Sunanda Sahay: Promoting Madhubani Art and Essence of India

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Sunanda Sahay

Sunanda Sahay is a promoter and teacher of India’s rural and folk Madhubani art. Practiced in the Mithila region of India and Nepal, Madhubani painting is done with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks, using natural dyes and pigments, and is characterized by eye-catching geometrical patterns, according to Wikipedia.

Ms. Sahay grew up in Darbhanga, the heart of the Madhubani region in northern India. Ms. Sahay’s artistic interests led her to seek out practitioners of the art from local villages and learn directly from them.

Now, she practices and popularizes Madhubani art in the United States. She is also co-founder of Essence of India festival in Acton, MA, through which she presents cultural collaborations and stage performances of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. In addition, the outdoor program presents magic show, kite flying, mixed performances, henna, food, Jewelry and interactive cultural, arts and crafts booths.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it.

Sunanda Sahay: I’m engaged in several art and education related activities. I grew up in the Madhubani/Mithila region of India where my parents, both physicians, have been patrons of Madhubani art. I learned the art with local artists and continued to paint after moving to the US. My art has been received well and chosen for awards and displays by several museums such as MFA and the Peabody Essex Museum. The Madhubani art holds an intimate connection to the rural and folk traditions of India, and I’m proud to be able to share this cultural gift with several young and adult students of art. Altogether I paint six different styles of Indian folk and tribal art forms.

I have been teaching art for several years. I love to work with young children; they are innately creative and connect emotionally with arts and crafts. At a time when kids get mobile phones and computers in elementary school, it is more important than ever to engage children in activities that bring forth their creative and artistic spirits and also foster concentration of mind and tranquility.

My artistic and cultural interests led to the founding of an organization called Essence of India. Deeply impressed with the open heartedness of my American friends as well as the richness of world cultures, I saw an opportunity for inter-cultural collaborations. With the support of the state and city cultural councils, this annual event garnered quick attention from local artists and communities. Thousands came to see classical and folk performances from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China and other countries.

All forms of classical arts, folk cultures and education are labors of love for me. Art is naturally joyous and satisfying, but when I share the artistic and cultural legacies of India with other cultures and our younger generations, the joy knows no bounds.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

SS: I have been successfully organizing Essene of India events since its founding six years ago. The event has become an inter-cultural showcase with performances from artists of several countries, including those that rarely come together. Recently, Essence of India was recognized as the best cultural event in the state and awarded the Gold Star Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

To promote the folk arts of India, I founded Color of India. This website is dedicated to the promotion of Indian folk arts such as Madhubani, Warli and Phad paintings.

I have been a member of the Acton Boxborough Cultural Council for six years, and have chaired it for 4 years. We have supported, promoted and funded over a hundred art and cultural organizations from neighboring communities. The platform has helped me connect with various cultures. I also successfully appointed and involved high school student members of the organization.

My volunteer interests have spanned various school activities (STEM, Acton PIP, school activities, Scholastic, etc.), community activities (fundraising for social causes, especially those involving the impaired, children and minorities), and other cultural organizations (Learnquest, etc.)

Sunanda Sahay

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

SS: Art and culture constitute my work, hobby and interests. I like to experiment with my art. I’m also an avid reader and enjoy cooking.

INE: In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community, your company/organization or professional field?

SS: I have been living in the ethnically diverse western suburbs of Boston for 15 years. During this time, while the rest of the country has been getting more fractured and divided, our communities have been drawing together. I believe that my inter-cultural collaborations have in a small way contributed to this positive enrichment.

Every year, I find more diverse nationalities participating in my art lessons at the Museum of Fine Arts, other museums and community organizations. The Essence of India programs attract artists and audiences from broader communities of Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America. At professional art shows, I am elated to find my paintings placed next to the works of artists from other continents. And the Cultural Council grants are increasingly channeled into supporting art, theater, music and movies not only from the US but increasingly from around the world. As a result, we are all becoming more responsible and connected citizens of the world.

INE: What are your favorite books?

SS: Godan, Nirmala, etc. – by Premchand

The Bluest Eye – by Toni Morrison

Pride and Prejudice – by Jane Eyre

I Am Malala – by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

INE: Your favorite quotes?

SS: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon, quoted from Allen Saunders

INE: Who inspires you the most?

SS: My mother has been my life-long inspiration. Though she was revered for her almost magical ability as a physician to heal mothers and babies, she remained extremely humble, simple, disciplined, and kind all her life. She cared for every life as her own, and I don’t remember her ever criticizing or finding fault with anyone. In fact, she always found reasons to appreciate and admire others.

INE: What core values do you try to live by?

SS: Happiness cannot be owned, earned, purchased or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.

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