Roses: My Grandmother maintained a healthy rose garden in the front of her house. After her death my grandfather continued to maintain it, either through his own hands or his gardeners’. I enjoy seeing them sprout and wither throughout the seasons, but the most blissful time of year is when they bloom in late May. Indian tombs: There are a multitude of different burial tombs in India. Many of which were built in homage to lost wives or mothers. Hindu religious believe in cremation, however with the introduction of Islam in India the concept of tombs were gaining traction and the physical remains of the dead were emphasized. The tombs were made to give honor to the deceased and in memory of them. Curtain: The act of closing curtains after a death symbolically represents when we feel the person who's died has left us. While the curtains close on the final chapter of one's life the living often remain present to mourn and gather themselves to integrate the changes death has brought.
Magnolias: They hold a very specific meaning for me in my personal life. There are several magnolia trees surrounding my grandfather's home in Maryland. When I visit I enjoy watching them bloom. Magnolias have a long history. The magnolia is a very tough, hard flower. It has had to adapt to changing climatic and geological conditions in order to survive. It has been on Earth for nearly 20 million years and it's due to this feature that the flower represents endurance, eternity, and long life. Garlands: In my home a garland of dried or fake flowers is placed around a photograph of the deceased to show respect for their memory.
Portals is an extension of the themes I explore in Sounds of Rain; grief, change, reincarnation and growth As I continued my research into my family history I felt as if I was looking through a window to an entirely new world. It was a bittersweet feeling. I could see an entirely new and foreign place laid out before me but I could not touch it. It was a fictional construct of what I could understand, yet it was grounded in real life experiences. This dichotomy has led to the connection between the dead and the living. A feeling of how the ones we have lost are no longer with us, yet they are very much present in our daily lives.
Rain: A symbol of change and rebirth. A cleansing of what once was and nourishment for what could be. Mangoes and Foliage: Mangos are the national fruit of India known as the “Food of God.” Mango trees are a symbol of love and happiness that possess the magical power to grant wishes. Jasmine flowers: My grandmother was known to have a green thumb, she cared for many plants in her life. In her backyard still stands a lovely white jasmine bush that blooms every spring.
The mourning process is as dense as it is fluid. Although there is a physical absence of a loved one, there is an ever growing feeling of their presence in our daily lives. It is difficult to pin down the different ways in which this occurs. We may find it being done intentionally through the celebration of an unowned birthday or the hanging of a picture. However, death is felt the most when the memories of a loved one comes forth subconsciously through a word, or a scent. Even a wave goodbye can bring forthcoming memories that seemed buried so deep within the matrix of our minds we become overwhelmed, yet relieved.
Sounds of Rain is a representation of a painted tapestry that pulls into play elements of grief, change, reincarnation and growth. The arrangement and choice of symbols are tied into my personal family history. While conducting interviews with my grandfather and other family members I noticed two things, the first being grief. My grandfather has lived a long life and has experienced many losses. The second was connection. Through conversing with me about his history, he was able to transfer and relive the stories of his life. The transfer of history from generation to generation runs deep, but often such stories can be lost to time. However, when engaging with the past it is as if the tears of grief nourish the ground in which the new generation sprouts.
Mendi: Mehndi is a common Hindu tradition that brides practice for as a part of the wedding.They embellish their hands and feet with a henna paste that dyes their skin with intricate designs and symbols.The process is associated with positive spirits and good luck. Birds: Mendi in tradition carry many visual symbols ranging from flowers to animals. Small birds, in particular, are said to be the messengers between heaven and earth. Smoke and Fire Fire symbolizes many things, including rebirth, resurrection, and destruction. The smoke disappears into the ether along with the physical limitations of our bodies.
In light of my grandmother who was in an arranged marriage at a young age, I was thinking of her path as a young woman in India. There was a path she wanted to take and a path that was thrust upon her. However, even in that case she made this path her own. Through interviewing various family members I learned that although she was withheld from the many things she wanted to do in her life she was brave, enduring and kind to those who needed help. She was a fantastic teacher and was always striving to learn. I also learned that she had an incredible sense of humor, which I’m sure came in handy from time to time. I have very few memories of her and it is strange to learn about a person when you cannot see or speak with them, but it is clear that she is still with us in the lives she has touched along her way.
Learning as a Developing Process
As I look back at my work I see not only the end product but changes, corrections, back tracks and obstacles that it took to get there. My thesis for me personally explores the ideas of death and the connection to those we have lost. However the process of what it took to get there encompasses the journey of learning through artistic expression. My teaching philosophy covers four subjects; problem solving, self reflection, understanding and change. As I went through the ups and downs of my thesis the process embodied these themes:
There were several concepts I was pondering while making this work. For one, the concept was very heavy and very personal to me. One of the many obstacles I faced was how to communicate the complex feelings of grief not only on a personal level but also for those who may not be familiar with this subject. I believe that when we share our experiences we create new perspectives for others. More often than not we are able to connect an experience, even through the smallest relation.
Through this work I am reflecting on my grandmother and her life as a young woman in India who wanted nothing more than to live freely and with purpose. Her life was taken from her too soon. But from what I understand through stories passed down and the several interviews I have conducted; she was brave, smart, and incredibly furious. I can see why. Growing up her life was not her own. She was held to the responsibilities of a young Indian girl, no questions asked. After she was married at the young age of 18 my grandfather and her moved to the U.S. and they were able to start a new life. Although she loved her family and showed great care, I do not know if this was not the life she wanted to live.
Going through this process of research and self reflection I have begun to develop my own understanding of who my grandmother was and how she lives on in my life today. I have very few memories of her. Yet I feel her. I see her. In my fury and in my dreams. In her lifetime after her children were grown, she was able to go back to school. She was able to get her GRE and a graduate degree. She was finally able to get to where she wanted to be. But it was short-lived, as she passed at the age of 60. I like to think that she was happy for the majority of her life living in the states with her family, but that is an unclear and unfair assumption to make. However I do believe that she was able to experience some sort of freedom that she would not have been able to have had if she stayed in her home country. My mother speaks of her very often and will say things like “You’re just like her,” or “That’s something she would say.” I am not sure how to feel about this as we were different people with different lives. But it is a nice thought.
As my grandfather comes close to the end of his life. I find myself wandering through my mind thinking of how one day he will not be here. He will be a memory yet somehow still alive. Alive through memories, stories and…. A feeling. It’s difficult to explain, but I am sure I’m not alone in this feeling. The process of this work has led me through some of the ups and downs of grief even before I have had the chance to truly experience it in my upcoming years. I’ve had the chance to look back, revise, reflect, think and revise again until I feel I’ve done all I can do. I have learned and grown through a developing process that will never cease and therefore I am in a constant state of growth.
These images are layered with research meaning and self discovery where Me as the artist was navigating through many different thought processes that led to this in-depth artwork that was more than I thought would ever become. In my classroom I intend to make a space where my students are able to go through these processes and form more independent life skills that will keep them developing for years to come.