Indian artist captures African soul on canvas

New Delhi: A row of mud huts, green trees, smiling Masai kids, Oromo women cooking on hearths and a couple of Zulu men gossiping idly -- artist Premila Singh paints all these and more to capture the enigma of African soul on her canvas.

These are her impressions of a colourful continent that is still laidback and somewhat away from the bustling global power blocs. Johannesburg-based Singh was here for an exhibition. Singh, an Indian by birth, has spent 17 years of her life in Africa where she works at a trading firm and paints in her spare time.

"During all my years in Africa, I observed the life of the common Africans and I realised that Africa was very different in the perspective of a common man," she said.

"It was then that I decided to bring Africa from the point of view of a commoner through my paintings," Singh told IANS.

She picked her sketch books, paints and brushes, donned her traveller`s shoes, and journeyed through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland.

By the end of her odyssey, she had almost circumnavigated the mysterious continent with its eclectic treasure of old and new cultures and arts.

She explored people and their quaint lifestyles.

"I clicked photographs of their ceremonies, traditions and rituals. And I discovered that the common African was very similar to Indians," she said.

There are similarities in their joys, pains, plights, customs and traditions, she said.

"The similarities drew me," she said. "What binds me to Africa is their deeprooted culture. I am an Indian and we share common family values."

"In Africa, family is the top priority. I was overwhelmed by the love and affection I saw in their families. I felt as if I am in India at my own place," she recalled.

Though Singh has achieved a lot in her career, the journey has not been so smooth.

With a post-graduate degree in psychology and a baby in her lap, it was difficult for her to pursue her dream. But she was determined. "The African women, with their burdens, agonies and sorrows, gave me strength to carry on," she said.

A self-taught artist, Singh changed her passion to profession and continued painting despite the lean patches.

"Initially, I didn`t want to sell my work. It was just something that I loved to do, but when friends saw my work they suggested that I exhibit my art," she said.

Her first exhibition was held in Johannesburg and she has displayed in New Delhi twice.

"There is a lot of potential in African art. Even modern art is inspired by it. And I feel that there can be a lot of synergy between Indian and African art," she said.

"I am trying to build a link between both the art forms so that the common man of both the places can be recognised," she said.

Asked what she likes to paint the most, she said: "The colours, life, smile and feelings of a common African man."

"I don`t want to sound cliched saying this, but for me simplicity matters," she said.

She said African weddings were lavish affairs. "And one of the most grand ceremonies is the funeral session," she said. "They bury 51 blankets along with the corpse so that he lives his next life in peace."

Singh has a collection of almost 500 paintings on different African themes. Her daughter too is keeping the family tradition of art alive.

"She has started doing furniture art using my paintings. Through this form of art a simple furniture can turn into a modern artistic piece," Singh said.


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