"Il ne faut point juger des gens sur l'apparence"
Jean de La Fontaine, Le paysan du Danube (1678)
This is one of my favorite quotes. Translated, it simply says, “We must not judge people on looks”—the notion where people judge others based on the usual suspects: hair, dress, tastes, skin color,.. etcetera. I won’t deny I was, and still am, a victim of people’s judgments and criticisms. Being a girl from a modest family, I broke certain rules, regulations and taboos.
See, I am a village girl who’s mostly been surrounded by small-minded and orthodox people. I’ve always wore jeans and a t-shirt, and had short hair with tattoos and piercings. Thus, I’ve constantly been called “boyish” or “tomboy” because of it. People of my village, unfortunately, just could not accept these things—nor the fact that a girl could have short hair.
My name is Sandhia Devi Somiah, born in a small village named Riviere du Rempart in the northern part of Mauritius, also called the Paradise Island. Mauritius is a small island found in the Indian Ocean, around 2000 km off the east coast of Africa. It has a population of around 1.3 million, and enjoys a huge cultural and ethnic diversity. Or mother tongue is Creole, but French and English are widely spoken as well. We have Mauritians from Indian, Chinese, African and European origins. All these ethnic groups live in peaceful harmony and respect, which makes Mauritius a harmonious place to live. Except for the elders, who seem to have a hard time accepting the newer generations’ embracing of trends and technology. They’re a bit more conservative.
I grew up in the village within an extended family—parents, sister and grandparents—the latter being very religious types who were strict to values and norms. My grandparents just could not accept their granddaughter wearing short clothes, jeans or having short, spiky hair. I’m 23 years old: I am full of life and enjoy going out, partying with friends…I’m like all the other girls of the new generation who love fashion and technologies, tattoos and piercings. Is it a crime to adopt this lifestyle? Do these make a girl irresponsible and careless? Do these make a girl of bad character? Do these make up a girl who cannot achieve anything in life? It’s very easy to tag someone with an etiquette without knowing the true face of that person.
I was always fond of short hair. I was 16 years old, in high school, when I first cut it. My friends and the people of my village laughed at me; people stared, and boys in my society tagged me as a “tomboy.” At that time, faced with so many negative comments and critics, I became a bit hesitant to even leave the house. I dejectedly decided to let my hair grow out again. But that took time, and I still had to face society, school, family and friends until my hair grew back. I was typically a “sweet” girl who wouldn’t reply back to comments, but day by day, my feelings of fear and anxiety increased. It was tough. But I didn’t give up! The only thing that helped me was ART.
Short hair…WHO CARES?!
The arts helped develop a positive vibe in me, boosting up my confidence level and my self-esteem. I’ve always been fond of painting, drawing, singing, dancing, etc. With these activities, I became a more tolerant person. However, before I chose art as my career, I had to face many obstacles. I had to go against my “own” to be able to do art for my tertiary education. My grandfather, who was the first Telugu educator in Mauritius, was constantly after me to become a Telugu teacher just like him, and my interest in art somehow disappointed him. Moreover, I was kind of under pressure in choosing my career—as people usually say here in Mauritius, “One cannot earn a living as an artist.” Because I chose art, which incidentally was also against my parents’ will, I had to work very hard to achieve success and prove myself on my choice.
Thus, “achievement” and ‘”success” became the only words that I put into my mind; I sacrificed my pleasures just for the sake of achieving. I even lost friends, because I was not so keen on partying and going out at the time. To accomplish my goal as an artist and succeed in my diploma in visual art, I had to put forth double the effort and let go of my temporary happiness, even missing out on family functions and events. My preference became to stay at home, do my work and reflect on my artistic career. I had to achieve.
This was my first transformation from tomboy to a young woman, to challenge the world and prove myself. That began with the yearning to promote my career as an artist. One day, all of the sudden, I got that opportunity: a solo exposition! With a lot of determination and sacrifices, even though I was in my final exam period, I managed to do a collection of 20 paintings. I was sketching, drawing and painting from day to night to get a good composition.
At first, I started with sketches of local landscape, but ended up in the delicate landscape of the female. I wanted to do something uncommon, and this desire birthed my theme of femininity: women and flowers, the intersection of fragility and sensuality. This theme much suited my personality. I am very concerned with modern femininity and cannot tolerate injustice toward women. The idea behind this concept was to value women and create public awareness as to how they should be treated. The lines represent the curves of woman, flawless and flexible—able to adapt to any and all situations. They also exhibit the strength of a woman. Moreover, contrary to straight lines, curves represent power, tolerance and smoothness. From this, coupled with a lot of patience and experimentation, I developed my painting style on my preferred medium: flat acrylic on canvas.
As it is said, the “fruits of success always grow on the tree of hard work.” My success took a turning point after my expo, which—according to visitors—was an achievement. My paintings were highly appreciated by the public, and more importantly I was able to convey my message through my work. This resulted in a personal satisfaction, based on hard work, rather than gaining fame. This triggered my self-confidence, as well as increasing my tolerance to negative remarks. I gained a growing esteem about myself and a mindset of no longer caring what others might say about my look and appearance.
Today, I am just living my life as I wanted.
Hunger of knowledge and achievement. I am determined more than ever and motivated to perform excellently in my career. Following a Bachelor in Education, I want to become an excellent educator and impart knowledge and values to the upcoming generations. And, of course, my ambition is also to become a well-known artist both locally and internationally. I believe achievement is due to the determination to do your best. We never stop learning and having new experiences—I, as well as my art, will continue to evolve, and surely the best is yet to come.
My message for every girl and woman is to never stop dreaming, stay focused and live your passion freely!
— SANDHIA D SOMIAH x UDD
Never give up! Period.
Follow her work @SandArt
I’ve always said, “Tomboys make the best girls.” We’re not afraid to get a little dirty! But of course as a fellow tomboy, I’m probably a little biased. We pride ourselves in being able to outrun or outclimb any boy and rarely back down from any challenge. We feel this inherent duty to prove our femininity equal. And no, we don’t want to be boys. We want to be seen as their equals. I guess we’re early feminists! *giggles*
Sandhia is no different. She’s this little woman with an affinity for denim and sneakers—wardrobe staples for any tomboy, or anyone, by the way. She’s bright-eyed, eager and full of life. And quite courageous to follow her passion of art, might I add—something that is especially tough when you feel you’re disappointing those you love. Choosing yourself is hard. It can come with guilt and the added pressures of proving yourself and defending your choice. But Sandhia, my dear, is up for the challenge.
Her work is breathtaking. She boldly, yet eloquently, integrates her two passions—art and femininity—while still exploring her own. And she’s still so early in her career!
With works and themes this explosive, I wait with bated breath to see what her future holds.
Carpe diem, Sandhia—it’s your life for the taking!
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