Colours and works of art structure my life journey. Life changes, colours change ! Culture, traditions, customs, travels, encounters give different hues.
I was born innocent in white colour as every child is born in one pure white colour. My journey started in a Nepali Brahman Hindu family; I was the fourth and last child of the family. I was brought up with many cousins in a large extended family in Terai. The colour of happiness was around me. Fortunately, my parents had faith in education, and I was sent to a Catholic school for my primary years. Later, I went to Allahabad (India) for further schooling, together with my two brothers and my sister.
The first time my white innocent colour mixed with a dark brown colour was at the time of my first menstruation. My parents locked me in a dark room for a week. I had to sleep on the floor, away from my father, my brothers, male cousins, and my friends! My innocent mind could not comprehend this. What was wrong with my body? Why was everybody, my mother, my grandmother, my family unable to touch me? Why couldn’t I play with my friends? Why was I locked away, unlike my brothers? I had many questions for a girl of 12 who started to understand that life may not be easy for South Asian women! I was, in fact, one of the millions of victims of Chhaupadi Pari Pratha. This is a Hindu belief that women become impure during their menstruation and should observe many restrictions in their ordinary lives. They are even forced to sleep in the cow shed in many rural areas of Nepal.
I showed talent for drawing and painting at a very early age, and I received several art awards at when I was in school. I remember that one my favourite teachers wrote in my diary, “Art should not be only for art’s sake, but it should be for life!” This line changed my life…. I observed it in most of my artistic realisations, where I include several socio-political subjects. This idea addresses the demands for justice for women, nature, ordinary folks, children …I often deal with wars, struggles, human pain and the quest for peace…..
A dark blue struggle colour arrived in my years of higher education. A girl child in Asia is nearly always a second-class citizen, a second priority for her parents. It is told that a girl will go away to another family when she marries and will lose her surname. I never accepted this mentality of a male dominated society. It is absurd to believe that your own child will belong to another “caste” after marriage. Does the DNA she received from her parents change? Why are daughters-in-law more a part of the family after marrying a son? I did not abandon my surname as UPADHAYAY, in order to show the narrow- minded society that girls also honour their family name through their achievements, often even more than sons! However, my dark blue struggle colour became a lighter colour when my father, late Kamta Prasad Upadhayay, agreed that I could study Fine Art at Lucknow college of Arts, and later at the Artist Corner-Lalit Kala Academy, Garhi, New Delhi..
During these times (1978-1985), my works were dark and brown. I was quite lonely, looking for my identity as a woman facing insecurity, sexual harassment, and those gender inequalities so prevalent in the Hindu culture.
In 1986, I returned to Nepal, BRIGHT YELLOW coloured by my Indian education. This education opened my doors to two opportunities of scholarship. The first in 1987 was funded by the British council. I joined the Oxford Printmakers, Oxford, and Peacock Printmaker’s , Aberdeen. U.K. Later in 1989, the Deutsch-Nepalischen Hilfsgemeinschaft sent me in the Künst Akademie in Stuttgart, Germany. I discovered Europe brighten by new colours of life, new friends from different cultures, new places. During my stay in Scotland, nature was cold but the people warm like sun and moon, it was sea BLUE colour. I was lucky to be in Germany during historical day of 9th of November 1989 when the Berlin wall was turned down. It symbolizes for me peace and friendship and I created several paintings around this event.
Back in Nepal in 1990, my heart took the colour of PINK. It was the colour of Romance and Love. The romance was at a peak during my visit in Japan. It inspired me several paintings: Love letters, in Love, Spring in Japan etc. Despite some objections in my extended family, the PINK romance turned into a RED marriage with Albert in 1991.
The journey of colours continued as my life unrolled. The most beautiful LIGHT BLUE colour entered with lots of WHITE clouds of dreams and hope with the birth of my lovely daughter Shivata in 1995. A pure WHITE colour of motherhood without borders. This colour made me a complete woman. A beautiful feeling to be a mother, which grows into unconditional Love.
Getting more assertive
Despite the colours of happiness, I had to see other ones. The colours of injustice for daughters in a male dominated society. I came to know dirty DARK PURPLE when my father died. I had to face the injustice related to the daughters’ share of heritage. The differences of land property inheritance rights! It was painful to experience that so call well educated civilized humans contradict Nature ! Nature never makes differences between male or female children but civilized humans do it. Responding to this, many furious colours came in my series Goddesses and Women, Mythology and Reality. This series related to my own experience about the injustice for the daughters and asked questions to the hypocritical society about the women rights in traditional South Asian societies where Female Goddesses are most powerful in temple but in reality the living female are not equal for education, respects, employment and land heritage. I felt it was my artist duty to mirror these injustices in artworks.
Further the journey of life, the DARK GREY colour continued to be observed in the dirty politics in Nepal which inspired RAGINI ODYSSY series in 2000. I created Chain of corruption, Musical chair, Apple in mouth of Pig, Ten characters in one , Nepali Katha ( stories ) etc.
From 2001 to 2005 I was impressed by the dramatic violence all over the world. It was everywhere RED FIRE colours. The Nepalese Royal Family was massacred on1st June 2001 ; the Twin Towers of the world centre felt down hit by planes on 11th of September 2001; in Afghanistan the Talibans blasted the Bamiyan Buddhas.
I felt the sun died and Buddha’s peace disappeared. I tried to explain that the peace concern is the Truth of Life. I created the series A SUN NEVER DIES, BUDDHA LIGHTS AND TRUTH SHINES.The series includes works such as Broken Buddha , Bamiyan Buddha, 1st June 2001, Wing of Truth, 9-11, Non Violence is Greatest Religion.
In 2006-2007, the PEOPLE’S POWER series created during one the most difficult time of Nepal which had faced a 10 years long Maoist insurgency. The King Gyanendra had confiscated the power from the Parliament and instated a one-man rule regime. In April 2006, massive street protests resulted in several deaths but finally ended the reign of Gyanendra, reinstated the Parliament and finally instituted a republic after a referendum. That fight for democracy and freedom brought a lot pain and loss of life. These are the sad COULOURS of TEARS that I putted on my mixed media, mixing etchings and newspaper clips.
Traveling to Europe in 2008, I had the chance to meet old friends and had a wonderful time with them. I got inspired by all the new gadgets of communication and felt it was the PINK COLOR of LOVE that dominated. I started to enjoy it too and created the series LOVE IN THE AIR.
During the year 2009, I felt that the country entered chaos. There were frequent power cuts of electricity, the water supply was very intermittent, civil unrest was again there. The political leaders were all kind of dreamy speech to a very naive public ignorant of the dirty power games. This was a time of DARK RED, DARK BLUE COULORS of politicians playing tricks on the back of the innocent cow (the ordinary people of Nepal) in messy colours. It led to the series GAIJATRA.
Mother Nature entered my mind in 2011 turning my life GREEN COLOUR. Nature is GOD, that is what the Hindu believe worshiping Sun, Rivers,Trees. This is so true but in the same time we humans pollute rivers, cut the trees for our own benefit. After I realize the pain of the nature, pain of our Mother Earth, the silent language of rivers, trees, air requested me to be their ambassador. This realization led to the series NATURE SPEAKS
First woman Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Fine Art (NAFA)
The day my name was formally announced for the post of chancellor of NAFA, I felt the very bright yellow orange light of education around me. I felt happy not only for me but for all the women in my field and similarly women in other field.
This opportunity opened the doors for me and for many more upcoming female artists. During the 60 years of Academy history, there never been any woman chancellor! Men had always dominated this institution.
I was appointed in 2014 by late Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. The term was four years from 2014 to 2018. The job had a lot of challenges and I had to face the usual prejudice in a male dominated society. Many laws promote the equality of men and women in Asia but the thoughts of men at home, in the society and culture have not accepted yet that women have an equal status. Even educated people remain somehow machos. There is still a long way to go to change the attitudes from the children education to the culture.
But the biggest challenge was to face the death of my daughter. It broke me from inside and I had to work hard to conceal my pain and my tears. I kept alive my female strength and kept going silently withholding my inner Goddess.
The happiest part was to be the first lady Chancellor of Nepal and more than that to open the door for many other women of Nepal!
The worse saddness
This time, the life had brought the darkest BLACK GREY COLOUR to me. The colour of extreme sadness, The colour of the end of the night, The colour of Death ! 2016 was the darkest year of my life. The darkest night of my life! The darkest pain in my heart! The darkest phone call in my life! The news of the sudden death of my child! The death of my half body and soul! Since then, I die every day little by little. The child died once but the surviving parents die each and every day! Since the day my child body burned, my heart and my body burn every day. I am left with the ashes only. This unbearable pain forced me to create the ASHES series. I feel like The Mother fish without water, a broken mother heart, with broken wings in broken dreams. Sometimes my canvas reunite SHIV and RAGINI like Lord SHIVA and SHATI. I carry my child’s ashes around the world as Lord Shiva did of his beloved wife Parvati. The work SKY AND EARTH shows the relation of mother and daughter, relation of Sky and Earth, the relation of heart and mind in the incomplete time. Sometimes, I see myself as a kangaroo who carry all the time its baby, a great example of Mother Love.
My recent work, WHY I BECAME KALI expresses not only my own revolt but stands for the mothers and daughters. The goddess KALI is the form of Mother when she becomes angry, her tongue and eyes come out in angriness! She takes BLACK GRAY COLOR as KALI is also a symbol of DEATH in Hindu mythology. I became Kali because I observe the unending injustice suffered by women, because I see the Mother Earth crying, because I feel the rays of Sun becoming fire on my hand, because my dreamy clouds start to cry, because the peaceful moon falls from my hand, because my heart blood drops from my palate. I must carry the skulls of my dead love ones because GOD didn’t make justice for me. This time my brushes became my tongue of KALI to fight on behalf of all the Mothers Women and Daughters of this earth!
Despite the suffering, my life continues as well as my journey of colour.