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!