Where the streets speak words of art…

Hand me no canvas,
These facades, behold! 
At street corners, comics unfold,
Not all art is framed and bound,
Neither in shackles found, 
Nor encased in any ornate crypt, 
It’s “free”, it’s open, seldom a script, 
Nay, not graffiti by vandals, sprayed,
Characters embrace these walls so frayed,
Rich and poor, all they greet.
They have me stop in the street, 
They catch my admiring eye, 
While another art gallery I walk by…

This poem has been inspired by the street art of Belgium. The idea of the post is to elaborate: just because its not canvas and auctioned at Christie’s, doesn’t take away the artistic qualities. Art is also found on the (outer) walls. Be it comic characters. Another point is that its different from graffiti. Its perhaps commissioned. Most importantly, its open for all to see (as distinct from art displayed at galleries, which have an entry fee). What makes you stop in your path and admire, is art (in this scenario, quite literally)!

© Helina Desai, 2017 (Photographs and written word), with creative inputs from Nazneen Dharamsey. All rights reserved.


Starting afresh

Give up but dusty old ideals this Lent,

The unexpected coincidences are but God-sent

Embrace a new beginning, it’s a new quarter,

Swap your old dreams for new in this barter

Things are a-changing, thank God for it,

He devised these chapters in His wit

The day his fabric upon us will devolve,

It will be the day we will begin to evolve.



©Helina Desai, 2017. All rights reserved.

Buena Familia

On a long large table the Good Family sat,
A day before Friday, it was their last.
Crucified on a cross for the greater good,
Fragments of life as dead as the wood.
Out of the oven, the hot crossed buns,
Plant those seeds out in the sun.
Hush up kids, hear the silence around
Whispers of kindness be the only sound.
A shadow is cast like a spell,
12 apostles towers each with a bell.
The colours that reflect change with time,
Glass remains unshattered in chime.
As strong as a tree branched out,
Holding it together when in doubt.
Blessed by the Holy three,
With the strength to be, the power to see.
The Last Supper of The Holy Family,
The stroke of Da Vinci, stoned by Gaudi.
Brought light upon the eternal soul,
You don’t have to be complete in order to feel whole.
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci depicts the night before Good Friday.
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is an incomplete Basilico by architect Antoni Gaudi depicting the crucifixion of Christ.


Stained glass plays an important role in art and Christian history; stories from the Bible recreated in churches the stain on the glass adding character to the light that fall
The pillars of the Sagrada Familia are in the shape of a tree, branched out to hold the structure intact. 
Hot Cross Buns are synonymous with Good Friday, it is also believed that this is a good day to plant seeds and observe fasting and silence for Christ’s suffering before the celebration of Easter Sunday. 
Note: Connect the dots Buena Familia means the Good Family in Spanish
where Good = God in context to Good Friday, a significance of holiness, where Holy = Sagrada.
This poem is an interpretation of Good Friday; through the famous works of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Both works of art showcase the crucifixion and suffering of Christ. It also interprets the observances on Good Friday and the notion of the modern day family.

©Nazneen Dharamsey, 2017. All rights reserved.

Images of the Sagrada Familia Courtesy Helina Desai.

A Midsummer’s Starry Night

An Englishman, distinguished in his appearance, was pacing to and fro, by a bench in Hyde Park. He was brimming with angst, as he clenched his fist tighter, crumbling a bundle of papers he held. The fallen, brittle autumn leaves were crushed by his each step.

A Dutch gentleman was sitting on this park bench. Bent forward, hunched, fingers locked. He glanced upon the Englishman’s hands. The dark ink seemed to have found it’s way into the folds of his hands, akin to a dried up river bed. His gaze followed him, and matched his pace. The ink on the Englishman’s hands matched the myriad oil paints on the Dutch man’s withered fingers. 

The Englishman glanced sideward at him and jerked a swift second look. He walked towards the bench, as if responding to the Dutch man’s invitation. 

As the Englishman sat down by the Dutch, their different attires stared at each other. It was as if the Englishman lived in Elizabethan age and the Dutch man was from the nineteenth century. To a passerby, it would seem an instance of time travel. 

“Lend me your ears.” The Englishman started an abrupt conversation, hoping the stranger is a good listener. 

But alas! Like a lot of his plays, this too turned out to be an ironic tragedy!

He noticed the Dutch man’s Bandaged Ear and pain in his sullen eyes. It was as if the Dutch man had chopped off a part of his own ear! 

Images from the Internet. Courtesy Sapan Satia

And so they sat in silence, the poet/ playwright Englishman and the despaired artist Dutch man wondering what the Sunflowers on the Wheatfields of Cypresses would smell like on The Starry Night of this Midsummer’s Night Dream.

©Helina Desai & Nazneen Dharamsey, 2017. All rights reserved.

All the Awadh’s a stage when Shakespeare’s in Lucknow!

One of the most renowned figures in Literature, William Shakespeare is every literati’s stairway to heaven. Growing up, reading was not merely a hobby, but an escape route, into a world so surreal, so sacred, a world you could truly call your own.

So when Shakespeare’s First Folio was showcased in the city for the first time, our hearts literally skipped a beat. All his works in one book, published in 1623 was up for viewing at the Prince of Wales Museum (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya)

The First Folio – one of the most valuable printed books in the world — sold at a Christie’s auction in New York for $6.16 million in 2001. This is the first time it has travelled outside of the UK and was exhibited till the 8th of March this year.

The First Folio at CSMVS. The book has been kept open on the first page of ‘The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet” Picture courtesy: Diana Philip. 

With at least 38 plays, 154 sonnets and over 1700 words contributed to the English language, his works are still an integral part of curriculum and his phrases are what our conversations are made of till date!

Picture courtesy: Diana Philip.

A major influence in theatre and Bollywood, Shakespeare’s works have been adapted far and wide. From Omkara; a rustic U.P. adaptation of Othello to Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet set amidst the insurgency-hit Kashmir conflicts of 1995 and civilian disappearances. The Shakespeare comedy theatre festival which ended yesterday saw the comical interpretations of Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear and As You Like It which were written & directed by Rajat Kapoor.

For the love of Shakespeare, our love for kebabs and our very special Lucknowi friends; we thought what better way than to pay tribute to the great literary master in the avatar of the great Indian Nawab.

So if Shakespeare was in Lucknow, what would his famous words be?

Shakespeare in Lucknow

Shakespeare in Lucknow

Shakespeare in Lucknow

Shakespeare in Lucknow



©Helina Desai & Nazneen Dharamsey, 2017. All rights reserved.

The Art of Feminism

So much is said on the 8th of March every year. From celebrating the achievements of women in history across various platforms to empowering the modern day woman with equal rights.

However, what really caught my attention was Snapchat’s new filters of Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and Rosa Parks as the brand’s way to commemorate women on this day.


“In the age of the selfie, Frida is considered to be the first selfie artist. She told a story of love, life, strength and passion through her self-portraits.” 

– Beatriz Alvarado from the Frida Kahlo Corporation told CNET in a statement.

Notwithstanding the debate this move sparked with regard to the whitening of Frida Kahlo face or the fact that Marie Curie probably never wore smoky eyeliner or fake lashes in lab! Narcissism doth beat feminism thus!

But the Feminist art movement actually dates back to the late 1960’s amidst the fervor of anti-war demonstrations as well as civil and gay and lesbian rights movements. Feminist artists sought to change the world around them through their art; through cultural influences that would transform stereotypes.

Art then, was not merely for aesthetic admiration, but an avenue that could also incite the viewer to question the social and political landscape that would eventually lead to equality. Before feminism, the majority of women artists were denied exhibitions and gallery representation based on the sole fact of their gender.

The Dinner Party (1974-1979)

Artist: Judy Chicago

The Dinner Party is one of the most well-known pieces of Feminist art in existence and is permanently housed at the Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The installation consists of a large banquet table with place settings for thirty-nine notable women from history and mythology. The settings have gold ceramic chalices and porcelain plates painted with butterfly- and vulva-inspired designs. In addition to the thirty-nine settings, there are the names of 999 other women painted on the tiles below the triangular table. The Dinner Party participates in the feminist revision of history, initiated during the 1970s, in which feminists worked to re-discover lost role models for women, rewriting the past that had previously only included male voices. In the combination of intricately wrought textiles, tile, and porcelain, Chicago reclaimed the realm of “high art” to include what had traditionally been relegated to the lower status of “women’s work.”

Reference: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-feminist-art.htm

the dinner party installation - judy chicago

“Do I still hope that feminist art can make a difference in the world? My answer is yes. I continue to believe that we need an art that can help us see the world through other people’s eyes and thereby lead us to a future where the world will be made at least a little more whole.”

This women’s day, let art take over. Let the sense of creativity take over our sense of judgment. Let’s understand Feminism for what it truly stands for; equality.

©Nazneen Dharamsey, 2016. All rights reserved.

The complicated relationship between art and love; artists and lovers

Love is complicated.

We blame it on lifestyle, work pressures, stress, lack of options… The list is endless.

I sat in the Albertina Museum in Vienna one hot summer afternoon admiring the works of some of the most renowned artists in history. It was breathtaking. Suddenly I heard a soft sniffle right to me. A beautiful Parisian girl sitting on the same bench as me looking at the same piece of art as I was, with a tear gently running down her cheek. My heart reached out to her but I didn’t say anything. I looked at what she was seeing and tried to figure what could have evoked such an emotion.

It was Picasso’s ‘Nude Woman with Bird and Fluteplayer’. A 1967 piece that shows a somewhat disfigured yet very prominent portrait of a nude woman looking at a man playing the flute as a dove looks on. Some interpret the piece as the artist himself wooing her, the dove a symbol of sexual awakening.

Nude Woman with Bird and Fluteplayer (2nd from right) displayed at the Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Next I heard whispers and realized her friend who was looking for her, had finally found her. They were in a deep French conversation but I figured it had to do more with a boy friend problem than art inspiration.  Well, such are the follies of modern day love. Sitting in front of a Picasso, crying over a boy!

As they walked away, I continued to stare at the painting. I couldn’t help but wonder; is love complicated just in our so-called Tinderage? What was love like then?  Who was Picasso thinking of when he painted this nude? Was he possibly in love? Or was he in for the chase? What inspired him most? Does the love story of an artist differ much from ordinary everyday romance?

Love is the greatest refreshment in life

Pablo Picasso had a very complicated relationship with the women in his life. An article in The Telegraph by Mark Hudson reflects the various women in his life and the complex relationship he had with each of them; how it impacted his art and his growth as an artist. An exceptional read, the excerpts are as follows:

Of the seven most important women in Picasso’s life, two killed themselves and two went mad. Another died of natural causes only four years into their relationship. Yet while Picasso had affairs with dozens, perhaps hundreds of women, and was probably true to none. “Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943. “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats”.

Women are machines for suffering.

For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.

Fernande Olivier who he met in 1904 was his first great love. Picasso moved from the poetic romanticism of his Rose Period to a new way of working inspired both by the dynamism of modern Paris and by the enduring values of Mediterranean culture on which he was to draw all his life.

In 1906, Olivier accompanied him to the village of Gosol in the Spanish Pyrenees, where the cubistic traditional architecture and her strong, sensual features were endlessly analysed in a vast body of drawings that led to the most influential painting of the 20th century – Demoiselles d’Avignon.  As Picasso worked on this definitive canvas in the suffocating heat of his Montmartre studio, he was consumed with jealousy and anger towards Olivier who had temporarily walked out on him – this emotional violence feeding into a work that blasted the Renaissance idea of fixed perspective out of the window and changed the course of Western art.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.jpg
Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, originally titled The Brothel of Avignon). The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. The painting showcases 5 nude women from a brothel in Barcelona. Their face shows no emotion, two of them are masked even. The painting was perceived as immoral and provoked the beginning of Cubism as a form of art.

In 1912, Picasso began seeing her close friend, Eva Gouel. Picasso’s time with her coincided with the moment of synthetic cubism, in which observational elements were combined into semi-abstract compositions, often including collage or text. While Picasso never painted Gouel, he paid homage to her in several of these paintings, by including the words Ma Jolie – my pretty one – which is perhaps the most overtly affectionate artistic gesture he made to any of his women.

Image result for picasso painting ma jolie

Picasso’s marriage to the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova in 1915 coincided with a complete reversal in his artistic direction – from world-changing abstraction to relatively conservative neoclassicism. His portraits of Khokhlova have a restraint and serenity inspired by the 19th-century master Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. As their relationship disintegrated and she became increasingly delusional, his depictions of her and women in general grew ever more hateful – tortured masses of teeth, limbs and vaginas.

Dora Maar was Picasso’s partner during the period of his greatest political engagement, her inner turmoil standing in for Spain’s agony during the Civil War in Tate’s iconic Crying Woman. She made a photographic record of Picasso’s work on the monumental masterpiece Guernica, and her unmistakable features appear in the banshee-like head swooping into the painting. But in Picasso’s most telling images of Maar, her features are disturbingly reconfigured – growing out of each other in all the wrong places – as though she is literally breaking down in front of us.

Guernica, 1937. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. The mural sized oil painting is regarded as the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in the history of art. The mural shows the suffering of the people with prominent visuals of a gored horse, a bull and flames. The painting became famous and widely acclaimed, and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.

When Picasso threw her over for the much younger Françoise Gilot in 1943, Maar suffered a complete mental collapse, followed by nun-like seclusion. “After Picasso,” she famously declared, “only God.”

After Picasso, only God.

The last of Picasso’s great loves was Jacqueline Roque. Picasso created more than 400 portraits of the demure Roque, who he married in 1961.Picasso met Jacqueline Roque in 1953 at the pottery when she was 27 years old and he was 72. He romanced her by drawing a dove on her house in chalk and bringing her one rose a day until she agreed to date him six months later. She committed suicide in 1986, 13 years after Picasso’s death.

Jacqueline with flowers, 1954 by Pablo Picasso
Jacqueline with Flowers, 1954. Picasso Museum, Paris.The painting celebrates the presence of the new muse in Picasso’s life, Jacqueline Rocque.


I suppose Love in Cubist times isn’t too different from Love in the Tinderage. Love is love. A feeling so empowering, it leaves you powerless. It engulfs you, takes over your senses and throws you over the edge! But it also confuses you makes you question yourself, makes you wonder if you can perhaps feel a little more deeply. Can your heart beat a little faster? Is this the most you can feel? Are you with the right person? Will you ever find the right person? What exactly is the right person?

Love… remains complicated.

©Nazneen Dharamsey, 2016. All rights reserved.


* The most commonly accepted periods of Picasso’s work are the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1904–1906), the African-influenced Period (1907–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), also referred to as the Crystal period.

*Source: The Telegraph and Wikipedia

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