Meet Salma Arastu of Berkeley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Salma Arastu.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
As an internationally exhibited woman artist, I bring a unique global perspective due to the fact that I was born into the Sindhi and Hindu traditions in Rajasthan, India, and later embraced Islam and moved to the USA in 1986. As a woman, artist, and mother, I work to create harmony by expressing the universality of humanity through paintings, sculpture, calligraphy and poetry. Inspired by the imagery, sculpture and writings of my Indian heritage and Islamic spirituality, I use my artistic voice to break down the barriers that divide to foster peace and understanding.

At birth, I was given the life-defining challenge of a left hand without fingers. Seeing the unity of an all-encompassing God, I was able to transcend the barriers often set forth in the traditions of religion, culture, and the cultural perceptions of handicaps. I have tried to bring together Eastern spirituality and Western techniques of painting learned over the years. Through the contrasting elements in my work, I yearn and search for unity and balance. My works are greatly influenced by my studies and experiences in different cultures around the world. After graduating in Fine Arts from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, India, I lived and worked in Iran and Kuwait, where I was exposed to a wealth of Islamic arts and Arabic calligraphy. Calligraphy, miniatures, and the folk art of Islam and the Hindu tradition continue to influence my work today. I am a visual artist and poet based in Berkeley, my works are lyrical, spiritual, figurative, and calligraphic, I explore the universality of humanity by creating paintings, sculptures and writing poems that break down the barriers that divide us and promote harmony, peace and understanding.

I have realized at this stage in my life that my calling has been towards connecting Humanity and Soil and Soul. I believe in bringing change with my subtle voice and deep intention to heal humanity, soil and soul. We experience life as separate energy forms, but we also share our energies and exist as One. We are not only One with each other, but One with the Earth, with every living and non-living being in it, and ultimately, we are one with the Divine Essence itself, that we call our Creator and by so many Names. My message is always ” We Are All One” It appears in all my work whether I do calligraphy or figuration or mycelium or microbes or home stories. These stories are rising from within me, and each painting has my soul in it. All these works are connected through my lyrical line that emanates from my soul and conveys the message of oneness, reflecting how all things have a spiritual essence and requires care and attention.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I think I have faced some challenges in my personal life but as for my career as an artist I have been encouraged to pursue right from childhood. My family was very supportive and even after marriage my husband has been very encouraging. So, I have been able to continue my practice. In my studio mysteries are revealed each day and I feel awed and inspired to delve further into the unknown fearlessly and look out for new visions emerging on my canvas. Though there have been many rejections, but I always treated them as opportunities to learn and grow. Success as an artist doesn’t come easily and I never stopped applying for shows or grants constantly. I managed my household and career without conflicts, and it has been a blessing.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My story begins with line and the lines that I create represent the spiritual energy that emanates from a soul. My method is a physical and meditative process that fills each canvas with moving lines and multi-layered textures. For me creating art means getting physically involved with the piece: scratching, sanding, layering materials like paper, rope, modeling paste, paper-mache or copper plate, and embroidering with pen and ink. I apply thin layers of acrylic color in between adding textures and this working process brings out subliminal images. As a woman, artist, and mother, I work to create harmony by expressing the universality of humanity through paintings, sculpture, and calligraphy. The tragedy of 9/11 compelled me to go deeper in my newly adopted faith and bring out positive verses from Quran for erase the misunderstandings about Islam.

I have been greatly influenced by the poems of Rumi, a Persian poet from 13th century. His words of wisdom speak universal language. My Poems and paintings happen simultaneously, and the creative urge is same. More often, it pours out in the form of paintings and sometimes words express my thoughts. I don’t decide when to pick up the brush or when to reach for a pen! Some poems become titles of my paintings and in some paintings, I visualize my poems.

I would like to introduce my two current ecologically conscious series of contemporary paintings, “Mycelial Flow” and “Tiny Creatures: Our Invisible Sustainers.” I have found myself immersed in research in an attempt to gain deeper knowledge in science and faith in order to find remedies to save our planet and its ecosystems. My research led me to discover Mycelia- the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments. Through my explorations in the realm of these life-giving networks under our feet, creating visual images of these connections and collaborations satisfies my soul and I hope to bring humanity together with lessons learned from Nature. The Tiny Creatures series visualizes microbes as integral to our ecosystem. These tiny creatures, microbes, are sustainers in the ecosystem. I feel Intrigued and inspired by their story and have created a body of work to draw attention to them.

I use thin acrylic glazes and pen & ink drawing to create a visual language for the intricate relationship between creatures swarming on my canvases in chaos-like compositions. These works are imaginative and spontaneous and bring energy and hope.
I feel blessed because I was born with two blessings- the urge to create and a love for the Creator. Both these gifts have been sources of eternal joy and a constant flow of positive inspiration in my life. I work every day and hope to spread the joy and blessings that I have received through my work.

What matters most to you? Why?
At present, I want to create more Oneness Projects and I have formed a nonprofit For me Oneness is not only one God or one Creator, but also one humanity, one earth, one life, one creation including plants, animals birds and insects, trees and water and sky. We are all one, interdependent and interconnected and entangled together. How and what separated us from one and another? When did we get separated? We were like mycelium, our original ancestors, entangled and nurturing each other. We cannot separate entangled roots unless we pull them apart and ruin them and still, they might sprout somewhere else. So how long we will keep people with differences separated or increase gaps between rich and poor, neglect our sustainers and deny our blessings? Being oblivious of our relentless pursuit of technological advancements and simultaneously ignoring the social degradation and our ignorant ways of abusing our environment we forget that we are not alone and that we are fragile, mortal and that we depend on each other, and we are connected to this beautiful planet. Our world will surely perish if we continue such atrocities but there is still hope as human beings are intelligent and resilient. Let’s work together to bring humanity soil and soul together again. It is essential work for all of us. So, through this effort with creating Oneness Projects, I am trying to sew together in humanity soul and soil, faith, and science.

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