"Challenge yourself," my husband Peter suggested when I received my first sabbatical from teaching in 1972. Jason was then two and a half and Winona was thirteen when I left home, alone, for a one-month journey to India. Besides my sketchbook, I had a guidebook to temples and historical sites from New Delhi, the capital, to Bombay and Calcutta. But it was the stops between, in villages like Kajaraho and spiritual centers like Benares, that I particularly enjoyed witnessing extraordinary expressions of Hindu sensuality, eroticism, aestheticism, and the philosophy of Karma made manifest in people's day-to-day lives and art.
En route the land spread like a precious patchwork quilt divided among many families. Farmers and oxen merge with the land in Spring Ritual (fig. 25), as they plow and prepare the soil for planting.
fig. 25: India: Spring Ritual
1972, acrylic, 72"x68", © Betty LaDuke
Monsoon rains and rivers containing the ashes of the diseased nourished the land. This was startlingly evident at the funeral pyres in Benares along the shores of the Ganges where the corpse, wrapped in a bright saffron sari, was cremated and the ashes deposited in the Ganges. In my painting Long Night's Journey (fig. 26), the body is set free and the soul is reborn.
fig. 26: India: Long Night's Journey
1973, acrylic, 54"x68", © Betty LaDuke
In Bombay, I was invited to attend a Hindu Wedding (fig. 27). The bride wore a traditional bright red sari while the groom, educated in the United States, was dressed in a Western suit. I symbolized wedding expectations, for the bride to have many children, by the imposition of a cow mask above her face, while the groom already dreamed the male child sitting upon his shoulder. In his hands the groom holds harness reins that encircle the bride.
fig. 27: India: Hindu Wedding
1973, acrylic, 72"x68", © Betty LaDuke
Red, burgundy red, cherry red, orange red, hot red, spices of cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne for preparing delicious meat, fish, vegetable, curry sauces, tempered by cool white yogurt. Conflicting sensations. Many new foods to taste, coupled with an awareness of insufficient food for many, and the justification by people with full stomachs that it is Ananda or Karma. Accept your fate.
Eastern life and culture had few familiar crosses or stars of David. Instead, Hindu, Moslem, and Buddhist spiritual beliefs dominated and were made visible by lingum and phallic shaped altars, breast-like mosque domes, and enormous Buddha statues. Outward, inward, then outward again, I symbolically expressed these physical and spiritual sensations in drawings, paintings and prints. At first my art was only exhibited locally. Then I experienced the extension of community when a traveling exhibit, Impressions of India, was sponsored by Visual Art Resources, Museum of Art, University of Oregon, and featured at many college campus galleries and art centers.
Insatiable for more travel as a catalyst for my art, I forged ahead, building upon the success of my cultural outreach. From 1972 to 1980 I traveled to India three times and also visited Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia (Bali, Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Borneo), Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the People's Republic of China. I was fortunate to have family encouragement and some fellowships and grants from Southern Oregon State College, the Oregon Art Commission, the Collins and Carpenter Foundations, the Oregon Committee for the Humanities, and the United States Information Service. My ventures are still ongoing.
fig. 28: Sri Lanka: Compassionate Buddha
1972, acrylic, 72"x68", © Betty LaDuke
In Sri Lanka the smiling and Compassionate Buddha (fig. 28) radiates inner peace, a goal we all yearn to achieve. The Buddha is surrounded by flickering candlelight, the tantalizing aroma of incense, and painted stories of his adventures while on the path toward enlightenment.
In Bali Sunset (fig. 29), a farmer and his wife stand contentedly observing their rice seedlings. They are surrounded by irrigation water and ducks that eat the weeds.
Surprise! In Sumatra: Chicken Metamorphosis (fig. 30), the women assume the appearance of the chickens they are selling. Their forms rise from their egg-filled baskets, while behind them the spire at the top of the mosque holds a crescent moon that embraces a star.
The men of Sulawesi undergo Rooster Metamorphosis (fig. 31) as they become the proud creatures they nurtured for their ultimate cock fight. Each man bets and cheers for his rooster to win as it attacks its opponent, leaving a trail of feathers and blood before becoming food.
In Thailand, offers of rice, coconut milk, or fruit are placed in little spirit houses outside each home to honor the ancestors to protect the family s health and well-being. In my painting Thailand: Spirit House (fig. 32) (see Gallery III for figures 29-32), I am the mother or spirit guardian protecting my youngest child.
fig. 32: Thailand: Spirit House, 1974, 32"x48"
© Betty LaDuke
China remained closed to the West after their successful socialist revolution led by Chairman Mao at the end of World War II, until an open-door policy was negotiated by President Nixon in 1972. During our West Coast, U.S.-China People's Friendship Association tour in 1976, we drank many cups of tea at briefings held by Revolutionary Committees composed of cadres of professionals and workers. They explained with many statistical references how their communes, factories, hospitals, and schools had progressed since the revolution.
Later, in my studio, a series of paintings evolved, which I combined with my China photographs and sketches to initiate a traveling exhibit China, An Outsider's Inside View. In Chinese Children (fig. 33), two little girls have big bows in their hair and wear bright plaid jackets and pants. I admired the availability of inexpensive pre-school nurseries for children of working mothers.
The older generation always compared their present lives with their Memories of the Bitter Past (fig. 34). Survivors of war, cruel landlords, and starvation, they now had enough food, clothing, and land that they shared collectively. The red sun above symbolized socialist progress.
Some conferences offer extraordinary travel opportunities. I presented a slide lecture about my Chinese experiences at the International Society for Education Through the Arts in Adelaide, Australia in 1978, and then extended my travels to Aboriginal Reserves and to Ayers Rock, the site of many cave paintings.
All text and images © Betty LaDuke.