A couple of months ago, I had several friends travelling in India, at the same time. They were all posting photos on Facebook of their daily treks to mosques, caves, temples and tombs. It transported me back to my 26-year old self, while on my first trip to India, the fruit of my application for a Commonwealth Arts and Crafts Award. This research award stipulated that I spend a minimum of 6 months there. This was truly a life changing experience for me. Not only was this the first time I travelled outside of North America, but I arrived in Mumbai 2 days after 9/11. I was en route for India, in Rome, when 9/11 happened. The world was in upheaval and so was my young spirit.
I persisted, though, and remained in India despite family urging me to return home.
During those 6 months, I did a few self-directed residencies and visited nearly every mosque, temple and tomb of the Mughal Empire. I was fascinated with ornate historical architecture, having mostly researched European architecture before this trip. I was now seeing and experiencing a whole new style of architecture that was grand and mighty, bold and enduring, but also contained fine, delicate features and decorative pattern.
This trip affected my outlook on the world, helping me see myself and my culture from the outside looking in. It also helped shape my art practice. I sometimes forget how much this trip shaped me and led to who I am today, both as a person and as an artist.
I’m currently completing a public art commission for an elementary school in Montreal. As I look at my design for this commission, which involves the imagery being etched into the huge exterior concrete walls of the building, I am reminded of Akbar’s Tomb, in Sikandra, about 10km from the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal rests. The carved sandstone blocks that frame the entrance gates to the site of Sikander’s Tomb always reminded me of quilt blocks. Even back then, at 26, before I was consciously doing artwork with quilt references, I guess was unconsciously planning for future work. I took photos, did sketches. But then I tucked these notebooks away on a shelf with other old sketchbooks to rarely look at and collect dust.
When I saw the images my friends posted from their visits to these sites in India, it was like an “ah-ha” moment. As I remembered Akbar’s Tomb, I felt silly for forgetting about it all these years and not seeing how much it influenced my current work. It’s comforting to look back and know that the 26-year old who often felt lost and confused during those 6 months amongst the ordered chaos of India, was actually paying attention. For a few years after that trip, I kept waiting with the impatience that accompanies youth, to see some immediate work develop. It didn’t seem to happen. But life went on.
Sometimes it takes a long time for ideas to develop. All that we see and do and experience affects us and as creative people, eventually it makes its way out. I thank the Commonwealth Foundation for trusting in me all those years ago.