HK’s Seema Mathew takes to brush, colours & easel to ease with cancer trauma

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Seema Mathew

By S.Ravi

New Delhi, July 20: Faced with pain and a near death situation can change ones perspective and passion for lifetime. That seems to be the case with Seema Mathew, who took to painting with a single-minded devotion after her encounter with cancer.

She is holding her exhibition — her first solo show — at present in Hong Kong.

Born in Bengaluru, art for Mathew was a pastime like many other Indian children. Though she was perpetually drawing, she started some sort of formal training only when she moved to Hong Kong in 2000. Though self-taught, she attended weekend art classes, and picked the brush only when she could spare time!

A twist of fate, and everything changed, when for the second time, she was found to have breast cancer.

Mathew’s first encounter with the dreaded disease in 2004 didn’t lead to a drastic change. She got better and instead of continuing being a travel agent, she decided to sell art supplies. It was the second time on, when the cancer came back with a vengeance making it both traumatic and frightening, that she took a life-changing decision — pursue her dream of painting full time!

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, she said: “I have always felt like the universe was trying to push me in this direction, I just never really listened. I know now that painting is what I was truly born to do.”

The artist’s solo exhibition is titled “Origa-me”, which is also the name of one of her artworks. The painting portrays a torso — in black and white fragments — that seem to have been fitted together to design a new form, much like the Japanese art of paper folding, origami.

Elucidating on the piece, which is obviously the main one in the show, Mathew said: “The idea for Origa-me was born out of my real-life experience of undergoing multiple reconstructive surgeries in 2012. After such extensive procedures, I viewed my body as a cut-and-paste version of its former self, like an origami.”

The artworks on display have a deep connection with her and embody the relationship between her and her body, which fought valiantly against cancer.

She told scmp.com: “When I paint, I always choose to focus on my inner landscape, emotions and thought processes. Art keeps me motivated, as I always aim to challenge myself by constantly trying something new and pushing the boundaries of what I already know.”

The ongoing show has emerged after five years of work by the artist in which she used Chinese ink and water-soluble graphite on linen paper to bring to the fore similarities between human anatomy and the natural world.

According to Mathew, painting has been a catharsis for her as it gave her insight into spirituality, philosophy and human nature.

Art has afforded Mathew a vital catharsis, she says, and gives her a way to visually work through her spirituality, philosophies and understanding of human nature. Painting has greatly helped her to deal with all the pain she underwent while making her positive.

Mathew believes that every individual has to find his/her own path to deal with life. “We all have a choice in how we react to different situations. I tried to convert my most traumatic and negative experience into something rather beautiful. If audiences were to take away one thing from this exhibition, I hope they understand that traumatic experiences do not have to bring them down. We all have a choice in how we react to these kinds of situations, and we can turn these experiences around into something positive.”

Mathew’s exhibition is on till July 31. (IANS)

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