India Currents Feature: Artist and Book Author Salma Arastu Talks About Her Work

Having lived in India, Iran, Kuwait and the U.S. (currently in Berkeley), born to one faith and married into another,

When She Became a Widow
When She Became a Widow

artist Salma Arastu a product of many hues of soil, cultures, and expressive mediums. With the recent publication of The Lyrical Line: Embracing All and Flowing, a collection of her artwork of the last 10 years, Arastu will hold book signings events.

Are you happy with how your book turned out?
It is my dream that is come true! In this art book, I have tried to trace with lines and color a trajectory of the human emotions that all of us feel no matter where we are from and what our individual situations are. It is my hope to reach out farther with this book as it contains that strong message, which has inspired me to become an artist—to spread the love of God through my art.

The recurring theme in your work is groups of people—any reason why?
I was born in Ajmer, Rajasthan. I have colorful memories of women draped in beautiful fabrics, going around in groups, either getting water from the tap in front of our home or going to the temple, wedding processions of young children, men chatting in groups.

Would you be the same painter if you hadn’t chosen Islam as a belief system?
I have been a very spiritual person since childhood as my mother was very spiritual. We had a puja room at home and we were supposed to pray with Amma every day and night. I believed in God to the extent that when I accepted Islam at the time of marriage, I knew He is coming with me, only my way of worship would change. I am the same person, whether Hindu or Muslim. Though through Islam, from the Holy Book Quran, I have only learnt how to keep relationships among neighbors, friends, and family.

I noticed your earlier style is abstract and in the last several years you’ve moved to featureless depiction of people.
Right from my childhood doodling, a single line would always become entangled and form shapes that looked like human figures to me. When I pursued a degree in fine art, I tried real figures, but it couldn’t satisfy me. So I became abstract. It was when I came to the U.S. that I was jolted into thinking, “Who am I?” So I started going back to my original doodling of figures and slowly arrived at my present faceless figuration in 2000. I was becoming grounded in my faith and I realized that the strong message that was unknown to me until then, has become clear. We are all one. The spirit of humanity is faceless.

Your painting series on California homes has an Indian feel to it, how come?
Miniature paintings have been a source of my inspiration. I do them in contemporary style but I do similar compositions of people engaged in day-to-day life chores. When I came to East Bay Area, the small houses with beautiful gardens, flowering trees, and patios and courtyards reminded me of India and Indian miniature paintings. So for me the influences are merged—one sees many Indians around here!

April 5, 1-4 p.m. Numi Tea Gardens, 2230 Livingston St., Oakland.

April 18, 5-8 p.m., Kalart Gallery, 855 Sansome St., San Francisco, where Arastu’s work will be on exhibit till May 18.

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