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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Request Denied: Never mind the baby!

I thought I would pen a congratulatory announcement that reads something like this ‘a promising young artist from Mumbai has been accepted by the prestigious Montalvo Arts Center for a residency program in 2011’. http://montalvoarts.org/programs/residency/

The artist
Aaditi Joshi, is even listed on the Montalvo web site as a current fellow http://montalvoarts.org/fellows/ along with four other lucky artists selected into this $10.5 million dollar facility in Saratoga, California. Facilities like this are non-existent in our country so this was indeed a cause for celebration.

Instead I am writing to express my dismay over the fact that her visa to the US has been denied - not once but twice by the consulate in Mumbai for reasons that are inexplicable. They think that she is not ‘famous’ enough to warrant the residency, that she is too young and her bank balance is not big enough to convince the officers that she is eligible for such a visa. In other words she is considered an ‘immigration risk’.

In her defense, she explains that this is in fact an opportunity for emerging artists (the rich and famous go to art fair and auctions not to residencies). That she is an emerging artist and therefore still finding her financial feet. That she is happily married in Mumbai and proud to be an Indian. That she has a 10- month-old child who she will be leaving behind in the loving care of her grandparents. If not for her country she will surely come back for her baby who she loves more than any promised land.

Montalvo accepted Aaditi Joshi she was in an emotional bind. She would have to make a huge sacrifice and leave her newly born behind but the residency seemed like a great opportunity. As an artist, she knows a thing or two about making sacrifices and was willing to accept this challenge. She was prepared to leave her most precious belonging and go west - to learn, to grow but also to be a cultural ambassador and to contribute and share her art with America.

She thought the hard part was over – days were spent making the perfect application. Every comma and full stop in place, images scrutinized, organized, statement of purpose written, references sought. It was the most wonderful news that she has been accepted. The talent, the hard work all paid off. I was so happy for her. Suddenly a window has opened.

Her travel dates were fixed, grandparents were prepped to play parents again and just when life was about to take off, that window was shut tight by the most unlikely of circumstances. The visa-issuing officers did not think that artist Aaditi Joshi was famous enough or rich enough - and of course they were right on that count. Being an artist is one of the hardest things in the world. It takes great courage to dedicate oneself to making art. It is difficult for all young artists starting out but especially daunting for an artist-mother like Aaditi.

Imagine working with meager resources to create object of beauty and joy in an otherwise sullen world. To be tucked away in an isolated studio dedicated to the act of creation in the absence of a ready market. It takes great self-belief to do this day in and day out. I believe that the only reason she persists in her practice is because Aaditi is not looking to be ‘rich’ or ‘famous’. She is simply looking to make art. Art that inspires her to be a better human being and a better mom, art that can move you - the viewer, in new and magical ways. Art that can trigger imagination and touch your heart. That is the purpose of her art. Perhaps too 'trivial' a reason for some and thus overlooked by my good neighbors.

Aaditi made her case with sincerity and with passion. She gave them all the letters from Montalvo inviting her for the residency. Proof that this was an ‘all expense’ paid visit so her modest bank balance was no hindrance. That this was a rare opportunity for an emerging artist like her. She even showed them her previous show catalogs, all the press and reviews on her work - and she has quite a few to show – Times of India, Time Out, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Art India Magazine, Verve, Platform...but they did not even bother to look. Their mind was already made up.
Never mind the baby, she is neither ‘famous’ nor ‘rich’ she will flee.

In their misplaced wisdom and in the illusion of great authority Aaditi’s visa request was denied. With it was denied the hopes and aspirations of a young artist so eager to embrace the world and help make it a better place. What they could not however deny was her unbroken spirit.

Aaditi will apply again for the third time and as per regulations, it will be the final application she can make to the USA on her current passport.

Fact file: According to the NYT there were about 11 million illegal immigrants in the US in 2010 but I am sure none of them are visual artists from India who have forsaken their babies for the sake of all the dollars in the world!