Tejaswini is an Indian artist who practices the revitalization of traditional Indian art through the application of modern techniques and mediums. The fusion of western elements with her cultural roots, questions one’s view towards the conventional boundaries of ephemeral Indian floor art.
Tejaswini, also known as Alpana Mittal, uses unorthodox mediums such as objects and beads to create her works. Her bead works provide a contemporary interpretation to the prevalent art form of Rangoli, which is a symbol or pattern based ritualistic floor art, prevalent in India. The method of executing art through a meditative outpour of thoughts, combined with the intricate bead application process, reminds one of the Tibetan sand Mandalas. This repetitive application of beads is reminiscent of the Buddhist Monk’s practices, where they would laboriously repeat their prayers as a way of being in a trance like state. Her paintings contain upwards of tens of thousands of colored beads, that are meticulously arranged to form fractural patterns and symbolic images.
Her works have been exhibited at The Bridge Art Gallery, Artfront Galleries (Newark), Salmagundi Art Club (NYC) and Center of Contemporary Art (Bedminster, NJ) amongst others. Her works were featured at JCAST, Artslant and in the final videos of JCTV and Art Expo. She had a solo show at JCC Bayonne, which was hosted by the Curator of Jewish Community Center Bayonne, Erin L. Kachmer.
Her creations were selected by Serendipity Labs, New York Financial District, for a three month long solo show called "Dream Reflections - The beginning of an Era". Tejaswini says that the she named the work thus because, ‘the idea comes from Rangoli designs which I have in my head and "The beginning of an Era", because I believe I am the first and only professional artist working with this medium at this time.’
Tejaswini had her first exhibition in 2013, but her proudest contribution towards the arts has been in the form of recent voluntary work, ‘Basant Utsav’, which was created for the organization ‘Sing for Hope’. This organization helps promote the arts in various parts of the globe, including refugee site and in-transit camps, through pianos that are painted by artists, and by inviting the local community to engage with the instrument.
Tejaswini’s work ‘Basant Utsav’ is both lyrical and musical. Her work is inspired by the Kangra art form, which originates from a region called Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, India. The work has been executed on a working piano, and true to the traditional aesthetics, has a flowing composition and vibrant colors, which is accentuated by different shades of foliage. The village women with the drums, strongly- hued flowers and the fresh palette, depicts the celebration of the arrival of spring season. Added elements of swans in a lake, palace and lush green hills, invites the viewer to be a part of this spring escapade. An accompanying bench, with the piano, has been painted by her daughter Rangoli Mittal.
In a conversation with the unconventional artist, Alpana Mittal, a.k.a. Tejaswini, here is what she had to say.
How did your tryst with art begin?
My mother was an art teacher and so, I adapted this skill from her. During my BFA course, I was very influenced by my art professor’s work. Post my graduation, I had to pursue a Master’s degree in Economics and B.Ed because of my family’s insistence. But I always felt that I am born to become an artist and there is something God wants me to do through the skill that HE blessed me with. So, I feel that I’m pursuing what I am born to do now. Fortunately, my work has received some recognition and I am grateful about that.
What has changed from your first show to your recent one at Serendipity Labs?
So, a friend of mine referred me to a gallery owner in Pennsylvania. When I reached there with some of my work, which was unframed at that time, the owner said this is not the type of artwork which will take you to galleries. This work can make you popular in your friend circle or your local community, but it won’t take you very far. Then he showed me some other artist’s works (whom he was representing) and asked me to work and create something like those, over six months and come back to him after that. At that meeting he suggested to my husband that ‘I really appreciate that you are supporting her, but I would say you’re wasting your time. This work is not taking her anywhere.’ After that day my husband started discouraging me to do my bead work and he also tried to divert me towards my other work. But now it had become a challenge for me, and I couldn’t give up. In this journey I came across a lot of appreciation, but the first gallery who invited me to represent my work, at their opening show is “The Bridge Art Gallery”, back in 2016. Recently, my works were selected by Serendipity Labs for a solo show. On the way to Serendipity Labs, after 25 years of togetherness, for the first time I heard my husband say, “Solo show in NYC Financial District, that’s a big achievement”.
What drove you to contribute towards the 'Sing for Hope' Foundation?
A few years back, one of my friends, painted a piano for ‘Sing for Hope’. I went there to attend the opening ceremony. There were 60 hand painted piano by 60 different artists. That scene was so fascinating that I decided to be part of this project right there. Now when artists see the piano that I painted, I often hear them say, “I feel like going on those hills. I love your fantasy world” That’s a great compliment and that is what I wanted to achieve, a smile on everyone’s face and happiness in their hearts. This project has been the best one in my life so far.
Why did you choose the theme of 'Spring' for this project?
Spring is the most colorful time of the year. I remember celebrating Basant Panchami with my family in India. I see spring as a fresh and beautiful start of life. I wanted to share that experience with the world, through this project. And this project was going to end in spring, so that was another point to make this decision. Initially I titled the piano as ‘Basant Panchami’. When I started painting, I felt like painting a lot of fresh leaves and lot of flowers, to make it colorful and cheerful. As I started doing that, I felt it’s not the first day of spring anymore, so I changed the title to “Basant Utsav”. The two swans are also painted as the symbol of romanticism, enjoying the weather in a pond with the bloom of water lilies. I believe I am adding more beauty to the world with my creation. Wherever it will go, people will be able to feel the beauty and freshness of spring, even if their days have been cloudy.
What were some of the challenges that you faced while executing this project?
Before this project, I used to paint at a studio space in my house. So, it can always be family and family duties first. After completing my household work and family responsibilities, whatever time and energy I had left, I used to spend in my studio. When I started this project, I was very excited but not very confident about the time requirement and energy need for it. The studio was an hour away from my place, so I needed 2 hours extra to commute, every day. The peak winter season was another problem. With all the challenges I wasn’t sure initially that I would be able to finish this piano on time. But with God’s grace, things worked out fine, I worked 3 days a week, 8 to 9 hours a day, and I was able to finish my work by the deadline.
Your daughter has painted the bench for this project, that must have made this even more special, what was this experience like, do you'll paint together often?
Yes, my daughter, Rangoli Mittal, painted the bench of the piano. It was such a wonderful experience when she was there with me. We both enjoyed it. She was in college at the time and it was her spring break, which she spent with me at the studio. We commuted and worked together. It’s a beautiful memory for a lifetime and we clicked a lot of pics. The work was very new for her. She would paint and then say, “I am not painting another leaf in my life again!”, because she created small flowers and leaves with a brush, to match the piano’s pattern, and it took a lot of focus and it was very tedious. But I am sure if we get chance, we will work together again.
We hope to see more of these mother- daughter works and would love to engage with the ‘Basant Utsav’ piano at Sing for Hope organization. Tejawini’s bead works are truly inspiring. Floor art has been an integral part of many ancient cultures. In America the Native tribal medicine men drew patterns on floors to invite friendly spirits and to cure patients. The Australian aborigines made dot paintings to depict their dreamtime stories. In Haiti islands, priests draw designs called ‘veve’ on the floor which would be obliterated by a dancer. African aborigines also drew magic diagrams on the floor for fertility and creation. In various parts of India, floor art has taken many forms and names, one of which is called- ‘Alpana’.