- Mithila Malaviya
In New York I am
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
An alarm sounds, at 10:30 am. Then again at 11:30 am 12 noon and five-minute intervals till 2 pm. My first class of the week is at 3 pm. I get dressed and out the door by 2:30 pm. The right music can set my whole mood for the day. It is important to accept what and how I am feeling every day, as an artist, I do channel it a lot in my work. Walking down 34th street from 10th avenue towards Penn Station, I gather my thoughts and how to conduct myself that day. I get distracted by the buildings on 9th avenue very quickly and forgot about what I was planning in my mind. The architecture is just amazing. I can also see the Empire State building every day on my walk to the station. It never fails to remind me that I am in New York. Looking towards uptown on the 9th avenue signal, I see some Times Square billboards. I have a better view of Times Square from 8th avenue. Some of the billboard spillage has reached to 34th and 8th, maybe also because of Maddison Square Garden, and Penn Station they have jazzed it up. Crossing several diners just between 9th and 8th avenue I have always wanted to go to one of them (they are open all night) but each time, I get intimidated by their vast menu.
Just barely touching MSG on 8th avenue, I walk down the stairs into the “underground world”. I am essentially a rat, I go into one hole, and come out another. Taking C/E train, two holes and I am on the 14th street station. They say if you have been in New York long enough, you know right away which direction to head to for “your” exit. This station has three exits, 14th street, 15th street, and 16th street. Each of the exists have a North East or North West direction to further make it confusing for you to understand where to go! However, if you know which way you are going, that is uptown or downtown (before you exist), it is easier to locate the right exit. This was what I calculated in my initial days- I took my train from 34th, I am now at 14th street station, which means I traveled downtown. If I have to find the 16th street exit, I walk in the opposite direction of my train. Et voilà, nailed it.
Walking out on 16th street and 8th avenue, with the world’s most used search engine company right there, I barely even notice the Google building anymore. In the beginning, I would go gaga over it like a nerd, “Ah! New York”, I would sigh, I am now immune to it. Most of the “Ah! New York” moments I had in my first month, are now replaced by my phone screen. Though one thing that remained the same over the months was the cinematic journey I took every day to school. I imagined myself in a movie with a New York backdrop and somedays the music introduced my character living in Manhattan like Carrie Bradshaw’s, or sometimes I was going through a tough time and walking in slow motion. Sometimes it was a rock song that got me to class faster than usual. My entire journey would not be more than fifteen minutes, including the walks to and from the station. It confirmed what everyone says about New York, public transport is the best way to get around the city. Once in a while when I did feel fancy, or just lazy, I would book a Cab, but that consistently took too long due to traffic, no matter what time of the day.
Walking into class and seeing everyone setting up to start working, I notice they all had a beverage or snack from their local block’s stores. How was I sure it was from their block?
Because if someone had an opportunity to get Starbucks every day they would but you go to your closest convenient location to get your daily bagel or coffee. If it is not on the way no one wants to add more travel time to their day by re-routing. Plus, one of the great things about New York is every block is equipped with some basics- a grocery store, a deli, a coffee shop, a bagel vendor, a wine and liquor store and one dry cleaner. It’s just a New York thing.
Being an artist, one does take inspiration from their surroundings. After a while, that is all that one has to depend on for motivation. Being an artist in India, where I am from, my work was very focused on women’s rights. Obviously, because it is a very strong issue that needed to be addressed. Doing two years of college in Paris, my work changed to how I felt and how my inner demons wanted to display themselves, sometimes they expressed love sometimes they showcased anger. India was all about creating awareness and Paris was about finding my voice. Walking into New York, I expected to find my artistic voice. The famous buildings- Chrysler, Empire State, World Trade Centre, MET, Rockefeller, Flatiron and tons of more, made me feel like New York architecture would make a dent in my art in one way or another. But, it did not.
Paris, for me, was a city of love and art. It housed millions of art pieces, ranging from sculptures to installations to paintings. Though for me it was more of sculptures and paintings. That style of art did not affect my work but, my materials were affected. I was a painter and a sculptor in Paris because that’s what I thought you are supposed to be in Paris. In India I was a political artist, that is what was expected from me. In New York I was...
In New York I am...
I painted in New York. I did an augmented reality piece of a political issue. I looked around my classroom, everyone was confidently holding their paint brushes. They knew they were
painters in the Monday afternoon 3 pm class. The Tuesday morning drawing class everyone knew they were a sketch artist. In the Wednesday evening art history class, they all knew they were art historians. Who was I? I was in all these classes because I wanted to experience them all. Unlike the smart students, who chose classes to move forward in the direction of the type of artist they wanted to be. I just wanted to be here. I just wanted to learn. But, unfortunately, that makes me a student, not an artist.
I was highly motivated to speak up as a woman on women’s issues in India. I also helped several NGO’s in India that worked with underprivileged women. It was rich material for an artist. It needed attention, and I did my best. It is still an issue and a serious one but I feel helpless sitting here in New York. I can not do my best from here and it is not the kind of issue you would want to half-ass. In Paris, I was like a shiny new baby alone in the big bad world for the very first time. I also did not do well with my “Indian Crutch” of women’s issues, in my art, may it be Paris or New York. Women faced different, or dare I say, much- evolved issues in these cities. It was no more about women dying in childbirth due to young age, women getting forced to marry at fourteen years of age, nor was it women getting beaten up by their husbands because they did not work. The issues here were more worldly, unequal pay, abortion laws, body image issues or catcalling. I was not able to feel the pain in these issues as much as I felt in the ones I was involved in, or grew up surrounded by. So I went on a journey to find myself. And I did. I found my strengths, my weaknesses and I knew I had to go to a bigger institution. I got more confident in my work and reached New York.
So far in New York, I did- painting, augmented reality, video, screen-printing, linocuts, woodcuts, digital media, mixed media, photography, writing, and sculptures. I was looking into graphic designing and cinema 4D now. Though I did all this and much more in Paris and
India too, and I was surer of what kind of artist I was there but I do not know who I am in New York. What do I do in New York? When I wasn’t here, I constantly saw movies and shows with a New York backdrop. That triggered something in me. I have a tendency of re- imagining music videos in my head the way I would have shot and directed it and they all ended up taking place in New York. I started doing it with movies and shows too! I started re- imagining every shot again. This started long back. I would re-imagine a scene that took place in Rockefeller and place the setting in Central Park for example. What the architecture in Rockefeller was not able to contribute in a scene, nature did in my revalued shot. My walk every day in New York, for instance, that was a scene in the making every single day. I also ended up making a personal project video of my relationship moments and gave that as a gift to my boyfriend on our six-year anniversary. My aunt is getting married and all I can think about all day is how I would shoot her engagement announcement video, her pre-wedding video, and her wedding video too! She asked me to shoot her wedding video, but I have shot all three in my mind. I have storyboards and angles and lightings that I want. I guess I have not noticed this yet. Dare I say I reached this conclusion due to all the shows and movies I have seen, constantly taking place in we know where.
So, maybe I am a failed painter in New York. A failed screenprinter in New York. A failed photographer in New York. But maybe, in New York, I am a videographer. I will walk back home thinking about how the light from MSG at 9 pm hits my face as I walk the crosswalk, smiling to myself thinking about how I solved a mystery today. And I know exactly the angle it’s going to be shot at.