Cancer survivor and art activist Cheryl Braganza’s canvases are a window to the world
As I connect with Cheryl Braganza via Skype, my laptop screen comes alive with colours. I see Cheryl comfortably seated on a chair with a wall full of paintings behind her. As I exclaim on the beauty of the paintings, she turns around and points out to one that she did after Nirbhaya’s rape.
Art is Cheryl’s means of expression and it started early on in life. She shares that as a child while growing up in India, she was shy, her brother was given more attention and no one ever asked for her opinion. So she took to art as a means of expressing herself at a young age.
“I think art has a way of transforming the world, for images have a strong impact on people,” says Cheryl Braganza a painter, poet, writer, a pianist and an art activist who resides in Montreal, Canada.
Born in Mumbai and brought up in Lahore, the Braganza family has Goan ancestors. Her Father owned a hotel in Lahore opposite the railway station and the family was witness to a lot of violence that marked the partition.
In the 1960’s Cheryl went to London to study and from there she made her way to Canada. “On August 31st, 1966, when the Empress of Canada docked in Montreal, I was on it travelling alone. I remember the scene vividly. Hundreds of people hanging over the edge of the ship waving into the waiting crowd on the pier. I knew no one in Montreal. I was alone but there was this excitement about landing on a new continent.”
Her life was to change upon reaching Canada. She writes on her website- “Landing a job on the 37th floor of Place Ville Marie at Air Canada in my first week made all the difference. I had never been in a building past four stories. Suddenly, I was one with the sky. I could dance with the snowflakes, merge with the clouds, feel the swirl of the wind. Thus began my love affair with Montreal.”
It was love at first sight for Cheryl. The city, its culture, its artists all embraced Cheryl just the way she embraced the elements.
Initially when she started painting, the galleries pointed out that her style did not match the colours other artists used. With her Indian heritage, using bright and bold colours as an artist came to her naturally.
The other artists however, used subdued colours. Since it did not fit with the art scene there, Cheryl had to tone down her tints. But over the years she has re discovered her Indian heritage and today she paints in the vibrant shades that define India.She has been inspired by the work of Impressionists like Monet and also by the works of Chagall, Van Gogh, early Picasso and Frida Kahlo. Cheryl shares, “When I was young I used to copy them.” Over the years she has developed her own style – contemporary figurative art is how she describes it.
Women form the central theme of most of her paintings. This is because, according to her, as a woman she understands and sympathises with their struggles and celebrates their joy.
Cheryl who is a mother and now, a mother-in-law has been through tough times. Moving to Europe and then to Canada have been the highlights of her life. There have been low points too like a divorce and being diagnosed with cancer.
While the divorce made her stronger, cancer was tough to deal with. It was one of her biggest challenges. On how she overcame this phase in life she says, “I believe that in the course of one’s lifetime we keep a treasure chest of things we collect over the years and then we open them and find all these strengths that help one to be whole again.”
Today she is grateful to that tide in her life for it changed the trajectory of her life—it brought her closer to art, gave her lot more opportunities to be creative and also live and cherish each and every moment in life.
A motto that she holds on to is a quote by Goethe, a quote to be found on an easel in her studio and it says – “Rest not life is sweeping by, go and dare before you die.
Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time.”
Over the years she has become a part of Montreal city, its life and its people. She was awarded the Montreal Woman of the Year Award in 2008. This according to her was a great form of recognition and encouragement for her.
Her paintings are inspired by everything that she hears and sees, from an evening out in the city to abuse against women or her own experiences with cancer– Cheryl takes to the canvas and colours to express her emotions.
She says, “Women across the globe inspire me.”
Here is one of her paintings that is close to Cheryl for its symbolism. It is titled — The Harvest — “Which is a metaphor for the richness of life. The movement in the painting symbolises what we women do on a daily basis all over the world. We sow, we nurture, we feed, we reap and we overcome.”