The following post comes from a guest writer. Nikki was one of the American participants of the 2016 International Artist Residency put on by The Create Commission. This is an annual three-week-long event where local and international artists are invited to Delhi to live together and work around a chosen theme. The days include discussions facilitated by the resident mentor; presentation of each artist’s past work with feedback and critique from peers; chai time (a very important social affair); and lots of free time to work, create, interact, reflect, talk, listen, teach, ask, learn, encourage, and build up. The group also got a chance to go to a couple art shows, to engage with alumni participants, to visit a local artist’s studio, and to dive into the vibrancy of the city. The culmination of the residency is an exhibition of the created works, which was an engaging, moving, and delightful event. Each year the participants describe their experience as deeply meaningful and the community as a family. All of them have very personal and unique stories of the ways the residency has shaped them. Here’s Nikki’s:
Matthew 17:20 New International Version (NIV)
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Small, by definition, means of limited size, not great in amount, degree, or value. Challenged with the task of meditating on the word small as a theme for the artist residency this year, I found myself thinking why small?
I stepped out of the airport and I was in love. Greeted by the smog, smells and the sounds of Delhi one can feel overwhelmingly small. The city is dirty and it’s loud, it’s full of people and animals. Cars and bikes, with horns constantly blasting and people begging in the street. Nothing is hidden—it’s in your face all the time. It’s beautiful and real.
There wasn’t a particular issue we were focused on during the residency; it was simple and complicated at the same time. Eighteen artists lived together for 21 days while contemplating the idea of small. Art has a power, it is a spiritual experience that can communicate truth in various ways. The idea of creating art, each one of us making a piece that would be shown together, was a beautiful process. We slowly began to get to know each other and the city, venturing out and staying in. Working in the studio together gave us the chance to see ideas being born and gave room for conversation, critique and love. Art can convey emotional and experiential truth, and it can do this without words as it did for all of us through music and the quiet time we spent together. Art is also an interpretation of reality, and Delhi has beauty in the color of its fabrics, the sparkle of its gems, the shape of its objects, and the faces of its people. By the end, all 18 of us and our experiences were represented in one room.
During my time in the residency, it became clear to me that it’s not just about accepting the less-than-perfect or even failed work, but it’s about embracing the imperfection. The embrace is seeing the beauty in things that at first look dingy and ugly. There is an honor in Indian culture that our western culture lacks, and it’s spreading around the world with every residency. That honor is an embrace of both the glory and melancholy found in the marks of passing times. The amount of faith needed to do great things is very small indeed, so small is relative, but the point is that little is much when it comes from God. It begins in our hearts, a small place, but it encompasses others and fills the earth. This is the secret of the mustard seed—we use it in our lives and it changes us and those around us.
Before I left I was given a gift of a mustard seed, and it was in that tiny box that I found the answer to my question.