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Arts & Entertainment

In New Exhibition, Artist Deepa Koshaley Explores Her Cultural Heritage Through Vibrant Colors

The artist's new gallery opening uses meditative paintings to depict her proud Indian heritage.
Courtesy of Deepa Koshaley

Deepa Koshaley’s works have been displayed in corporate venues and offices across Dallas. Her name frequently appears on leadership boards. But who is she? I would classify “Ancient Hymns,” her new solo exhibition at the Mesquite Art Center, as the artist’s first introduction of herself to the public at large.

Often, people of color—especially women—are socialized to deny their heritage in order to succeed in a westernized world. (And what is more western than Texas?) However, the denial of one’s aspect of identity helps form a false identity. My intention is not to diminish Koshaley’s accomplishments and previous works, but to articulate the ways in which creatives of color have felt unable to bring their full selves into the art profession for a long time.

The paintings, acrylic on canvas, are meditative in nature. “In the beginning,” one of the series’ paintings, resembles the fluidity of oceanic winds among cool bodies of water. “A Life Cycle” depicts a pattern of evolutionary movements along a chlorophyll-green canvas. Each painting invokes a different experience found within the depths of nature.

“Ancient Hymns” feels long overdue, but is in perfect alignment with the state’s cultural renaissance. Texas is home to the second largest Indian American community, after California. Koshaley not only represents her racial and cultural identity, but Dallas’ as well.

Weeks before her show opening, Koshaley spoke to D Magazine about her career evolution, the upcoming show, and her spiritual identity. Ancient Hymns opens  today, July 1, and runs until September 15 at the Mesquite Arts Center.

Your career includes ventures in landscape design and art education. You’ve been a yoga instructor and a muralist. At this current moment, how do you feel? I feel fortunate to be that catalyst of art, music, yoga and landscape design. Now, I feel everything is coming together. With this [“Ancient Hymns”], I’m on a path of healing and happiness. I’m still about to contribute to the community. I just finished a class with kids. They worked on a class project, called Caribbean Island—Tap Tap Bus. I feel very fortunate for these different experiences. First, I thought I’m just scattered everywhere. I always thought, ‘I like this, I like that.’ Now, I feel it’s just all coming together, my story as a woman, as a Brown artist, and as an immigrant from India. I can see light.

That’s beautiful to hear from you. I noticed a significant amount of teaching positions in your artist background statement. What drew you to teaching? Initially, people said, ‘Oh, can you teach art?’ I was like, ‘I can teach a couple of students.’ I don’t have kids yet. I feel a little gap because of that, and teaching fulfills that. It reminds me that there is no break or stop in learning. It’s a continuum. That spark is part of the process. There is no destination. They remind me of that.

When I teach. I teach all forms of art: female figures, landscape, abstract, and others. Today, we were learning about Caribbean culture, island cultures. It fulfills me.

When I work on my work, it’s forced out there. I don’t know how. But, when I’m full, it’s easy for me to channel because unless I’m full, I can’t give back to my canvas.

In recent years, artists of colors have felt empowered to incorporated spirituality into arts. For generations, the western world made people of color feel ashamed for their spiritual practices. In some cases, they were demonized. I’m me happy to hear you are teaching children about ancestry and heritage, which is prominent in your upcoming show. Sometimes, we take it for granted. Every week, we have a festival. Recently, I attended the Texas Vignette women show. I listened to all [the women] and went , ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ My heritage, my culture is so rich. Even if I take one drop, I can make so much and learn and embrace. That’s what happened when I embraced my culture 100 percent.

Yes, I’m a vegetarian. Period. Yes, we love snakes. We pray to elephants. We pray to cows, because there’s a science behind it. And, what is the science? I already knew, but I was trying to fit in with everybody. Then I said, ‘No, this is who I am and let me just embrace that.’ I’m learning how to sing Indian classical music. I just finished my exam. I passed with flying colors. In order to do that exam, you have to memorize 1,500 ragas (songs). I didn’t know I had good memory, but that continuity helped me make sense [of the show.]

I empathize with your statements about memorialization. I practice an African Traditional Religion, where everything is passed down orally. Meaning, I have to memorize everything. My religion has to foster a deeper appreciation for communities of color who embrace spiritual traditions we were told not to appreciate. Globally, there’s a cultural shift toward bringing your whole self to art. In your case, it’s cultural heritage and felinity, which makes you stand out. I think I have to be comfortable and own this whole thing. That’s why I was making sure nothing should look like any symbol in my art, did not look like my Indian heritage. I didn’t know. In my new series, which will be exhibited in the Mesquite Art Center, I sent in my artist statement and they were very thrilled. People are understanding what I’m doing with an open heart. If nobody understands that’s okay, this is who I am. My series is very and purely connected to my spiritual heritage, music, nature and femininity. That’s why it’s called Ancient Hymns.

When I was in high school, the northern Dallas suburb experienced a racial demographic shift because of the influx of Indian families. At the time, the students of color like myself felt an outsider mentality. Years later, I read a story about Indian students having clubs for dance and opportunities to celebrate their culture at the high school. I think of how impactful this show is for those students. Also, Dallas is changing. We have so many vibrant, Indian communities who need someone who looks like them. I think things are changing, things are changing for good. The basis of Indian spirituality is we are all one. Sometimes we get disillusioned and distracted here and there. But that’s the core of it. Nature is the main core of everything. For instance, snakes represent awareness. It’s not just praying to snakes. It’s the symbolic meaning. How each plant and animal is connected to your own body. That’s the whole basis of spirituality. Then the bright colors come in and make everything fun.

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