Initially reacting with disbelief and horror at the magnitude of the December 2005 South Asian tsunami disaster, I, like many others, found it difficult to comprehend what it would take for survivors to pick themselves up and begin life again. As I followed relief efforts, I became curious about the depth and vitality of the human spirit I was witnessing in a landscape of immeasurable loss and devastation--our apparently innate ability to survive tragedy.
The disasters that followed the tsunami--Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan--challenged me to further assess my own capacity to face difficulty, embrace change, and live vigorously with fortitude and hope. These natural disasters brought back to the surface my feelings after the terror attacks of September 11, and I began to wrestle with imagery in my paintings that resonated with upheavals in my own life.
What resources do we possess that will ensure our survival in the face of calamity?
What parts of our essential humanity and which aspects of our personal character surface when we feel pain or when we are experiencing great loss?
The faces I have painted are from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other Asian rim countries affected by the tsunami. To me, they reflect a silent, self-realizing determination and a freedom of the will available to survivors despite extreme difficulties and gut-wrenching uncertainty. Their eyes force me to reach into my own soul and compel me to believe that this look of brave resolve is universal and the capacity to endure hardship and thrive again is not limited by status, geography or culture.
Surrounding the eyes are richly decorated frames that echo timeless handmade designs common in the region of the tsunami. Metaphorically, they represent the varied cultural fabrics, both ancient and modern, that form and buttress our delicate individual identities. In my paintings, the filigree and floral motifs additionally serve as an assurance to those who are suffering that life is powerful and ongoing, and I offer them as a tribute to the courage and beauty of all survivors.