In in her interview two years ago, Liz had all the excitement of a student who’s recently returned from a study abroad trip. She spoke hopefully, if timidly, of her new dreams for the future, inspired by the research process she had begun while living in Jaipur, India. And lying just under the surface of the dreams she shared was the hint of another passion: art. Even as an undergraduate, Liz knew what her dreams were—even if she couldn’t yet fully express them out loud—and she intended to follow them.
India had taken hold of Liz’s heart during her semester abroad, and it wasn’t long before she realized she had to follow the pull to return. Last summer, she finished her undergraduate degree in South Asia, with a continued focus for research. After spending a month researching in the tea estates of Sri Lanka, Liz went back to India to perform field research. This time, she went to Kerala, a state on India’s western coast. Her perspective of the world continued to widen as she was exposed to yet another new culture. “I have come to know how much the United States could learn from Kerala in terms of social responsibility,” she told me. She was particularly inspired by the women’s empowerment initiatives she witnessed, and the strong women she met during her stay, many in positions of leadership in local governments, councils, or self-help groups.
Though her experience in Kerala was enlightening, Jaipur still had a special meaning for Liz. She was encouraged by a professor to apply for the Kapur Endowment, a scholarship which granted her the opportunity to return to the city she first fell in love with. While there, she would complete a self-guided independent study. It was while doing research for this project that Liz began to forge the connections which would help her fulfill her underlying passion for art.
Jaipur was the perfect location for Liz to study art, not only because it allowed her to reconnect with the city and host family she missed dearly, but also because it’s a city with a vibrant local art scene. She spent two months conducting interviews with local artists in Hindi and visually documenting local paintings, street art, architecture, and infrastructure. Through her research, she realized that the abundance of local art was not only a beautification project. Rather, investing in art was seen by the government as a means of developing cultural pluralism and bringing the community together. Once again, Liz’s research had brought her a deeper appreciation for a once foreign culture—enough appreciation, in fact, to alter the course of her life.
Now fully graduated from Michigan State and her research programs, Liz chose to follow the inspiration she found in her research, while moving away from the analytical world: she currently lives in Jaipur, studying the arts under the guidance of local masters she’s met in her journey. One of those masters is Ramu Ramdev Ji, the world-famous artist from Jaipur known for his miniature paintings; she considers herself lucky to be one of his devotees whom he teaches free of cost.
Liz is finally fulfilling her passion as an artist, in the city she fell in love with as a student years ago—the city she never would’ve come to know if it weren’t for her decision to study the Hindi language. Though several years passed between Liz taking her first language classes and fulfilling her dreams as an artist in Jaipur, she still credits her language skills for leading her to her passion. “It certainly hasn’t been the most conventional path to get into the art world after many lost years, but studying cultures and politics was my path to get me there. Without my Hindi and academic experience, this would not be possible.”
Story by Katherine Stark