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 born in one pure white colour. My journey started in Nepali Brahman Hindu family, 4th and last child of the family. 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 the primary years. Later, I went in Allahabad (India) for further schooling, together with my two brothers and my sister.
The first time my white innocence colour mixed with a dark brown colour was for 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. What was wrong with my body? Why everybody : my mother, my grandmother, my family cannot touch me ? Why can’t I play with my friends? Why was I looked unlike my brothers? 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 million victims of the Chhaupadi Pari Pratha. It is a Hindu belief that women become impure during their menstruation and should observe a lot of restriction in their ordinary life. They are even forced to sleep in the cow shed in many rural areas of Nepal.
I have shown my talents for drawing and paintings at a very early age and I received several art awards at school level. I remember that one my favourite teacher wrote in my dairy “Art should not be only for art 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. It covers 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 came to get into higher education. A girl child in Asia is nearly always a second-class citizen, a second priority for the parents. The girl will go away to another family when she marries and will lose her name. I never accepted this mentality of the male dominated society. It is absurd to believe that your own child will belong to another “cast” after marriage. Does the DNA she received from her parents change? Why are the daughters in laws more part of the family after marrying a son? I did not abandoned my surname as UPADHAYAY to show the narrow minded society that the girls also honour their family name through their achievements even more than a son ! However, my DARK BLUE struggle colour became a lighter colour when my father, late Kamta Prasad Upadhayay, accepted that I join the Fine Art at Lucknow college of Arts and later Artist Corner-Lalit Kala Academy, Garhi, New Delhi.
During these times (1980-1985), my works were DARK BROWN, DARK BLUE. I was quite lonely, looking for my identity as a woman facing the insecurity, the sexual harassments and the gender inequalities so prevalent in the Hindu culture.
In 1986, I returned to Nepal, BRIGHT YELLOW coloured by my Indian education. This education open my doors to two opportunity 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 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 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 Goddess 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 in injustices in art works.