KOCHI: When the Luxembourg-born Sophie Medawar, of Lebanese origin, was invited by a Malayali friend, at Kochi, for lunch on a Monday, she said, “I am sorry, it is the day when I am on a fast.”
Her friend said, “Is it because you are in Kerala?” But Sophie replied that she has always fasted on Monday, to give a rest to her body. “Later I came to know that there was a tradition that Malayali women would fast on a Monday in the hope of getting a good husband,” says Sophie, as she adds, with a smile. “But I am already married and have a daughter.”
Sophie first came to Kerala, with her family, in August, last year, and fell in love with the place. “Like Lebanon, which I visit several times a year, Kerala is a place where there are strong family bonds and people of different religions live peacefully together,” she says.
And she is an admirer of Kerala women. “They go to work, then they return in the evenings and take care of their family,” she says. “They educate their children so well. The women seem independent and free, but, while talking to them, I realised that there are restrictions which can be stifling: if you are not married by a certain age, if you don’t want to get married, if you don’t get pregnant soon after marriage, or if you are divorced, you are seen in a different way. This is the case in Lebanon, too, where the family plays a prominent role in society. So, in a way, there is not much freedom for women in both places.”
To highlight this lack of freedom, Sophie is getting a floor installation made at a studio in Cherukad, Alappuzha. She has made brass pieces that look like mouths which have been shut up. More than 2000 pieces will be placed on the floor. “These symbolise the taboos that a woman faces, all imposed by society, or by their own mind-sets,” says Sophie. “But they cannot speak out. When people walk over these brass pieces, they will bang against each other and a sound will be made, like as if the women are being liberated.”
Women are Sophie’s only subject. This interest began in her childhood. “I was always drawing girl’s faces,” she says. “That focus has continued till now. Women have this connection to mother earth because they themselves are mothers and creators of life.”In an earlier work, called ‘Cache-Cache’, she has painted portraits of women from all over the world. These images have been framed and Sophie has drawn an ‘Oriental pattern’, with small squares, in acrylic paint, on the exterior glass, to give an indication of a barrier. “Again, this is to show the lack of freedom,” says Sophie.
Her art is usually expressed through paintings or installations. For paintings, she uses beeswax. “I warm the wax, and mix it with natural pigments,” she says. “I paint while the wax is still warm. Otherwise, it becomes hard.” For her installations, she uses brass, copper, wood and glass. And she spends long hours at her studio in Luxembourg.
“That’s because art is my life, passion and destiny,” she says. “I regard it as an inner expression. It is not something to hang up between the curtain and the sofa. It is much more than that. Art is divine. And it should open the eyes and soul of the people.” Meanwhile, despite living in affluent and art-conscious Europe, it has not been easy to survive as an artist. “But I cannot think of any other way to lead my life,” says Sophie, who at 5’10’, and clad in a grey jumper and jeans, cuts an elegant figure. But Indian influences are already at work. She wraps a multi-coloured shawl around her neck. “Everything is so colourful in Kerala: the clothes, houses and food,” she says.