Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Beautiful connections

Art is heart of Indian religion, culture, philosophy and humanity

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People often ask why it is that we are so passionately tied to Indian art even when we have lived in Canada for several decades. The arts thrive in Indian culture and our culture lives through the arts. It is an eternal circle!

In Hinduism, everything is sacred so how could our traditions, culture and arts not be? Our loyalty to our spirituality, culture and traditions will always be there no matter how long we have been in Canada.

Art is a universal language. With all the diverse cultures, languages and faiths in the Indian sub-continent, the arts play a very important role in depicting Indian philosophy and educating the masses.

Artists, enact, sing, dance, weave, paint and sculpt the entire story of Ramayana in fabrics, stone and on paper. The Geet Gobind paintings, art and sculpture of Ajanta and Ellora caves, the carvings of Khajurao temples, the Shiva Lingam in Hindu temples, bravely depict the sacred union between male and female and between humans and the Divine. Hinduism being a way of life, it has no taboos about the realities of life.

It is deeply rooted in non-violence, peace, healthy living perspectives (like yoga and meditation) and preservation of culture and traditions that lead to harmony in diversity.

The arts not only bridge our diversity, they bridge the generations. It helps us in depicting our spirituality and keep us connected to the land of our origin.

Since moving from India to Canada in 1972, art has become more and more important to me. It is one way that I sustain my identity. When you leave your home country and come to a new country with very harsh weather and many strange customs, it takes a while to settle in.

During this time, it is our spirituality, our culture and our arts that give us strength. In Indian culture, poor or rich, near or far, we are surrounded by art at every step of life. It is a vital part of our spirituality, temples, deities, hymns, prayers, clothing, literature, dance, music, weddings, traditions, architecture, sculptures and our imagination!

It is who we are. Writers, dancers, musicians, thinkers, story tellers, painters not only bridge generations they also bridge the distance from the land of our origin. What a beautiful way to be connected!

Our community is one that is thankful to be a part of a multicultural society such as Canada where we can bring all that we are to our new home as well as learn from so many others who have made this their home, too.

Through our arts, culture and traditions, as well as the sciences, our community is making an important contribution to our new homeland. We have broadened the horizons of the Western world. I think a lot of credit goes to the strong family unit that has carried the religion, culture and arts in the lives of their children.

My work is only a drop in this vast ocean of arts, culture and knowledge. Being unsuccessful in the job market, I started writing stories about feelings -- prejudice and pain as well as peace. I compiled them in two books with help of Sunrise School Division. These books are used in some schools as a resource to teach multicultural and anti-bias education.

As a child, I wrote poetry. Here in Canada, I continued with that and wrote, 125 poems for Preservation, Peace and Pleasure to honour Manitoba's 125th birthday.

Then I made posters with art and poetry, which I took to many teachers' conferences. As I sold them I made more. People encouraged me to develop my painting. So I started painting more and more. I painted for the United Nations Platform for Action Committee and sold my cards and posters at their event.

I did a series on water from a multicultural and multi-faith perspective and received seed money from the Manitoba Association for Multicultural Education. Brenda Cantelo, professor of world religions at the University of Manitoba, invited me to her classes with the water series and other paintings focusing on the Kalinga War.

Every honorarium I received I used to invest in more painting. I never stopped.

I painted a series on the mother of the Buddha and used that to engage others in conversations about motherhood in our society at large and also violence against women. I painted a series on Jainism stressing the principle of non-violence. Some of my paintings were on human rights and the environment. That was followed by a series on the River Ganga, which was funded by the Manitoba Arts Council.

The Mennonite Heritage Gallery featured my art in a solo show. This gave me courage and brought a new twist to my art. I became brave and painted a series on Canada selling asbestos to India and India buying it.

It was the first time I had the courage to critique Canada like any other responsible citizen.

A first time video grant from Video Pool was instrumental in starting me making short videos. I collaborated with Ray Dirks and Isam Aboud on a DVD and a book called, In the Spirit of Humanity.

With the help of the Winnipeg Foundation and Manitoba Education we distributed it to every school in Manitoba and a number of communities.

Ray Dirks and I are now on the verge of completing another DVD called Leap in Faith. It focuses on the many different faiths that now make up the province of Manitoba and will be a resource to help students and the community to appreciate the richness and variety of different peoples in their midst.

Much of my work has been done with schools. I have been into many schools in Manitoba and Northern Ontario and have worked with thousands of young minds and have learned from all of them. I may not be successful in showing my art in the public galleries but I'm very content with my grassroots effort to reach out to young minds to make a change. I have done and will continue to do my best to reach out to new generations.


Manju Lodha is an Indian-born Winnipeg artist who arrived in Canada in 1972.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 J11

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