Cliffhangers all the way: artist-author Manjula Padmanabhan sums up her eventful 2022


For me, 2022 began in New Delhi. I was struggling to produce enough artwork for a solo show. It was scheduled to open on February 14 at Chennai’s Artworld, run by Sarala Banerjee, the world’s kindest and most affectionate gallery owner.

But I live in the U.S. and had only just returned to India in mid-December. I spent the next five weeks desperately churning out 21 artworks. That left me with just enough time for framing, shipping and travelling to my sister’s home in Chennai. The show was called Knots and Crosses and that title perfectly describes how the whole of this year has been for me: multi-stranded, convoluted and tense! But fun and colourful, too.

Manjula Padmanabhan’s ‘not-clocks’: kinetic art made of coloured paper and battery-operated quartz movements.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

My home in the U.S. is a tiny two-room rental in Newport, Rhode Island. I’m part of a collaborative group called the DeBlois Gallery. It has 19 member artists, amongst whom I, at 69, am younger than most of the others. Every month, we have a new show, with guest artists as well as members participating.

Producing something new every month is a wonderful challenge. This year, for instance, I created six small pieces that I called “not-clocks”: kinetic art made of coloured paper and battery-operated quartz movements.

Manjula Padmanabhan’s outdoor art ‘Lady Marina’, acrylic paint on plywood.

Manjula Padmanabhan’s outdoor art ‘Lady Marina’, acrylic paint on plywood.

One of the other artists, Mandy Howe, and I also worked on large panels of outdoor art. One of my pieces,  Lady Marina, was 1.2 x 2.4 metres, painted in outdoor acrylic paint on plywood.

‘Suki’ will return as a book

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a new novel and a collection of my sci-fi short stories slated to appear in 2023. For  The Bombay Literary Magazine, currently helmed by Anil Menon, I had great fun writing a short story called ‘Dirty Phone Calls’. My comic strip  Suki no longer appears in print, but a two-volume compendium is underway.

The war in Ukraine was the backdrop for much of the news cycle from February onwards. But the concerns about the U.S. mid-term elections resulted in a thundercloud of doom hanging over our heads. I’m not a citizen and cannot vote, but by election day in November, even I was wheezing with terror at the idea that the Republicans might win. Then, of course, they didn’t. For a few precious moments, we could even stop thinking about all the other despotic governments in the world, including Iran, Indonesia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Turkey, China and perhaps even… Okay, I won’t say it.

Though the threat of COVID-19 infections has been fading, Zoom sessions continued apace. In one of them, I taught a class of 11-year-olds to make a spherical ornament out of three paper disks. My grand-niece Deviyani in Hartford, Connecticut, conducted the session with enviable poise.

Another session, this time in person, was also very special. My lovely friend Priya Chandrasekaran, a Ph.D in environmental humanism at the famous Juilliard School of Music in New York, invited me to talk to two classes of her exceptionally charming students. Three hours, practically nonstop! Major thrill.

Newport is a chic little city with sandy beaches, elegant mansions and fine dining. I, however, live in an area where street people cluster on sidewalks drinking coffee from styrofoam cups and sharing smokes. One day, an old man in a wheelchair began using the parking lot in front of my building to deposit large piles of solid waste. The police were called in. The man signed an affidavit agreeing to stop. But he kept returning! And the police did too. Finally, the cold winter rain put an end to the whole sad drama.

A dose of Dickens

For many years now, I’ve enjoyed listening to audiobooks while I tinker with clocks and paint. I’ve been bingeing on Dickens. This year it has been  The Old Curiosity ShopLittle Dorrit and now  David Copperfield. And  The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy) and  Middlemarch (George Eliot). And  The Dawn of Everything (David Graeber, David Wengrow) — an utterly brilliant overview of the ancient world — plus lighter pleasures, such as Louise Penny’s  Inspector Gamache series and very recently, Anthony Horowitz’s  The Twist of a Knife.

I don’t have a TV, but I watch movies and shows on my computer. This year, I enjoyed  Three Thousand Years of LongingMrs. Harris Goes to ParisMagpie MurdersThe Great British Baking Show and the Star Wars spin-off series,  Andor.

A mere 10 days before leaving for Delhi, COVID-19 struck. I caught the infection from my partner, who’d caught it from a friend in Providence. A mild attack. Three days before departure, he turned negative. Two days later, I followed suit.

The morning of departure, another crisis: the smoke alarm begins bleating. It is a malfunction, not a fire. With no time to spare, we silence the device, send the landlord a panicked message and flee towards the airport. Miserably cramped seats, two lousy meals and 30 hours later, we’d come full-circle, back to New Delhi once more.

The writer is an author, playwright, artist and cartoonist.

Source link

Leave a Response