Welcome to the fourth in our series of Courageous Operators, individuals who have shown great courage in changing the status quo.
In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in South West India, travelling from main city to main city then up into the hills around Ooty before reaching Bangalore. For those of you who followed my blog you may remember that I met a young artist called Priyanka Tewari. The meeting was brief but I was impressed by her openness and raw talent and sensed she had overcome many obstacles to reach this point in her career. Her struggle, it seemed to me, incorporated many of the characteristics that women face in the world. She has channelled her energies into her work to create vibrant art that speaks to the universal in people and women. I wanted you to hear the story of this Courageous Operator which she tells us eloquently, here, in her own words and images.
'I am a contemporary artist who loves to play around and mingle with colour. This is what describes me these days. Painting for me is a way to express my deepest feelings and emotions which otherwise I find difficult to communicate. Life amazes me. Questions about our existence, our purpose in life and life beyond death often perplex me. Who are we humans? Why are we all so different? Why are we treated differently based on man-made falsities? These are some of the questions I seek answers to.
'I was born and brought up in a small town in India. Many know India as a country with rich cultural heritage but on the flip side it is still battling with several social issues. One such deep-rooted issue being patriarchy; the problem has such a strong hold that nobody can live without experiencing it at least once in a lifetime. This problem amongst all is here to stay as it has become a way of life for all. We experience it in every walk of life, childbirth, education, marriage and till the time one reaches the funeral pyre.
'I have been no exception to it either. I've had my fair share of gender discrimination and this is what has probably made me what I am today - an idealist and a feminist as some may say. I don't like being given concessions or special favours just because I'm a woman - being treated differently based on gender, religion, race are matters of total abomination. Lashing out at people for this ridiculous act has not helped me get past these issues. So all this frustration has built up into very strong emotions.
'Seeing so much injustice, poverty, pain in my surroundings and the fact that I felt I could do nothing about it added to all my emotions. I can go on about it for pages, but would that make any difference? I am a mere artist and no social reformer but I try to do my bit. The desire to express myself comes from the deep seated feelings I've have been carrying all my life. Being a person who is highly sensitive to the surroundings instils in me the dire need to express.
'Both my parents were artistically inclined so I had the opportunity to learn Indian Classical Vocals and Painting professionally at the young age of eight. I have always loved to sing and paint. Although I received all the encouragement, this was always treated as a secondary activity. I was never encouraged to consider making a career out of it. Coming from a middle class Indian family where nothing is more important than academics, I had to quit all my extra-curricular activities and concentrate on my academic goals of becoming an engineer or a doctor - the noblest professions of all. Let me give you a quick background of how it works here. A typical Indian middle class family is one that is tied strong with all orthodox beliefs of the society. The aim of every family is to have their children study well and help them get an employment that will secure their future. If it's a son we are talking about he has bigger responsibilities. Nobody should marry outside their caste and the parents of the girl should spend the savings of their lifetime to give away with their daughter at the time of her marriage. Well I'm glad that I broke the rule and married someone of my choice, although it did upset my family. I did give up my creative side for a few years to fulfil the academic goals. I completed my engineering with good grades and got myself a secure job, as any typical middle class person would do. But my creative side was still alive; I never let it die out. I continued to perform in college and at work.
'At the back of my mind I always felt incomplete and dissatisfied. A nine to five job was not meant for me. I always knew where my heart was. Back in college, I appeared on national television for the first time when I participated in a reality singing competition - The Indian Idol. This move upset my father. This episode did not demotivate me and I continued to pursue my interest in arts in college.
'At work too, I always remained active - participating in annual festivals, hosting shows, organising events. Outside the office, I was part of a local rock band as the lead vocalist. Still my creative needs were not satisfied.
'Painting after 7 years - I had left painting after college. Apart from making a few doodles and casual sketches there was nothing much I created. But somehow last year I had a strong desire to pick up my paint brush again. The need to express myself had intensified so greatly and since then there has been no looking back. Painting one canvas after another I just poured out my deepest thoughts. My work is mostly abstract, dealing with life and its complexities. It is an impression of my mind, a reflection of my spiritual being. Painting helps give a meaning to my otherwise worthless existence. I like to paint when I'm alone and left undisturbed. Some soothing music in the background adds to the mood. Stretching and preparing my own canvas lets me connect with my art right from the start.
'I paint for myself, to let all my feelings out, and if by the end of a painting I feel rejuvenated, my job is done. All the love, fear, pain, disparity, atrocities, desires, happiness, cruelty, ironies that I have experienced or have seen around me find a place on the canvas. Being an introvert who doesn't socialise much, I could not have asked for a better way to vent all my feelings. I keep the paints as close to myself as I can. I love to touch and play around with the colours, so most of my paintings do not have any brush work. This may sound crazy, but the colours know their job and deliver incredibly well. Creating beautiful textures with some simple household objects gives me great pleasure. With a theme in mind, I start painting with a rough sketch in my head. The best part - what the finished work will look like - is still an unknown territory for me. This keeps the thrill of painting alive. I also love to write my perspective about every painting - through a short poem or through some simple words. I think that it adds more meaning to my art and helps the audience understand my art better.
'Shortly after I started my stint with colours, I wanted to connect with the outside world, to see and understand their art and also to share mine. With this intent I started posting pictures of my paintings with other details on my blog. I created an 'artist' profile on social networking sites such as Google+ and Facebook, and joined various artist forums. This gave me a chance to interact with hundreds of artists from around the world, share my work and experiences with them, and understand their perception of art. This is how, for the very first time, I had the courage to show my work to the world and was pleased to get very good feedback. I hope that some of you reading this will also want to engage with me.
'I created a website for my artwork and set up my profile on Saatchi Art in order to sell my art online. Here are the links to media.
Blog - http://impressionofmymind.blogspot.in
Website - http://www.priyankatewari.com
Google+ - https://plus.google.com/+priyankatewariabc/posts
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/PriyankaTewariGallery
Saatchi Art - http://www.saatchiart.com/PriyankaTewari
'I participated in a few online art exhibitions and group exhibitions, but my major break came when I got a solo show at one of the best art galleries in Bangalore, the city where I now reside. It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with people from different walks of life - cartoonists, journalists, photographers, entrepreneurs and other fellow artists. I was also lucky enough to have been featured in two national dailies (The Hindu and The Deccan Chronicle) just a few days before my exhibition. This helped me promote myself as an artist. This is where I met Venu Dhupa, an editor of this magazine, who has given me the opportunity to share my perspective with you.
'Living in a country where people are still more appreciative of and interested in owning a piece of landscape or still life painting, art such as mine doesn't have many contenders. Most of the people fail to connect with my art and find it easier to enjoy the beauty of traditional paintings. Although there were not many takers for my artwork, some of the audiences were truly moved by my work and the meaning behind every piece. Some art enthusiasts drew inspiration from the way I was shaping my life on my own terms.
'It has been quite challenging to find quality time to paint and to achieve a professional level of output as I work a nine to five job as a Supervisor with a US- based clinical research company. This job has been paying well for my needs - to keep my passion alive. Since this job takes most of my time, the only time I get to paint is after work. When the world around me is deep into their dreams, I paint mine on a canvas - sometimes till the break of dawn. It gives me so much pleasure and satisfaction that nothing in my life ever has so far. It has come hard but it is all the more true to myself.
'A new family member will arrive by March 2015. This new experience is very precious to me. As newly acquired motherhood will consume a lot of my time, I plan to invest the rest on my artwork. Quitting my job early next year is on the cards as I am sure now what I want to make of my life. My husband (Ashoke Tewari) has been a great support in my life. He always stands by my side whenever I take a leap. His help in whatever I do gives me additional strength to chase my dreams and I'm confident he will give me backing at this time of new beginnings.
'I feel lucky enough to have found what I love to do and would like to take it forward. Collaboration with other artists is an important thing. Some negotiations are in progress with a few Bangalore and Dubai based artists. We plan to organise group shows so that people will get a flavour of different styles of work at the same event.
'Working on my website and making it streamlined is another job I wish to accomplish. I'd love to promote it and make it the one stop place for everything I do related to my work. Selling my artwork through this website would also be one of them. My interaction with other contemporary artists around the world has increased during this past year through various social media. A few have even expressed their desire to collaborate. I wish to explore the art world around the world, so if you take a look at my work and want to get in touch, I would love to hear from you.
'With plans to explore the art scenario, I may head to the North Americas to stay, learn, explore, paint and grow as an artist. Moving to a new place and adjusting will be challenging, I realise - but I have never ducked these challenges, it has made me the woman I am and that's the fun of it all.'