress for they clearly have more agency that their parents and grandparents who are most often the ones in the more tradtional garb.Many sport totally gorgeous Shalwar Kameez, the short dress with pantalooms. The varieties are truly stunning, and they mostly all sport dupattas/scarves/shawls, always. These women have inspired my "Women's Car" Face Painting. Take a look! Also, note the pic of the pastel, "The Seeing Tree" again with the "leaves" being women's faces - all different also as a nod to India miniature paintings. I'm donating this work to Sanskriti, and asked for it to be placed in the dining room on the side entry wall adjacent to Barbara Rothenberg's wonderful piece.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Going backwards - giving photos from Santiniketan late January

Ok, I've finally figured out a way to get the photos on, and will try to add several. Doing my best. This is the time I spent in Santiniketan early in the trip between days in Kolkata. The town has a lot more traffic, just like every other place in India.and that means hard on the respiritory system. I got sick coming back form seeing a new art center because the auto rickshaw got stuck behind a truck spewing out the worst. Had to cancel an evening event. Anyway, needed the rest with so much going on. Had just given a workshop for Shantali village children at Martin Kampschen's school where now there are 100 children evenly divided between boys and girls. They made "Secret Future" envelopes, putting their hopes and dreams for their future in them and then sealing them, they decided among themselves for six years! Here are some photos from there, and hopefully I'll also be able to show you the clay mask I made at the Kala Bhavan art university in that town, and where I spent a month during my Fulbright time, again giving a clay mask making and storytelling workshop. They showed my film this time, "Masks as a Portal to the World" and then we moved into the ceramic studio for me to demonstrate making a ceramic mask. It's stoneware, a very good clay and Gaushon Das will fire it. It's my gift to the school. The ones I gave in 1993 were no where to be seen.Same with the metal mask I gave to the Sculpture Department, University of Dhaka. Thankfully the Women's Studies Department at Jadavpur University has mounted my Kali Durga Mask above the Department Chair's office.

The show has opened, pressure is off, getting ready in my mind for Jaipur

   Today had a long interview with a journalist from the Times of India - a weekend supplement that seems on a higher level than the rest of the paper. It was supposed to be 15 minutes and we talked for nearly two hours. I also went to the Craft Museum. Daughter Janet and I'd been there in 1977 when it was new and saw stunning tribal wooden sculpture. That's still there and much more including fabulous fabrics.. The exhibits are wonderful and if I'd had more time would have bought some things from the craftspeople who spread out their wares there. They have such a hard sell that it turns me off. First you're supposed to bargain, and then, some of them actually won't so who's to know what to do. I bought a palm leaf drawing.
    Don't think that being in India is paradise for it surely isn't. It's a mix as is all else in life. The traffic is a nightmare and the subway can be very, very crowded. Thank goodness for the women's car. Here at Sanskriti we get a free taxi on Wednesday. My neighbor artist, who is making art from cow patties (the aroma has been wafting its fragrance my way ever since I arrived Feb 15 - and there's been rain to make it more so even though he covers it with tarps). Anyway, today he was to move the patties to the Craft museum where he is installing his structures to be made from them and he had two of the "ladies" who will be helping him join in free the taxi ride to the museum. I sat next to them. They chatted together in Hindi and, alas smelled from handling the patties/putting them in bags for travel to the museum. It was also very hot in the taxi, and there was a traffic jam. Ugh, ugh, I got out earlier at a subway stop and decided it was faster and more fragrant to leave that scene. When I got out of the subway closest to the museum, I got into a three wheel taxi. The driver had a hard time finding the museum but finally did. The women were already there and thought I knew what they were supposed to do. Of course I didn't but brought them to the Director. He just told them to sit down outside. I then pulled out a card written for me by a director of another museum that said I should be given free admission so I was spared the 150 rupee entrance fee (44 rupees to the dollar).
    I enjoyed the interview at the American Center today as the man was intelligent, responsive, and perceptive. We focused on a sampling of the monoprints, Face Paintings and Portrait Boxes for the article,
    New artists have arrived at Sanskriti and I likely won't have time to get to know them as I leave on March 15 for Jaipur. The ones I've gotten to know and enjoy have left. The vegetarian food has become monotonous, but the curd was good tonight and the dal. was delicious. Not always so as it's often spicier than I can handle. In my lust for more protein, I've taken to buying eggs and cooking them in my electric tea pot, and mostly eating lunch out now that my show is up at the American Center. I've been going there for interviews and to meet people who want to see the show and that leaves me near Connaught Place where there are restaurants, shops galore, and a constant and huge crush of people..
   I'm still making new art and it seems to me to be very good, being very different from anything I've done before that's filling me with the sense of surprise. Right now, I'm working on four and soon to be five 24x18 inch sheets of Bristol Board (nice and thick). I've layered both sides, one side with vivid blues, copper color an with some red and the second side just with gel medium to keep the pieces flat. The paint, Acrylic, is water based and could warp the paper if I didn't treat both sides. Whereas with the "Face Paintings" I've obviously filled the page with a large face, that is mostly so as a few of the ten have more than one face. With the new work, I've been keeping an oval in the center, but there is, at least as of yet, no face. The color and sense of the work speaks to me of being more cosmic and in the realms of outer space. I'm now thinking this is coming from the fact that in recent months in my early morning brief meditations, I've been projecting my mind into that realm and amazingly, when I do, my eyes (though closed) become filled with light.
   Getting late now. To get up early enough to do the "Five Tibetan Rites" and my yoga regimen, and then get to breakfast on time, I'll be heading off to sleep now. Trying to attach pics of some of the "Face Paintings." Don't know if I can succeed as the process is still something of a mystery to me. Hooray, I think I did it!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

adding pics now

At last have figured out how to include pics. So, have downloaded a lot from the six weeks already away - Munich, Delhi, Kolkata, Santiniketan, Dhaka, and now Delhi again. Will be putting some on this blog and Facebook. Remember though that I own the copyright so ask permission if you want to pass anything along. Be patient though as it will be a long process to put together.

Have finished a lot of new artwork at Sanskriti, ten new "Face Paintings," three Portrait Boxes, etc. Fulbright House wants a Face Painting. I'll give a monoprint to Sanscriti, and most happily I've already sold one monoprint to a woman from LA visiting Sanskriti with an art tour the other day. What a great start!

Yesterday a group of us were treated to a fragment from otherwise a very lengthy shadow puppet play, performed for us by renowned artisans and performers of India. OP Jain, our Sanskriti benefactor has purchased a goodly amount of shadow puppets, huge ones and over 100 years old. They are truly stunning, colorful and with the many small circles cut out throughout, the light shines through. Am reminded of a Leonard Cohen sentence from one of his songs, "There's a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in". The performance was of the culminating episode when Hanuman routs the evil beasts and beings that were imprisoning Sita. The shouts, stamping, and the vigorous movement of the puppets was exhilerating and not only for us visitors, but clearly when it was over, the performers/artisans were excited too. Then, remembering my own mask tale, the new one about Hena, the 14 year old girl who was raped and beaten to death (an illegal Fatwa) in Dhaka, I pondered on how the use of force, vehement force and cruelty, against always "the evil one" hah, hah shown in these persistent tales prepares the way for the continuation in real life. It must tap into and provide some release for the heavily suppressed hostility that so easily surfaces given the right set of circumstances. Witness now the Middle East.

Alas. I remember an army Colonel confiding that the army needs a war at least once every twenty years so that there can be combat hardened military to pass on the methods and training. Hmmm. Has the quota been filled yet?

Haven't taken the showow puppet photos off my camera yet, so it seems I'll be eternally behind and trying to catch up.After my show opens on Friday, I'll have ten more days at Sanskriti to explore the museums, etc. in Delhi and catch up with getting the photos in place.

For now, hugs from Delhi as my rooms are being cleaned, my laundry hangs on the courtyard line and where peacocks screech in the night sounding like cats in heat. They are pruning the trees on the grounds here. One of the workers gets into the tree, standing on limbs with his bare feet and the others stand below helping to guide the process. Always there is work going on about the grounds, sweeping up, mopping the floors, and on.  And on...

<span>A Bridge Between Cultures</span>
Suzanne Benton: Metal Masks, Monoprints, Portrait Boxes & Face Paintings

American artist Suzanne Benton first worked and traveled in India in 1976 as part of a year long artist’s voyage throughout the world. While having shared her work in 28 countries, India is the land that has truly entered her spirit and her art. Lured back for a fourth art-making/friend connecting South Asia journey, Benton is revisiting the changing light from dawn to dark, the mix of birds, abundant plants, astonishing trees, web of traffic, colorful shops, vibrant displays of patterned fabrics, mix of dusty wares, and most of all, the expressive faces of people. This panoply of images and encounters feeds her art.
With a deep interest in Indian myths and epic poems, she finds delight in naming works after heroes and heroines of the past, names still charged with hope and symbolic meaning and filled with ancient worlds once inhabited. During her March 4-28 exhibition at the American Center, viewers will discover mystical and magical faces in her Metal Masks, Portrait Boxes, and newly created Face Paintings. As a colorist, Benton suffuses her monoprints and works on paper with a meditative power with compositions freely drawing upon Indian miniature painting. Visitors will be rewarded by this dedicated artist’s ability to bridge an American sensibility with a learned Indian sensitivity.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seeing traditional dancing; being here now

     Am doing very well. Yesterday took a much needed afternoon nap. Already finished ten Face paintings, 24x18 inches.
    I'm listening to NPR on the computer! Sanscriti gave me a speaker so I can listen to just about anything on line.
    Today we, that is a group of us Sanskriti artists, are going to see traditional dancing near the Indira Gandhi Art Center in downtown Delhi. We'll take the subway and sit or stand in the "Women's car.". Remembering when daughter Janet and I arrived in Delhi in 1976 and went to see the tribal folk from all over India dancing for the throngs in the stadium. I noticed then that though they were in their traditional costumes and marvelous masks, they'd used their wages to buy sneakers! Wonder if it changed the cadence of their movements at that time? Wonder what it'll be like today? It's outdoors, just as then.
    Beautiful day, sunny and mild. Yesterday again, we had rain! Amazing to have real rain (and even thunder) in Delhi in February. It was the third  day of rain we've had rain since I've been here nearly just a week.Weather report says ten days of creeping warmth coming up. To be in the high 70's by March 2. In the low 70's now.
    This week (it's Monday for me, still Sunday in the USA), my goal is to finish the art that I'll be bringing for my show at the American Center. So far I've more than enough work, but as I have other plans/ideas, I want to get going. The very particular inspiration for these works is in the here and now of being in India. This is the motivation that's carrying me along. I'm showing in a big space so it'll be interesting to see how the show works out with the two masks, the many monoprints, and now the Face Paintings. Will they all work together? Or, will it look like a group show?? Color will be the great unifier, my favorite ochres, sienna, red, turquoise, gold and silver.
    Gemma, a poet from Barcelona and who writes in er native Catalan (though oftentimes translated into many other languages, even Norwegian), asked what is the secret of my productivity. I said, "burning incense." Yes, I've brought Japanese incense with me and have been given some Dhoop sticks giving off the scent of Hindu temples. That surely sets my mood as I'm moving into the work. What else? Images  keep flowing through my dreams after each day's encounters. The expressions of people I've seen and talked with are filtering into those "Face Paintings." It's seemingly flowing out of me. I feel that I'm being assisted by mysterious forces along the way.
     It's idyllic here, especially with the other artists working away in their own studios. What could be more inspiring than happily working for a show in a land that's already filled my heart and mind with images and the richness of daily surprises? And, memories, memories. I'm so glad I came way back in the 1970's,and 1990's. It's let me in on secrets of those past times in an India then when so many in the country now were not even born. It's a country of the young and beautiful. It's easy to be here now, but way back when, babies were dying on the streets and desperate beggars would beseechingly surround us. Each visit has shown a lessening of those tragic visages, and now, barely at all. That's surely progress that stands beside those endless high rise buildings going up for the newly wealthy middle class and beyond.Gives hope to the world, and as we hear of even the Middle East rising up for democracy, surely we can imagine applauding a future that is yet to be. Being still in India, I have to confess that the electricity has gone off, now own again, but the Web has kept me on line.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Here at Sanscriti again -making art and feeling completely at home

Am indeed settled and making good work here at Sanskriti artist residency in Delhi. Absolutely love being here. It's peaceful and so very wonderful to have the company of other artists so close by. All are from America except for an Irishman. The woman from Jamaica is an architect living in Atlanta. It's great to travel into Delhi with this delightful crew. They've all been here a while and know their way about. It  feels like family. We went to an art opening last evening for American Artist Lesleigh Goldberg. She sold her Soho studio at the high, bought a flat in Paris that she's renting out to cover her living costs in India. She makes digital prints from photographs, a composite of classical - mostly Italian renaissance images reconfigured into her proclivities. Met many Indian artists who want to come to my show. Hope they will (and with your people Gillian, that will be grand!).
    The bed here is hard, but beautiful, and the shower is pathetic. I'm using the bucket. It's so much easier. There is hot water.
    The grounds are glorious. Beautiful trees, flowering bushes and hanging plants. Large traditional Indian ceramics of figures, horses and cows are all about. Two artisans are working here now and making more of them. Pankaj says they are the best in India. Pankaj is very lively and is being a wonderful help with my settling in. I now have a table in my stone-walled back yard. The light in the studio is minimal so it's great to bring work outside to see in the full light, and to spray with fixative (bought that at the art supply store the other day).
    Munilal came to work at Sanascriti when it first opened. He remembers Barbara Rothenberg (she and I were here on our Fulbrights 1992-3) at that time. We were both invited to come and she was able to. My time was more fixed. Two of her artworks are on the walls, one in the entry was and another in the dining room. Helps me feel at home to see her artworks every day.
    Feeling comfortably peaceful and centered. Great to have my art materials all laid out. My foresight was good, having brought the art supplies I need to keep going. Am now making "Face" paintings , 24x18 inches each. One is smaller. Have finished four (more or less - let's see if tomorrow brings ideas for changes) and am planning for seven more. Then, the Portrait Boxes. I wonder if anyone pose for me? Otherwise I'll put my photos on the computer, stare at them, and pick three friends to work from. 
     I've brought some large handmade paper with me and have ideas of working with the earth powder colors and large pastels I bought in Munich. Happily, I have Liquin. When we went to the art supply store in Delhi day before yesterday, I bought Sansodar, a very low odor solvent, the best . So amazing to find it here.
    Made two masks in Dhaka and 11 monoprints with Chine colle. Gave one to the American Center. They are buying my film as did the art college in Chittagong. 
    Have a new mask tale, Hena's Memorial about the fourteen year old girl who was beaten to death on on a trumped up charge ( a Fatwa - illegal in Dhaka but no matter, people still obey them) after she'd been raped and beaten by her assailant, a cousin.Woke in the night twice so upset about the gruesome tale. Had to perform it. Did so at the two film screenings of Masks as a Portan to the World." It was very well received, especially by the women in my audiences.     
     As a foreigner behind the mask, I've learned that it's okay to bring up such issues as I'm not bound by the cultural morays and the mask neutralizes my identity. I began with a true story about the woman in CT in the 1980's who'd been beaten by her husband while a policeman stood by. She sued the police Department in that town and since then, the police act in such cases.
    Many invitations to return - to Kolkata, Santiniketan, Dhaka and Chittagong. Maybe will as I'm now on the Fulbright roster as a "Specialist". Could mean a two week to two month return. Maybe in two years? In three years? As they say here, "Inshallah" (God willing). Being here this time around feels like I've always been here and not had the hiatus of 16  years.
    There a humongous amount of building going on in Delhi. It's uneven with something glorious next to something shoddy. It's great that the subway goes throughout Delhi They are still working on the pathway to the nearest station so here and there piles of dirt and uneven paving to pass along. 
     So glad I first came in the 1970's as it's a different country now. Everyone has a cell phone, that is everyone! Don't know how I did without it before myself. Happily, Pinku's mom loaned me one of hers and in Dhaka, Hasna loaned me a SIM card for Bangladesh. Back in Delhi, I just put the India SIM back into the cell and Ive been good to go. 
    The residency at Sanscriti is giving some time, not much, for reflection. I expect that after my show at the American Center in Delhi opens, I'll have more time and hope to write out my deeper thoughts on being here past and present. 
     It's been a wonderful whirlwind thus far with arriving in Delhi from Munich/London; on to Kolkata three days later; after just four days there seeing friends from my Fulbright year; off for five wonderful days in Santiniketan where I showed my film and made a clay mask; back to Kolkata for a day (stayed with Shefali - so lovely, my dear friend from the 1976-77 trip), and then the14 days in Dhaka. WOW!
    Been here now at Sanskriti three days and will be staying on until March 15. I'm amazed at how quickly I've been acclimating. Know that I've been doing yoga every day and the Five Tibetan Rites (exercises) that I do believe has been very helpful in keeping me together. 
     I'm feeling completely at home. Life in the States feels as though in another universe. I guess I am truly a traveler with my minicscule flashlight attached to my fanny pack for the dark unlit nights; the tea tree oil tucked in a plastic bag for scrapes, arnica oil for bruises, drops of grapefruit seed extract and pro-biotics to keep my stomach more or less in line (got sick just once on my third day in Delhi last month).
    Right now listening to Shakuhachi music on the earphones attached to my laptop (otherwise the sound doesn't work). Don't have enough music on the IPhone. Somehow it didn't get on. Have Leonard Cohen in London, Steve Gorn playing India flute, yoga music and the like. Need the music. If my IPhone could get on line (can't here as there's no wireless) I could listen to NPR and the like! Did that in Dhaka. Amazing.  
    Another hour until dinner. The food is vegetarian. I'm lusting for more protein. Last night we ate at the Gunpowder restaurant in Haus Khaz and had chicken, fish, lots of veggies and fabulous flaky parathas. Ah, a fresh lime soda for me. Yum.
    Sending lots of love from the land of India,

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One more day of welding in Dhaka.

    Amazed myself  today by nearly finishing my third mask at Dhaka University. I finished two days of monoprinting in the university print studio yesterday, managing to complete a total of 11 with many printmaking students hovering about with great interest. One print will be a gift to the American Center. Lauren Lovelace, the Director of the Center graciously hosted a reception last Friday and is hosting a lunch for the Sculpture Department and my students on Valentine's Day at the  Bengal Art Center (where I'm showing my film this Saturday evening). I met many artists and Dhaka notables at the reception, including the Attorney General of Bangladesh. It was a wonderfully warm welcome to Dhaka. People love that I've returned, and after the long hiatus of 16 years.
    The journalist Mainul Hassan interviewed me at the reception. The Daily Star is a very good daily newspaper here and a delight to read. It's not that the news is necessarily good news, but it's being thorough and honest is most impressive. Publications are thriving in Dhaka. There are 100 newspapers! Apparently the Web hasn't taken away the Bangladeshi thirst for hand held newsprint.
    Also, and very new since my 1995 stint here, are the many art periodicals of very high quality. A thriving art world has developed with collectors springing up among the newly wealthy. Last Thursday, I was invited by Kalidas, a prolific and lively artist with activities worldwide (found me on Facebook on printmaker Rafi Haque's site) to Cosmos, a modern building with a print studio, and a gallery that's currently sporting a large exhibition of the Cosmos collection. It had been planned for me to do my printmaking there, but as it is very far from my guest house, and then with Monday having a Hartal stopping all city activity, I took up with the invitation to work instead at the printmaking studio at Dhaka University as the more realistic option. I'd otherwise have spent two to three hours in the crazy congested traffic to and fro. 
    Rafi Haque is my dear printmaking friend with whom I'd made a lovely connection last trip (he'd found me again on Facebook two years ago). He came with me to the Cosmos reception, and has since worked with me this past Sunday and Tuesday at the Dhaka University etching studio. The Print Department arranged to  open the studio especially for me on Tuesday as it was a holiday, a Puja in honor of Sarasvati, Goddess of Education.
    There was what's called a "Hartal" on Monday. It's a strike called by the opposition party not in power. It mandates that no cars, buses, etc. can be on the roads all day until early evening. Well, that meant the air was cleaner and the streets quieter. Rickshaws reclaimed the city as the only form of transportation. In 1995, you weren't even supposed to go out into the streets, but this time you could walk and travel nearby on rickshaw. Still however, a bus was set on fire in downtown Dhaka at one point during the day. Hmmm.
    Rafi took me to meet two artists on Monday afternoon. It was very nice to stroll outside among people not in a frantic rush or struggling to cross the pacthwork of frenetic traffic. We took a rickshaw to see nearby Munir, a lively, energetic, prolific, welcoming and very good artist. He's well known, often traveling abroad. He has a house in Madrid (he's invited me). He made us a superb lunch, rice with vegetables, lots of garlic and saffron. It was so good that I had to forgo my vow not to have a lot of carbs. Miraculously, I didn't get a sugar high, reinforcing my theory that happiness equals good health. With all his bustling about in his kitchen, he also managed to work on, and complete a painting due that very evening to hang at the inauguration of a restaurant of one of his relatives. He showed Rafi and me his spirited paintings and prints (he has an elegant sense of line) stacked along the walls and on counters throughout his studio. They are so impressive and expressive of his lively spirit.
    Then we went to see Kabir. Rafi had given me a hefty book on his work and published by Rafi's publishing house. At 90 years, Kabir is the most renown senior artist in Bangladesh. He, his son and wife graciously gave us their time, and very tasty tea (the Ambrosia Guest House where I am staying is a fine place, but it has awful tea - tastes like it's been fumigated!). Kabir is an abstract painter working with rich texture and a beautifully subtle sense of color. I showed them my catalog, the article from the Daily Star, the new mask, and the small folio of seven prints I'd brought into the country (will show them at the American Center exhibition in Delhi along with the new work created on this trip). Kabir said that my work had depth, that he liked it very much and was very impressed. He looked long into my eyes as he said this and I was very touched. He has beautiful and intently staring eyes.
    So you see, my time here has been a whirlwind of meeting people and students, working at Dhaka University and yes, being very pleased (and amazed) with my output. I must also mention the beautiful reception held Monday night by gifted interior designer Mimi Nazneen Haque and Tarik Sujat, poet, graphic designer and media genius just after the hartal. Happily the timing was such that the roads weren't too crowded to travel all the way to Gulshan (the most posh part of Dhaka). Their home is truly beautiful. They have a prodigious collection of works on paper. I again met some of those I'd spoken with at Lauren's event, and most delightfully met Shameem again, my former student at the Dhaka U welding workshop in 1995. On my last day in Dhaka then, he, Bari Naimul and I went to the buffalo market to draw buffaloes! I remember it as an intensely hot and bright day. We sketched feverishly. I also drew the buffalo tender and the tea boy, both with drawn and tired faces. He's doing very well having just complete a large mural in Cox's Bazaar in Chittagong. By the way, speaking of drawn faces, one thing I notice on this trip is that the rickshaw drivers look healthier and not as painfully thin.With then main roads being barred for rickshaws, they no longer have to bicycle across town to the great detriment of their health.
    So on and on it's been in just nine days, arriving on February 1 and flying on to Delhi and the artist residency Sanskriti in the early morning on the 15th. Tomorrow I plan to braze bronze the new mask and meanwhile am drying the prints between sheets of newsprint in my room. I'll be titling, signing and photographing them before I fly off. 
    Yet to happen, one last day of welding for me and the students,and  two screenings of my film, Masks as a Portal to the World, one at the Bengal Foundation Gallery open to the public, and the other at Dhaka University for students and faculty. My final send off will be on Valentine's Day with Lauren Lovelace hosting a lunch at the Bengal Foundation Gallery restaurant for the Scupture Department faculty and the students who have been taking my workshop. The students have managed to each create a work despite the fact that there is only one welding torch. We have a good technician. He's been working with them when I'm not there, and that's when they've gotten the most of their work done. They've all been eager to get at the torch. I taught them to cut with the cutting torch. That's the most  dramatic beginning, then had them make a box to practice welding. The other day while I was welding, they kept asking me, "Will you take a rest now?" Of course I did. Welding is hot work and Dhaka is getting warmer with each day. Today, as I was sweating away and  relegated to making the mask with what scrap pieces the students had finally left over, I thought I must be insane, but lo, the mask did take shape, and I suspect that when I've finished brazing the mask tomorrow, it will be a beauty. 
   As a final aside, I had to polish the first mask in my room with a wire brush and portable drill the other day because the university had no electricity that day. Today, I re-polished it, and then showed the students how to braze weld bronze onto the steel. I'd made a very small mask from some practical bits I bought at the metal market area in Old Dhaka my first day of the workshop, and now brazed in bronze and looking very golden, the origin of the bits welded together takes on a weightier and finished appearance.
    That's the news from Dhaka today.
        Lots of love, and here's the link from the article in The Daily Star (with a pic of me and the fist mask)
        And here's a link on my show at ARTHAUS in San Francisco. I can't open it and perhaps you can.
OK - I've edited this post and put on many pics from the two weeks in Dhaka. Made three masks, showed film, did printmaking and had a great time reconnecting with friends Hasna, Todi, Mitu, Dulal, Hamid, Rafi, Jashim, and on.

                    More love coming your way and a few virtual hugs too,