SENsational Tania Sen: From Durga to Dumbo and Back Again
depicts the multi-faceted nature of the Hindu goddess in the work
"Dilemma of Durga"
Brilliant colors smolder on a jet black canvas.
A towering goddess Durga captivates those who walk by as they gaze
up at the fiery figure. Portrait-sized figures of the omnipresent
Ganesha turn the divine into the earthly – an innocent, playful
child’s toy – and challenges viewers to reconsider how
they view the celestial. Such creations are among the many that
flow from the mind of Tania Sen.
With a charming smile and affable demeanor, Sen
is an artist who draws on South Asian symbols and mythology to fashion
amazing works of art. Her recent body of work challenges notions
of symbolism and icons in Hinduism and explores different interpretations
and sides to common views of deities. She is currently showing her
work at an exhibit titled “Icons” at the Somerset Art
Association in Bedminster, N.J. The show runs until June 1st.
Art and creativity have been the threads running
through her life, both here and abroad. In India, she studied at
the Birla Academy in Calcutta, where she had her first exhibit.
The first painting she ever sold was to the daughter of the prominent
Birla family. In the late 1980s, she made her way to the United
States via the Manjushree Khaitan Foundation Scholarship. She earned
her Master’s in Communication Arts and M.B.A. from New York
Institute of Technology. She got her start in the Fashion District
of New York, working on sketches, display pieces and samples. This
was also the place where she honed her skills to make it in the
Big Apple art scene.
Sen has found a way
to blend her passion for visual designs with a balanced life at
home. The married mother of two young daughters sneaks away time
to create in her studio, converted from part of the family garage
in their Central New Jersey home. From designing marketing materials
for local performing arts studios to painting fairy tale-like murals
for organizations, Sen shares her artistic talents with the community.
Along with painting, she teaches autistic children at the Morris
Union Jointure Commission in New Jersey.
How does she balance it all? On a sunny spring
day, she stopped by the gallery to tell us how and share some tips
for young artists trying to make rent.
What first sparked your interest in art?
I’ve always painted, ever since I was little. I was misdiagnosed
with diphtheria. I was in a hospital, and my dad got me some colors
and picture books and I started. Ever since then, I’ve drawn
What images or ideas currently
inspire your works?
Symbolism is very rich in Indian culture—so much so that it's
misinterpreted. Most people think it [Hinduism] has many gods, but
it has many symbols. You can go beyond the tangible and procure
the meaning. Religion is one thing that does tend to bring in fragmentation.
Only when it is represented as unthreatening [do] people relate
to it and try to understand the meaning of the symbol. These creations
are very rich and haven’t been harnessed. My idea is that
these symbols are so rich. I want to share it with everyone and
not just keep it in a temple. In all of these paintings, I’ve
tried to explore these symbols outside of context. We always dehumanize
a symbol by putting it in a box…. [Goddess Durga] has her
vulnerabilities as well—along with the strength, there’s
vulnerability. It’s also to show Durga in a different light.
My painting was not to limit the symbol as a [depiction] of strength.
This painting "Shiv Durga I (Oil on Canvas)" by Sen plays on the different notions of divine beings
Did you ever confront
obstacles while pursuing a profession that is different from the
“typical” South Asian ones?
You know, I’ve always gone forward expecting obstacles and
been surprised by meeting very supportive people and a lot of very
strong South Asian people as well. Essentially, if there’s
anything that sabotages, it’s oneself. If you go in with a
fear of sorts, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do you pursue art full time or do you have
another job as well?
To make it profitable, I do a lot of work for dance theaters….
I’m trying to get a feel for what they are looking for. I
had this drawing of Coney Island [for the Somerset Hills YMCA in
N.J.] and I incorporated what other people said, like to add Dumbo
and the Little Mermaid. I work with the client and I come up with
the idea. South Asian stuff, I do for myself. Being South Asian,
I do yoga paintings…. It varies [in] themes. I teach autistic
children, and I do the murals—one a year is what I’m
aiming for—and I teach at Raritan Valley Community College,
desktop publishing. The steady stream is from teaching.
What is your typical work schedule like
It’s very important to have a schedule. When I started, when
the kids were younger, I used to wake up at 4 a.m. because that
was my only personal time. It’s a continuous process. Sometimes,
the thinking of the painting takes more time than the actual execution.
heats up the gallery with its fiery colors as part of Sen’s
What type of people do you
find purchasing your work? Do you get support from the South Asian
It’s actually no South Asian clients. It’s all mainstream
clients. I think there’s a market there. I just haven’t
gotten there. I’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction. Essentially,
it could be anyone…. I had in mind an audience who would relate
to the symbol.
What advice would you have for young artists
looking to carve out careers for themselves?
Networking is probably 75 percent of the job. It would depend on
where they’re coming from. If they don’t have to pay
rent, I would say go with your heart. It’s an economic issue.
You have to do what you have to do to keep yourself together. Make
your living experience real. It takes courage to do that, but it
makes your living experience more real.
on the show is available at www.somersetart.org.
Rohina Phadnis is a graduate of the Philip
Merrill College of Journalism at the University of
Maryland. She had written for a number of
publications, including The Star-Leder in New Jersey.
Most recently, she worked for the Salzburg Global
Seminar in Austria.
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