Global: Poet-Painter Sreyashi And Her Canvas Of Change – Ajitha Menon



Combating violence against women, surviving genocide or fighting for human rights are challenges confronting populations across international borders today. However, young Geneva-based poetess Sreyashi Ghosh is using an amalgamation of the arts to focus on these issues; “to create awareness and awakening and even find closure,” she says.

‘I will overcome these ups and downs/Take life in my stride/Strike back ten times/With confidence I shall walk towards a new dawn’. These lines, voicing the determination of a victim of domestic violence, are from ‘I Will Survive’, one of the many poems penned by the 26-year-old, in her collection, ‘My Soul On A Platter’.

“Many women have not been victims of domestic violence but face oppression in their daily lives as a matter of routine. When fighting our way inside a packed bus, boarding a train or even simply walking on the pavement, elbowing men aside has become an unconscious action for most of us. There is a persistent feeling of being crowded by men. Isn’t that abuse?” asks Ghosh, adding, “Direct violence against the weak, uneducated or dependent women is not the only form of abuse. Women are pushed back, oppressed, crowded in, everywhere, every time. Ask the women celebrities, professionals or even the women drivers!”

But women are fighters and in Ghosh’s ‘Fighter’, she states: ‘I can’t give up/Nor can I give in/ I must go on, I have to win/Nothing can crush this indomitable spirit/For I know, that even in the darkness candles have been lit’. Indeed, the talented young woman has a way with the words. And her poetic works have many takers. Today, ‘My Soul On A Platter’, a product of Writers Workshop, is available in bookshops acrossSwitzerland,Canada, theUKand US. In fact, not only has the book been included in the collection of the prestigious Shakespeare and Company in Paris, it also recorded the highest sales at the International Book Fair, Geneva, in 2010.

While she may have started off with penning verses, Ghosh wasn’t sure whether poetry alone was enough to reach out to a collective conscience. “Some like reading, others prefer music and some are enthralled by painting. So after great thought, I hit upon the idea of amalgamation. I decided to bring in different aspects of art and literature together to convey my message to a larger audience,” she says.

A self-taught artist, Ghosh, who has a bachelor’s degree in Arts along with a degree in Gender and International Development, cites indigenous Maori, African and Indian art forms as her influences. Her signature pen-and-ink style first started on paper and gradually moved to canvas, glass, acrylic sheet and wood. Interestingly, her art is an extension of her poems.

Says Ghosh, whose poem ‘To The People Of R’ depicts the war-torn life of Rwandans, “When I talk about genocide in poetry I say: ‘Though weather-beaten/the survivors stand up/ they fight back/ with the beauty of love….’” And she has created a visual expression for these moving words on canvas too. “I have seen many viewers being moved by the paintings. I am happy if the audience receives the message loud and clear. If it takes painting to do that, then I will do my best to paint well,” says the artist, whose work is currently on display at the International Museum of Indigenous Art as part of Max Fourny’s collection inParis,France. In fact, she recently gave a unique presentation of her concept, ‘Words and Colours’ in Kolkata, which combined both sensory and cognitive simulations through a rendering of her poetry in cohesion with a pen and ink graphic repertoire.

If her verses form the basis of her artwork, they also inspire talented musicians. Like American songwriter William Pitt, who has set her poems to Indian ragas, and sarod player Pratap Kumar, who collaborated with her on ‘PEACE mode 365′, an initiative launched in September 2011.

Pratap Kumar, who is part of a project that “celebrates life and peaceful living through the practice of the art”, says, “‘PEACE mode 365′ is a global initiative for peaceful and harmonious living through arts and it transcends borders in building bridges in connecting artists, writers, poets, photographers, filmmakers, journalists, musicians, actors and other creative minds to build a network for sustainability through peace. I was inspired by Sreyashi’s vision to participate in the movement to promote a culture based on human rights.”

Dance, too, is a part of “communication” for Ghosh and at the Kolkata rendering of her poetry, young contemporary dancer Prasanna Saikia gave expression to ‘Return of the Bride’, that discusses the curse of dowry in Indian marriages: ‘Her bridal finery now tainted with tears/From now on, she is filled with rejection and fears/She is now cursed as an ill omen/Written off by society’. Ghosh reveals, “Both women and men in different countries have identified with the anguish of the devastated young bride, who is rejected for lack of dowry in this poem that has been translated in French, German and Spanish.”

Not one to rest on her laurels, the young woman is currently working with the Alliance Française du Bengale, Kolkata, designing a programme for International Woman’s Day in March. “My poetry will be read in the context of women rights as human rights, in the background of an exhibition and performance presentation.”

She is also sharing ideas with women ‘patachitra’ artists (scroll painters) for a fusion project detailing the relation between women and environment. “The idea is to marry my pen and ink repertoire signature style with this indigenous art form and showcase the interlinks between women, human rights, ecological sustainability and green jobs through stories based on mythological characters. The project is based on the UNESCO and UN Earth Charter mandate,” she says.

There are artists and there are activists. Ghosh, the Bengali poet-painter, has fused different art forms to propel rights activism, creating awareness through creative expression. And women are always central to her work. She says, “Equality is a gender issue. Women have to constantly prove themselves. One man will consider a woman to be his equal only if she proves herself better than ten men! From an eminent banker to an ordinary housewife, every woman seems to be constantly answerable, defending her right to exist.”

 (© Women’s Feature Service)

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