With paint or pen: Artist Salma Arastu explores the connection between all living things

Reaching Out-I—2021
Rust, Charcoal, Acrylics, Oil pastels and Jute Twine on handmade Korean Hanji paper mounted
on board. Photo: provided by artist

Fine artists are often asked about the inspiration behind their work. Family history, mythology, the human figure, religion, tragedy, and joy are often the motivation for artistic exploration and expression. The call for social change can also propel unique and undeniably powerful works of art from painters and poets alike.

Indian born artist and poet Salma Arastu is among those who have developed a philosophy of life that reflects her global awareness and sensitivity to all living things. She’s also been deeply impacted by the impact of climate change that she’s experienced in her adopted state of California. The acclaimed, multi-talented Indian artist shares her story here.

Interview by Sandy Levine and Ela Shah

 When did you first realize your talent?

“As a child I used to doodle and I always say that I was born with two wings, the urge to create and a love for Creator. Both these gifts have been sources of eternal joy and a constant flow of positive inspiration in my life.”

Was your talent encouraged? If so, how and by whom?

“I have been very lucky in that respect. My family was very encouraging and supportive, and I was sent to Fine Arts College in Hyderabad after high school.”

Can you talk about the impact of travelling and raising a family while simultaneously nurturing your art?  

“After graduating in Fine Arts from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, India, I got married and lived and worked in Iran and Kuwait. I continued searching for identity-exploring new techniques, raising family, and travelling. The new vistas and experience of growing family have added much texture and color to my art.”

Is there a unifying theme or philosophy that underscores your work whether on the canvas or the page?

“Through my lifetime work as a painter and poet I have arrived at the beautiful concept that we should seek oneness…connecting humanity, soil, and soul. All life is one. My commitment is to both paint and celebrate all living beings that make up the totality of our unique and generous family. I feel a kinship with the animals, the fish, the trees, and their sentience and contribution to the ecological landscape that is our home.”

Earth is Spread for All 2020
Acrylics and Pen & ink on handmade Korean Hanji paper mounted on canvas. Photo: provided by artist

As a painter and a poet, is the urge to paint different from the urge to write? When do you pick up a brush…and when do you reach for a pen?

“Poems and paintings happen simultaneously, and the creative urge is same. More often it pours out in the form of paintings and sometimes words express my thoughts. I don’t decide when to pick up the brush or when to reach for a pen! Some poems become titles of my paintings and in some paintings, I visualize my poems.”
Your recent series, Mycelial Flow, offers a look at the robust life lived underground. Is that your response to the devastation we see above ground?

“A new ray of hope is rising from the mushrooms and underground network of Mycelia to regenerate, activate, and heal the damaged state of our environment…Fungi are the original angels. Root messengers. Weavers. Communicators. There is so much to learn about these mysteries! …Creating visual images of connections and collaborations satisfies my soul and I hope to bring humanity together with lessons learnt from Nature.”

As a global citizen, and considering the growing peril of global warming, are you an optimist or a pessimist?

“Living in California and facing persistent wildfires is challenging but I am an optimist and I trust things happen because of a greater reason and no matter how bad things may turn out today, there will always be a window of opportunity tomorrow.”

Artists and poets: two professions where financial success is rare. What do you say to young people who desire a career in these fine arts?

 “If you are an artist, trust that it is a blessing… You are a chosen one and chosen one must go through the hardships so do not give up. Try to find the message that you must carry through.”

If you’d like to learn more about Arastu, her background and world view: view some of her paintings, sculptures, works on paper and digital art, see:  https://salmaarastu.com



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