A woman comes up to my bus window motioning towards her mouth, desperately longing to fill her empty stomach.  She is doing all she can to survive in a world of little opportunity or grace.  A man lies on the street with sores all over his body longing for human contact through a hug, but he has leprosy and been labeled untouchable, a myth still believed by an entire nation.  Children run playing throughout a neighborhood, but the laughter ceases when a mob starts throwing rocks at them.  They were born HIV positive and live in an AIDS home because they have been ostracized by society and attacked by the ignorance of those who do not understand their condition.  The desire for a mother to protect and care for her thirsting children drives her to walk 11 miles both ways with a jug of water on her head.  Like most mothers, she does whatever it takes to keep her children alive, even if it means that she must go without.

Two girls can’t stop giggling as I take their picture and there is a line of laughing children also waiting to get photographed.  From the moment I entered the homes of those living in the slums, they have not stopped greeting me with love and hospitality; even offering their bed as a seat, the only furniture in their one room house as big as my kitchen.  It began raining and two women tried to buy me an umbrella (which I refused) even though they have less money to live off for the month than I make in a single day.  I have never met so many smiling people.

These two different worlds are the paradoxical society of Chennai, India.  Spending a month immersed in the culture and lives of these people, some of which literally live off a dollar a month, permanently changed how I live my life and view the world around me.  Cutting open the sores of a leper so they can bleed and begin to heal, walking sideways through narrow allies with muddy water up past my ankles and rats scurrying by, holding and playing with a HIV positive 9 year old girl not expected to live past 15, these are not memories easily erased.  My gratitude for what I have, my desire for what I don’t have, my awareness of a world outside myself, and my prayers for a people across an ocean have all changed as a result of my journey to the Indian State of Tamil Nadu.

My paradigm has shifted, my worldview has changed, I don’t look at life the same way nor do I wish to.  My transformed perception has led to transformed art.  My work stopped revolving around me and began to revolve around these people I went to help but who actually helped me.  I strive to capture their world and bring the viewer one step closer to the reality of those less fortunate but who in many ways surpass us with their fervor for life and love for others.  But we don’t need to take a plane to make a difference or met a need.  Men and women line our streets, hopeless, forgotten and scorned by the world.  My artwork is meant to give the viewer a glimpse into this world outside themselves in the hopes that it will motivate them towards changing their own world, even one small action at a time.  I am a journalist who uses a camera and paintbrush to tell the story of a world beyond an ocean but of a people no different than you or I.


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