My Language Self is a project through which Sushmita keeps an eye out for what we leave behind when we immigrate and try to create a new identity, and how what we lost resurfaces showing itself through our art and our words, inspired and encouraged by new places, people, and ideas. She is exploring what we will allow ourselves to express, who enjoys it and who feels uncomfortable. #mylanguageself
1.Lyrical Journey 2018
“As I started to teach calligraphy recently, it was exciting to go back and explore my native Devnagari script (used for Indian languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, and Marathi). I learned calligraphy in art school 30 years ago in India and in this artwork, Safarnama: Story of a Journey, a favorite recent Bollywood song with a Urdu name turns into an image, and a color from a dream tells the story of a journey.”
Sushmita wrote this artist’s statement for her artwork Safarnama: Story of a Journey, (left) which was accepted into the 2019 Smithsonian staff show Artists At Work. But she knew it was only the first part of the project she calls My Language Self.
These paintings were born out her panic, one day, when she looked at the work of a local grafitti artist and wondered if she could still write in her native Devnagari script, even after living 18 years in the US and never having to write Hindi at all. As she listened to her favorite songs on the Hindi movie song app, she started to write as the song went, scribbling lyrics of the song in real time, as she used to do sitting by the radio in her youth. She was relieved to find that she still could write it! But there were many words she had never written before–new words, mostly Urdu and Punjabi, that young poets were including in the songs from contemporary Bollywood movies.
Then, when she was to teach a class on Devnagari calligraphy for the Smithsonian Associates, she wondered if she could make the lyrics of the songs and her writing into paintings. What story would she tell? It turned out to be a very emotional one. “Those who can read Hindi look hard at these works and try to find the words here. But it is not for reading. These words and this writing has a different purpose–to unblock my emotions, to release my languages, and to just let me speak. I think it was successful!” – Sushmita Mazumdar
And it led to an amazing collaboration with Studio member Yuri Long. They named it Lyrical Journey Luminous Play. (Thanks to Yuri, this series got a poetic name!) Read more about the collaboration here.