Tag: connect

Girl Friends

“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

George Eliot

What would women do without our girlfriends?

I have different girlfriend groups. My primary group is one that started when we had young children- my “mom friends”. We first met when our children were toddlers. We got together so the children could play and then found ourselves lingering to talk more. Initially about mom stuff, then other things. All of us are artists in some form, some do it professionally, the rest of us as a hobby on the side. We connected through being mothers of Indian descent, trying to celebrate Diwali, Dussehra, and for a few memorable years even Holi together.  As our children grew we could lean on each other not just to help each other out with kid stuff (pickups, drop-offs) but also with deep personal losses and sadness that come as you get older. Through illness, losses, health scares, surgery, divorce, and emotional breakdowns. We took care of each other and each other’s children. The children are teenagers and young adults now, but we still meet. One from our group moved to Australia but she’s still on our group text. We push each other to do better or more, to open our horizons. We’ve cheered each other on to professional and personal successes. We support each other through failures. We are sisters, our bond is deep and I hope unbreakable.

My other friend group consists of my friends I trained with during my residency. I’ve known these women for almost 29 years. We don’t meet as often but we have a “book club” where we try to get together a few times a year to talk about the book and catch up on each other’s lives. These are the women who understand what I do as a woman physician, who went into medicine sharing the same idealism which has turned to pragmatism. We still love our patients but not the baggage of corporate medicine. We struggle with balancing personal and family needs with work and the need to do “more” to make the world a better place. These women inspire me and also “get” my professional struggles.

Then I have my painting friends. We meet alternate weeks at each other’s homes to paint together and share painting techniques. I never paint on my own, there is always something else more urgent that must be done. But when I get together with these ladies for two hours we just paint and talk about art, politics, families, books, and movies.

I have work friends who have my back (and I theirs’), family (lovely sisters in law), and other friends I don’t meet as often as I’d like to. I’m lucky enough to have a mother who is also a girlfriend. She lives across the ocean in India but as a working mom herself, a child psychologist and an author she is my role model too. We talk several times a week, email and text. We talk about her grandchildren of course, but so much more. I get my love of art, books, travel,  and gardening from her.

Debra Tannen the author of a You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships states- “Talk plays a larger role in many women’s friendships than it does in many men’s, and when times are tough, talk can come into its own. Telling a friend what you’re going through can make you feel less isolated.”

This talk seems to be the secret of why friendships are important to women. Socially isolated people are at greater risk of poor health -high blood pressure, heart disease, infectious diseases. When we seek out friends we are following a biological need as well. People with strong social relationships have higher survival rates and longevity. Underlying our friendships is biochemistry, an increase in hormones that help us stay happy and calm (oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin) and a decrease in hormones that are associated with stress (cortisol). There seems to be a deep biological need for these social connections.

Strong social bonds are important for survival even in animals, not just primates, but also dolphins, giraffes, deer, bison, elephants, birds, to name a few species. These bonds are most common in females of the species.

Our women friends comfort, nurture, sustain, feed and elevate us. As Julia Child said “Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people’! In other words, friendship is the most important thing―not career or housework, or one’s fatigue―and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”

by Svapna Sabnis

On Belonging

I could say many things about the upcoming two person exhibition and my collaboration with Lois Bielefeld. I could load this post with art theory terms, postcolonial phrases, race and political commentary and technical jargon. But it will not explain what this work has meant to me over the last two years. I will simply tell you a story.

Two years ago, I came back from one of my trips to India to experience what felt like a different country. With a new president, each day brought sensationalist headlines, new announcements and events that highlighted an increasingly polarized America. I needed to wrap my head around what was going on, observe, read, speak to mentors and friends before I returned to the studio, questioning whether my work was relevant anymore.

An idea slowly began to emerge that demanded more courage from me than I have ever given before. For the first time, I included my physical self in the production of a body of work. I reached out to Lois Bielefeld, who I did not know at that time, with the idea to explore how race is perceived visually through garment and skin color and how intimately tied the body’s relationship to place is. I donned each of my barely used saris and worked with Lois to produce photographs that show me overtly performing difference while exploring and embedding myself in the landscape of Milwaukee. We titled this work Reaching Across 5 1/2 yards / 8497 miles. It spoke to both the length of the sari fabric and the distance between my place of birth and the place I live in now. Over the next year and half we traversed Milwaukee’s pocketed and  segregated spaces and experienced each other’s personal sanctuaries and the city’s public places of power. The result is a visual quilt of photographs that reflect different facets of Milwaukee.

Nirmal walking in Milwaukee, “overtly performing difference.”

Throughout this journey, Lois and I had many conversations- on her childhood memories of Milwaukee, on religion, identity, politics and art. We were walking by the Milwaukee Riverwalk one day and came across the American history engraved on its boardwalk. This led to discussions on how each of us understood this history, mostly written by white men. The burden of America’s violent and racist history weighed heavy on us as we discussed the Muslim ban, riots in Charlottesville, Standing Rock protests, police brutality against African Americans, border walls, shootings at Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and Olathe Kansas in addition to other racist incidents against people of color. I made a rubbing of the history engraving onto 30 meters of organdy fabric which then became a prop for another body of collaborative work with Lois. We titled this work that included 12 performance based photographs, What is Recorded / What is Remembered.

The rubbing of engraved American history on an organdy fabric sari.



We expanded this work by reaching out to our friends, diverse women of different ages, races and sexual orientations involving them in a performance based three channel video work. It was magical to see how generous and willing they were to perform with us not knowing what the end product may look like.

The circle grew even larger with the production of an audio archive that not only included the women we invited to perform but also community members we admired and respected. This is an ongoing project that explores how each of us contend with history- personal, national and global and includes our hopes and fears for the future in addition to how we have come to understand what being American is.


All this may sound confusing –  with subjects that are vast and complex, but it all comes down to the personal, the self and moves outward to the community like ripples. We hope that our work is the pebble that causes those ripples. What was an impulsive act of reaching out to a stranger in a desperate need to understand and build something together, has led to a special friendship and incredible learning. I have come to understand my community better, to gain comfort through human connection, learn from wise and knowledgeable women, listen to the hope in young people’s voices. These are the intangibles that are behind the work. We hope that you may feel these intangibles, invisible as they are, filtering through the exhibition and for those of you far away, perhaps through the images and links on our websites.

It takes courage to reach out to a stranger who is different from us. To have conversations that are uncomfortable and new, but if we approach it with a spirit of inquiry and learning, we may realize that we all have the same fears and concerns. You never know what might come of that interaction.

No art can be shared without the support of space and visibility. We are incredibly grateful to The Warehouse, John Shannon and Laura Sims Peck at Guardian Fine Arts to generously host this exhibition at their 4000 square foot pristine gallery space. A space large and generous enough  to hold this work and share it with Milwaukee.

On Belonging
opens March 8th and will be up till May 31st,
The Warehouse, 1635 W. Saint Paul Ave., Floor 1, Milwaukee, WI 53233

Opening reception is on March 8th, 5-8 pm
The gallery is open by appointment Monday – Friday. Please call 414-252-0677 or email info@thewarehousemke.org

Nirmal Raja
Lois Bielefeld


how we feed our families


“…food sits at the intersection of biological or material and symbolic aspects of human life. Food is essential for life because we need its energy and nutrients as biological creatures. But the nature of our humanity lies in our social practices, and thus our ability to sustain ourselves involves more than nutrients. What we eat is a “sign of membership, social status and spiritual worth. Eating the same food as others is a mark of belonging… The practice of feeding a family involves, meeting, what Stone calls “communal needs” which include “community, solidarity, a sense of belonging; dignity, respect, self-esteem, and honor; friendship and love” .

(Stone, 1988)

Food is a social act, in essence, it is about sharing and belonging. The very nature of cooking then starts with pots and plates, meant not just for a singular consumer. Eating alone however, is not an anathema but the process of cooking and eating has come to mean a bit more than sustenance and hence the challenges of sustenance eating. The contradiction is within the logic of food- you have to eat together as humans but you have to eat within your limits.

At this time of thanksgiving in the United States and the onslaught of food-voices and choices from every possible avenue- it is a nice reminder to put things in perspective and to register this holiday for what it is.