Red-eyes are always a little disorienting. Even more so when they start in Phoenix and take you first to Atlanta, then to D.C., then to Germany and finally to India. Top that with the chaotic and seemingly lawless free-for-all on the streets of Chennai, India, and – as Steve Johnson puts it – “all sense of direction is quickly lost.”
Johnson, an associate professor of art at the College of Charleston, arrived in India at the beginning of July to begin the Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Teaching Fellowship that he was awarded in March.
The Fulbright-Nehru award is an India-U.S. collaboration that strives to build bridges between citizens and faculty, and Johnson’s project, titled “Drawing: Creative Lines of Inquiry,” is hosted by the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, in Bengaluru, India.
“My proposal was to teach drawing and use art to establish a bridge between the College of Charleston and India,” says Johnson, explaining that he hopes to create a summer program there for CofC students to come and travel around India and also to bring an Indian professor to the College to teach. “I want to teach but also facilitate this relationship and connection between the College and this school.”
And so – “MacGyver kit of art supplies” in hand (“I’ve heard that art supplies are hard to come by,” he explains) – Johnson arrived in Bengaluru, got himself oriented and started teaching at the College of Fine Arts the following week.
“The Indian art students are great. I have been working primarily with graduate painting students,” he says. “Their shared passion for making art makes bridging cultural differences quite enjoyable. I have a feeling that I will be learning just as much as, if not more than, my students this year.”
Johnson is keeping a blog – which includes samples of his own art as well as photos and details of his adventures in India – for his colleagues and students to keep up with all the things he learns during his time abroad, which coincides with his sabbatical.
“I have always been a fairly restless person, traveling and moving from one place to another. It is exciting and stimulating to experience new sights, and yet the sense of freedom experienced via travel or exploration wears thin without the grounded balance and stability of having a home to come back to,” wrote Johnson the month before he left. “Making and teaching art requires a lot of flexibility and improvisation. I have a feeling this upcoming year will elevate, if not turn all of my ideas about art and teaching upside down.”
That said, let’s hope the experience isn’t quite as disorienting as the traffic in Chennai.
For more information about Steve Johnson and his art, check out the story about him in the spring 2012 issue of College of Charleston Magazine.