About a month ago I went to the opening of my first solo art show on Friday the 5th at The Blue Phoenix Cafe. Downtown galleries open their doors till about 8:30 every first Friday of the month, celebrating the opening evening of new exhibits and the streets are busy with people getting together, chittering and chattering, around paintings, wine, cheese, fruit, and in the case of The Blue Phoenix, superb vegetarian fare like sushi, brown rice burgers, and hummus.
My show was a mixture of media: seven framed Giclee prints of creations made with leaves, berries, fungus, and other treasures that I find and look for on walkabouts here in the woods, and eight paintings in a mixture of watercolor, collage, and india ink. I called the show Odes to Nature & Other Wise and in spending the evening chatting with friends, family, acquaintances old and new I learned a little something that was at once obvious in retrospect yet also immediately surprising.
Specifically in conversation with a local acquaintance, he brought to my attention that my work reminded him of South Indian Folk Art, the eyes, the feeling, the expressions. And this was the pivotal point in turning my view, for while I know nothing about South Indian Folk Art, what immediately came to mind was this: when I first set out to discovering who they are, the seven earth ladies, initially my aunts came to the forefront as the heroines of the tales shown. From there the wives of Chandra, the Moon God: Bharani, Krittika, Rohini, Ardra, Anuradha, Revati, Chittra, Svati, and so on. I followed my instincts and kept going until haiku’s bespoke their personalities.
Now, this is where it got interesting, as I was ruminating on the South Indian Folk Art discussion, at first I thought perhaps he was picking up on the names and possible identities that had been swirling around in my head earlier but suddenly it came together:: an aha! a hand to the forehead moment! this realization:: I know South Indian Folk. How had I missed what was right under my nose? My maternal grandfather and many of his relatives migrated to Pakistan from South India, mainly Madras and Bangalore, during Partition, and the women of his family all are infused with this ‘look’ that I grew up around. In migrating, they carried over their South Indian style of dressing and talking and eating and doing things to Karachi: a mixed city of mostly migrants from places like Lucknow, Allahabad, Gujrat, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kashmir, and other flavors subcontinental.
The women wear kajal around their eyes, flowers in their hair, and are themselves living art. And they have woven their way into how I shaped this earthy series, which are odes to nature:: both of the earthly green kind and also the nature of the women who spun me round; giving me paint, pastel, dupattas, saris, and bangles to play with while they chatted, walking me home on scorching dusty streets from school when the cost of a rickshaw was too high yet turning the whole walk into such fun that it was how I wanted to go home instead of in a rickshaw, sharing gol gappas, jalebis, and faludas in the busy bazaars with sugar cane juice and falsaas, and then the conversations they’d have with the street folk, also folk art of their own kind, from hijras to one armed men on trolleys to displaced Afghan boys and girls selling marigold garlands, these women folk with heart have appeared in my art . . .
. . . as to South Indian or Not Indian or What’s Indian, does it matter? Maybe I’ll ask the hatter, in the meantime see whether you see the resemblance, which in the end is not localized to or about them in particular, but certainly a fusion of the women I’ve known. Women from many places, directions, times, walks of life, women from myth, fairy tale, legends, dreams; women come together infused, as revealed in community, with a mixed media South Indian Folksy flair.
I have prints available from this series at my Studio.