The Dark. A natural and essential part of our existence. Not evil. Not inferior. Deep. Forceful.
Darkness is intense, and so widely misunderstood. Who has not used the word “darkness” to describe something ominous and threatening; when in truth it is simply the unknown. It takes a brave deconstruction, followed by an honest reconstruction, of language, culture and history to fully understand what darkness truly is. It takes conquering the fear of the unknown.
One thing I have had to admit to myself, in these times, is my own reluctance to go deep and wide. To be honest with myself and to keep Looking. Especially when it is hard to look, when what I see before me is greed and unimaginable cruelty. The Horror. Looking at the world with my eyes wide open and my heart wide open feels like a punch in the chest, leaving me breathless. I begin the year 2017 with the humble realization that I, too, have been hiding from my own intense darkness.
What I learned as a child:
What one sees in the dark will not be believed.
Turn on a light and it disappears.
What I learned as an adult:
Leave the seeds of your own imagination and intuition in the light of the bright sun.
They will shrivel and die.
For they need the cool damp soil, the long dark nights and rain.
Finally, I not only understand darkness; I thrive in it. I am learning to see in it. I need to go into darkness to fully understand myself and the world. There I have found a deep connection with my ancestors. My ancestors are my connection with the unwritten past that I carry within, making them the seeds of compassion for myself and all life.
In the light of day we learn we are all one in the world, and we reach out to the sun. In the darkness we learn we are all one in the universe, and we germinate.
|Darkness is where seeds germinate.
My journey into this acceptance takes me into the mythology of my patrilineal ancestry and my Sanskrit name, Usha. Let me be clear – India is more than the land of chai tea and asanas, colorful goddess memes about enlightenment and little brown men in tree poses. That is the surface of India, the travel brochure ad, the guru’s full page ad. I love my yoga classes and I appreciate the West’s need for something to ease the imbalance in its own culture. I struggle at how often that leads to a narrow vision, the appropriation of only a slice of a monumentally complex culture, existing now in a country devastated and transformed by Neocolonialism. There are certainly many Westerners who consciously address this problem. And I respect the complexity of American life, being a part of it while I sometimes bristle at it. I have driven home frustrated from at least a few yoga classes, when, chatting after class, I have tried to explain my own experience of India. I lack the words as much as the culture I live in lacks the understanding. It is an impasse that has led me to create a world of art surrounding this name, Usha, and all it represents. You cannot embrace the shiny surface of India without swallowing the darkness that is as much hers. And this goes for all of spirituality, all of nature, all of this existence.
Usha is also a character I have worked on in several stories. Often intensely personal work, I seldom felt comfortable having my stories be public. They are stories that reflect my most personal struggles, my relationship with my Indian father, my outsider status, my stubborn pride over an identity I fail to fully understand. Usha has been a protagonist in a private monologue. She journeys into darkness, giving me the courage to reveal these stories and the imagination to create new ones. In the dimming light of the Empire’s Lies I feel the time has come.
I am one of many.
|Sometime in the 70’s: a day in the life of Usha.
“I am Usha” is not about history and a retelling of ancient myths. There are piles of books for that. It is my personal discovery of an unknown lineage through the journey of visionary art making. It is my own solitary conversation with my ancestors when I wear my Sanskrit name. It is a change that occurs when you see your present self through the eyes of your cellular memory. It is more than a name, and more than an exploration of culture; in the end it is a search for meaning in the abyss. Implicit in the search is the release of old norms of thinking, a rejection of dogma, opinions and assumptions. What replaces these untruths does not reveal itself immediately and an uncomfortable darkness descends. Uncomfortable because it is the unknown, the one thing feared so deeply. But Darkness and Unknowing have become my closest confidants in this language of art I have developed in a lifetime.
“I am Usha” is a journey into the mysterious understanding of the necessities of darkness that ultimately leads to the light of communicating and connecting with the world. Each of these cannot exist without the other, making me realize “I am Usha” is my way of joining the divided parts of myself as a mirror to the divided world I live in. It is my hope that this creative vision quest will unite past and present, illustrating the illuminating potential of darkness. In the end this is all I ask of my art.
Note: all paintings are my own, painted between 1994-1997.