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,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 1 in Dhaka

All's well here in Dhaka. Staying at the Ambrosia Guest House in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. It's been tastefully remodeled since my  first visit in 1995. Even the bed is more comfortable and the bathroom has a tub.Glory, glory. The rest of the neighborhood has changed with apartment buildings that now surround the guest house. It remains a haven, especially with its beautiful garden. I hope to soon enjoy it by sitting in the sun before my day's work tomorrow at the welding studio.

Today, went into Old Dhaka today with former student Mitu, now professor at the Sculpture Department and two current students to find the steel for my work. Visited the new art center, visited Mitu's house and met her bright, lively and lovely son, and then had dinner with friend Hasna with whom I've kept in contact for 18 years. Her daughter is also a professor of sculpture at U of Dhaka and lives upstairs from Hasna in an apartment full of her husband's metal sculpture. I've agreed to curate a metal sculpture exhibit for him and will write something for his catalog. And on. Getting to work tomorrow at the new welding sculpture studio - just set up for my work. It will continue on for the students.
I'm surrounded by wonderfully warm, bright, gracious and caring people who fully appreciate what I'm doing here. Many remember me from my last stay 16 years ago. All very heartwarming, especially the interest of the students. Who knows what I'll make tomorrow, a welded mask, but what will it look like? I've no idea. Time will tell.
Lots of love,