Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ancestors - India

To speak of Ancestors of to speak of the past in its human form.   
Dad leaving India
An Ancestor Cape I finished this week

All my life I’ve thought about India.  Before I was born my father left on a ship.  It set his life on a course that took him further and further away from his birthplace.  And all my life, even before I knew it, I have been drawing and painting, and crafting a path back.  

Miniature Painting: The Victory of Ali Quli Khan on the river Gomti-Akbarnama 
When I was a very small child I drew meticulous miniature drawings, with battle scenes and leafy trees, looking like something out of the Mughal Empire, without the skilled hand of a Court Painter.  It was like that all through my childhood, sometimes just a shape or a pattern of curves, or a color palette, would bring a little India back into my present day life.  When I began to recognize this it seemed a bit like magic, as if the voices of the past were whispering in my ear.  Very possibly the books about India that were scattered throughout the house, as well as a family trip right after my tenth birthday had more to do with these visual tendencies; either way my interest in Ancestors was sparked.  By the time I was a graduate student in the arts I focused a great deal of study on Indian history and art, even taking a Hindi summer course with UWMadison’s own Virendra Ji, where I flailed through the intensive study of a language that felt surprisingly foreign to me. 

I find it ironic now, reflecting on my personal quest in the nineties, when I was so focused on India Past.  Simultaneously millions of young Indians were pursuing new careers, moving to cities like Chennai and Mumbai, and looking towards a American ideal of the self made man as a new way of seeing themselves and their futures.  While they were casting away Old India I was catching it in my net and spreading it out on notebooks and canvases, creating a visual incantation of a past I had so little connection to, apart from the blood in my veins.  What we were all doing was putting holes in the walls that blocked out the light of our imaginations.  For me the light filtered bits of a past where I imagined I belonged, and for the millions of young Indians at the end of the 20th century,  a yet to be imagined future.  I wonder now if we had torn down the wall completely would we have found each other standing hesitantly on the other side?

My painting: Mughal's Climb 1996 

At the time, focused on All Things Indian, I was forging a path back through the terrain of weeds and heavy brush that had grown in my father’s footsteps.  He had left it all behind a generation earlier and my idealistic quest for cultural belonging both amused and annoyed him.  I was poking holes in the veneer of Being an American - something he had worked so hard and long to afford us.  But right under the surface of the veneer was a richer history that my restless fingers picked away at.  Of course the holes I created were small and only offered a tiny glimpse of the full picture.  They were almost harmless, like tiny moth holes in a wool sweater.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t unravel the mystery of my own past enough to understand my place in the present.  In Virendra’s Hindi class I realized I had less in common with the Indian kids than the Caucasians.  But the reality, that I belonged to neither gnawed at me enough to make me continue picking and poking, until my whole world looked like Swiss Cheese.

Layered Print, one of many I made in the 90's

With all those holes in my psyche it was time to start the process of REPAIR.  And so began a lifetime cycle of tear and repair , that has revealed to me who I am as much as it has made me.  

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