|Auction of Slum-Inspired Art Will Benefit Indians Who Live There
April 04, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
A Davidson sophomore is turning her eye-opening exposure to India’s slums into a benefit art auction to try to help slum residents enjoy a better life.
Anastasia Kozhevnikova, with the help of the Asian Cultural Awareness Association, has organized a silent auction for Wednesday evening, April 11, of watercolor paintings that reflect her impressions of the people and conditions she saw on a winter break study trip to Mumbai, India. The exhibition, entitled “Spirits of the Zhopadpattis (slums),” will also be supported by classical Indian music and dance performances by sitar player Gaurang Doshi and the Maha Gingrich Group. There will be free tea and Indian snacks. It will begin at 7 p.m. in the Alvarez College Union Smith 900 Room. For more information, call 704-787-0302 or 704-778-5512.
|Ana Kozhevnikova grew up in Voronezh, Russia, and moved to Charlotte with her family in 2001.|
All proceeds will be donated to SNEHA, the Mumbai-based Society for Nutrition, Education, and Health Action for women and children. The acronym translates as “love” in Sanskrit, summarizing the organization’s intentions to improve the health of newborns and street children, provide childcare for working women, and counsel abused women.
Stacey Riemer, assistant dean for community service, said Kozhevnikova’s project is a good example of the many student community service projects at Davidson that develop from a personal experience with victims of life’s injustices. “The direct contact builds a personal relationship with causes that gets students fired up, and they’re motivated to continue their work through philanthropy when they return to campus,” she said. “Rather than reading about a cause in a book or on TV and fundraising based on that, our students seem to develop a personal relationship first and go from there.”
So far this academic year, student community service organizations have staged about thirty-five fundraising events, raising as much as $20,000 for their causes.
Kozhevnikova, who grew up in Charlotte’s sister city of Voronezh, Russia, before moving to Charlotte with her family in 2001, certainly found her first-hand exposure to the ravages of slum dwelling in Mumbai compelling and troubling. The trip was spurred by her friendships with Indian students at Davidson. They urged her to visit their homeland, and she wrote a proposal to Davidson’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program to fund a visit over winter break.
The Rusk Program approved her proposal, in part because it favors students who have never been abroad, and this was Kozhevnikova’s first exposure to a country other than her homeland and the United States. The Rusk Program gives out a total of about $100,000 a year to finance student travel abroad.
Kozhevnikova stayed in a Mumbai suburb with the sister of a Davidson friend, and intended at first to create a narrative comic book about Mumbai artists. But the more time she spent exploring the city, the more she was captivated by the teeming streets of Mumbai’s Dharavi district, the largest slum in Asia. “As anywhere else in Bombay, people in the slum often stared,” she said. “However, in the slums I got many hostile looks which frightened me from staying longer or steering off the main road through Dharavi. The people who live there must have found my presence unwelcome, and my picture-taking offensive. If I had lived in those conditions, I wouldn’t want strangers wandering in and taking pictures of my misery, either.”
|A picture of Kozhevnikova with Indian women carrying water goblets.|
She saw garbage piles in the street, rickety houses jammed against each other for endless acres, and a crush of people everywhere. She stuck to the main thoroughfares for fear of dangers that might lie in the foreboding narrow lanes, or getting lost in their labyrinth.
She had studied Hindi for one semester at Davidson, but was frustrated at not being able to communicate adequately with the people she encountered, particularly those who lived in the slum. “If I had only been able to speak Hindi better, I could have earned some of their trust, asked more questions, and explored some of the slum’s inner areas” she said.
Despite the obvious poverty and social problems, Kozhevnikova was surprised to also find that the slum was bustling with business and optimism. She learned that most of Dharavi residents had in fact improved their quality of life from previous residence in impoverished villages in the countryside. “They were hopeful of working their way up in Mumbai,” Kozhevnikova said.
The odd mixture of hope and despair fascinated Kozhevnikova. By chance, she met a volunteer for SNEHA, Geri D'Souza, who helped her understand how Indian slums are created and organized, and the perplexing challenge they present to government officials. D’Souza also explained how SNEHA tries to help women escape from their lives trapped in the slums. Many girls are married very young and stop attending school, if they attended at all. Between hours a day spent fetching water from a well and taking care of children, women have little opportunity to learn skills that might better their condition.
Kozhevnikova recognized in SNEHA an opportunity to help slum dwellers, and changed her project in mid-stream from drawing comics to creating water color paintings inspired by the people and sights she saw. She sketched ideas at her apartment at night, and researched imagery and characters of the Hindu religion so that she could incorporate its designs and bright colors into her work .
Most of the fifteen full-sized water colors that will be in the exhibition were completed once she returned to Davidson. She has also created some smaller images for the show.
Her paintings are colorful, lively, and evocative. Samples of her work can be viewed at www.blotflair.com. Though she has been painting as a hobby since age 10, Kozhevnikova isn’t an art major. She’s majoring in political science at Davidson, and is earning a minor in Chinese.
| This work, entitled "Shiva The Destroyer," will be among those up for bid at the auction|
It wasn’t until her family left Russia for the United States in 2001 that she began drawing images to relieve her boredom and the anxiety of adapting to a new culture. “Putting lines on paper became a way for me to meditate on things, and release what I felt without verbalizing it,” she said.
Her work has previously been displayed in student shows at Charlotte Country Day School and at Davidson, and she was a featured artist with work hanging in the café at Talley’s Grocery in Charlotte last November. In fact, she enjoys painting and drawing so much that she often feels guilty that it distracts from her school work. In the case of the upcoming auction, however, she felt good that her painting supports a good cause, rather than just her own pleasure.
Kozhevnikova said she’s never been involved with a community service project before. “But I’ve never felt this passionate about anything before,” she explained. “I fell in love with India, and this is an instance where I have seen how my help can be useful. I know where the money is going and what this organization is doing. These people are hardworking, and SNEHA can provide them with health care and education that will give them better opportunities.”
In addition to funds raised at the event through the sale of artwork, donations will also be accepted. The event is sponsored by the Davidson Women's Committee, the Curry Club, and the Asian Cultural Awareness Club (ACAA). The ACAA has also been active this academic year as sponsors of the Papa's House benefit dinner, a concert by musician Vienna Teng, the Diwali festival, the Lunar New Year celebration, and a break-dance competition and party.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz