“Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer and politician.
Ever since the beginning of time, our ‘arts’ have taught us the difference between living and surviving. It is these ‘arts’ that have given a bright colour to our cultures that, will not fade in the sands of time.
Our cultures are stories, stories that have helped us sail through some of the most difficult times in our lives, stories that have helped us open our eyes in wonder and dream and stories that made up laugh and weep with immense intensity.
And this is what Shreya, understands very well. In conversation with Cocktail Zindagi, Shreya, who is the Director of Art Lounge 9, talks about her journey from India to Belgium in the name of art and culture. Shreya works with a team of artists from different countries of the world.
When asked about how it all began, she says, “Although being a Law Graduate, Indian dance forms and other arts always attracted me. I started learning Kathak and Hindustani vocal at a young age of seven years under my Guru.Budh Prakash Vyas from the Jaipur Gharana. Apart from that, I learnt more than 15 other Indian folk arts like Madhubani painting, Warli, Batik, etc. under my mentor and teacher Mrs.Seema Kaul in New Delhi. I also learnt authentic block printing and clay work from Indian Handicrafts Ministry (Bangalore Branch).”
Furthermore, she adds,”Later in 2012, when I was working with some English organisations for paper crafts and designing, I decided to move to Belgium to expand the scope of my work to Germany and United Kingdom. At that point of time, I was also writing a script on the story behind Taj Mahal. When I moved to Europe, I realized that there is a huge amount of curiosity and respect towards Indian culture and Indian stories. That is when I thought of creating a team called Art Lounge 9, where a lot of passionate artists joined in Voluntarily just to promote Indian culture in Other countries. That’s how Art Lounge 9 has a tagline ‘Sharing India To The World.”
Art Lounge 9, is a platform for passionate and talented individuals who infuse their expressions together to create a beautiful work of art. Art Lounge 9 – with 9 being Shreya’s lucky number, is an organisation where a lot of artists like actors, dancers, photographer, painters and other creative people work together. As Shreya says, “Art Lounge 9 is where all artists can feel like a family.”
Art Lounge 9 is a place where artists are brimming with ideas and are very enthusiastic.
Bringing stories alive from ancient history on stage is definitely not an easy task. It requires a lot of dedication. So was Shreya always inclined towards the performing arts? “Yes,” she says and adds, “Although I belong to the family of policemen, doctors and engineers, I was always inclined towards arts in all forms. Be it, dance, music, painting, or any other art. I was quite popular for my artistic skills during my school and college days. I received several awards, for the competitions I participated in.”
As we grow up, we often let our passion fade away and let our mind act practically. In that aspect too, Shreya is an inspiration.
For five years now, Art Lounge 9 has been weaving magic on stage, mesmerising the audiences. They have created several shows. Their show about the monument of love, ‘Taj – The Eternal Love’ which premiered in 2015, has been performed for five times in Belgium and Germany from 2015-2017.
Another show titled, ‘Mad About Madras’ – 2016, was a charity show that was created for the flood-affected Chennai city. They donated all the proceedings to Red Cross to help the situation in Chennai.
They also staged a show titled, ‘It Doesn’t Hurt To Be Nice’ based on a book by the same name by author Amisha Sethi.
But out of all the shows, there is one show that is close to Shreya’s heart – the show ‘Rama’ which premiered in Brussels in January 2018 and won everyone’s heart. When asked about which show touched her heart the most, she said, “I have worked on several stories from India. But the story of Ramayana (incorporated in our show Rama) touched me the most, spiritually and emotionally. Although we all have grown up listening, reading or watching the Ramayana but to create it in a show was a beautiful and memorable experience. I prefer working on my shows from scratch, like scriptwriting, choreographing, costume designing – everything and anything that I can do. It’s always an exciting journey. Especially, the story of Ramayana has so many things to learn – it has something for everyone.”
Talking about one of the most interesting moments of the show she says, “It is the moment when Lord Ram travels into the forest for an exile of 14 years. Because this is where we learn a lot from the struggle he faced – from living in a palace as a prince and now in the forest. The struggle and the victory over it of Ram, Sita and Laxman is one of the most motivating parts in Ramayana.”
Apart from these live shows, Art Lounge 9 actively participates in annual cultural events for Holi & Diwali in Brussels, Belgium. Talking about Art Lounge 9’s other activities she says, “Diwali 2017 – the festival of lights, was one of the biggest events that we organised, where more than 5000 people of all cultures and nationalities joined in to celebrate Diwali at the most iconic symbol ‘Atomium’. Honourable Indian ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg H.E, Ms.Gaitri Issar Kumar also attended the event. Also with immense pleasure, I would like to tell you that it was for the first time in history that an Indian flag was hoisted on top of the Atomium. That pride brought tears to eyes of each Indian.”
The Embassy of India in Brussels also mentioned about it on their Facebook page:
Creating shows that look smooth and effortless on stage requires a lot of organising and managing. Shreya says, “If you ever look at what goes on behind the scenes during a show – it would be the exact opposite of what you see on stage. While the show will go on calmy, there will be nothing less than a hurricane backstage!”
She laughs and adds, “It gets hilarious sometimes. Someone is getting into or out of their costumes, while someone is putting on makeup. With Art Lounge 9 you will also find artists checking if their tail is fitting right! I always recall this – being on both the sides of the stage and experiencing things that are poles apart.”
Talking about a moment that moved the audience during a show, Shreya reminiscences, “During the show ‘Taj – The Eternal Love’, there is a point when the Queen Mumtaz Mahal is on her deathbed, and the King Shahjahan is all broken to see his beloved dying. That’s one moment which made everybody very emotional. In fact, we saw several non-Indian audiences moved to tears.”
This is one moment where we all forget who we are and let our emotions define and unite us. That is the power of art. It helps us look into the most ignored nook of our heart and shed light on it. It transcends race, cultures, religions and nationalities to unite us as humans.
“I believe, art is the only medium that reaches out to hearts & individuals on a personal level and binds the world together. Things like music, dance, food, stories, etc. are something that brings us together in a positive way. I am fortunate enough to create a multicultural team – Art Lounge 9 has worked with artists from more than 11 different countries. We have also dubbed some of our shows in local languages like French and German so that it’s easy for the people to understand,” Shreya says.
Art Lounge 9 has performed on several occasions in Belgium. Apart from that, they have performed in Germany at Stuttgart and Munich – at the most prestigious Auditorium ‘Gasteig’.
Answering our question about where Shreya sees Art Lounge 9 after five years, she said, “People in Europe are loving our work and we are very motivated to keep on spreading our work. We see ourselves as one of the most versatile teams of artists coming together to show Indian Culture and stories to the world. We hope to showcase our work in more countries across the globe.”
While doing something dynamic on an international level has a big impact on the viewers, it also changes the person behind such performances, personally. Shreya too has grown with Art Lounge 9, “Being the artistic director of Art Lounge 9, I get to meet and work with several amateur or professional artists from different countries and different cultural or artistic backgrounds, from which I always keep learning something new. This has changed me a lot and made me a better person. Also, it has taught me a very beautiful thing which is ‘If TALENT doesn’t work hard, HARD WORK wins’. It is absolutely true because I have worked with so many budding or amateur artists and have seen them develop and improve tremendously through their journey.”
Art Lounge 9 is a journey in itself. Inspired?