Inspired by travels to India in January 2020

Acrylic on Panel


In January earlier this year I was fortunate to explore some of India’s incredible culture and vibrant colours with a friend. The trip was focussed largely on meeting new people, hearing their stories, learning and understanding a different way of life and seeking inspiration for beautiful colours. This led us through several rabbit holes to discover ‘Saheli Woman’. ‘Saheli Woman’ is a small NGO based in Rajasthan working with the sustainable and ethical fashion movement providing livelihood opportunities and economic empowerment to woman in rural communities.

Mahdu Vaishnav, the founder and executive director of ‘Saheli Woman’ spent a week with us, sharing stories of the women from her village and the hardships women face in India.

Mahdu believes the first step to bettering life for woman in India is to start small and help one woman at a time gain financial independence and sense of purpose, pride and self achievement. Loneliness and separation are often felt in rural communities as the women are expected to stay home and tend to the house and children while the men work.

Every woman has her own personal battles, the most common battles in rural life are money, infrastructure, education and health. Many women are disallowed from working due to their husbands pride.
Mahdu’s struggle was with the caste system and doing what is traditionally expected of her as a daughter, wife, daughter-in-law and mother. Over time Mahdu rebelled through these expectations by studying, cutting her hair, refusing to wear a sari and taking a job as social worker aiding sex workers in slums. Through these challenging years she eventually gained her husbands and then families approval to study Community and Social Welfare in Berkley, California. This was her first experience away from India and a huge culture shock. Mahdu still struggles with these decisions which for the most part are strongly disapproved and thought of as wrong and selfish. She frequently finds herself in the gossip mill for being seen out of home, talking to a man who isn’t her husband, or even driving a car.

This painting inspired by Madhu Vaishnav is of women of the Dhaneta Jat’s, a nomadic tribe from Kutch, Gujarat. Their income is generated from cattle herding while the woman typically stay home and tend to the house and children. These woman are most recognisable by their Nathli (their large heavy nose rings, held up by strings attached to their hair); a symbol of marriage. The name of the painting Sadiqa means female friend, or truth, genuine and real. For me this embodies the women of India. Mahdu shared with us so much passion, strength and a vision of women empowerment. This painting aims to reflect and honour Mahdu’s future vision.

*If you would like to learn more about Saheli Woman visit their website