From Poetry to Art to Autism: Artists Who Climb Over Walls of Divide

From Poetry to Art to Autism: Artists Who Climb Over Walls of Divide
Photo Courtesy: Devangana Mishraa

That’s Devangana Mishra, a young artist/ poet from Mumbai, India. After a few hundred copies of her second book of poetry, 26, Kamala Nehru Ridge, Civil Lines, Delhi, she finally accepts to rest as an artist. She has previously written Desierto Florido, another book of poetry, drawing voices from across the world. Devangana also paints canvases of all colors and kinds, from imagination and political moot points to history and wish lists, when not writing or running her foundation for children on the autism spectrum, BrainBristle. 

As artists and creators, we tend to isolate our roles and names into job descriptions and titles and, at times, struggle to break out of those molds, creatively stifling human potential; human artistic talent that must begin with preferably no end, Devangana gives us a tiny glimpse from her Mumbai life into the inches and miles she covers on that principle every day.

Devangana was born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, a beautiful desert-drawn part of western India. After studying at an elite girls boarding school, she studied autism at Columbia University, New York, where she walked with music and the cold, numbing her from her long days, for many blocks each morning, to teach at an autism charter school on the east side of the city. It was around then that she also informally began writing for small papers and college magazines and schools she worked at. This was also a time, back in 2009, when the need of the hour was to do what you can with the limited funds you have as a graduate student. So she began painting and artistically refurbishing their old walk-up in Harlem with flea market goods painted and prized. 

After New York, she lived across Indonesia, Hong Kong, and now Mumbai. Devangana clearly states, tired from this whirlwind, ‘It’s my art and creativity that got me into autism, but it’s also my heavy duty work in the field of autism that has kept me writing and painting thus far. Crossing artistic terrains isn’t something I do wilfully; it’s second nature to my being; if not one, then there wouldn’t be another. Many of those who are deeply immersed in social work or philanthropy forget to look at other aspects of their being; Devangana emphasizes that we find our whole selves when we immerse our entirety in the work we do and not just dip our fingers and toes. When running her work with autism, she needs silence of mind and soul, and the frequent eruption of art and poetry makes that silence possible. All artists must have a way of recluse and revival; finding those can take time, but it is a must to remain a full-bodied, full-blooded giver to the world. 

Yoga, meditation, swimming, teaching, reading, and running are all ways to keep this energy metabolized, mobilized and close.

About her writing, her second book, ’26, Kamala Nehru Ridge, Civil Lines, Delhi’, is a verse novel. It is the best she believes she could do for India, a country where secularity is a basic threat. It’s 40 verses written about a young Muslim girl on the brink of Indian Independence. Her first book of poetry, ‘Desierto Florido,’ was written during COVID-19; the book embodies the pain and death felt in those days of eerie silence and plague. Some of her artwork and poetry from then are bone-chilling. For a thriving young artist, life-giving work should be a compulsion, daylight, politics, love, cities, societies, serenity, everything to imprint a sense of soul to work- Devangana meanders her way into all corners where she can to find this motivation to go on, for some more, just a little more. 

It’s been sixteen years now since she’s been in the wide field of autism, and she continues to run her work through her foundation, BrainBristle, teaching, painting and building communities of support. Her ability to give the love and devotion she gives to all segments of her creative life is a testament to an artist’s limits and longevity and a testament to how all true artists keep getting in return a lot more than they can ever give to the world. 

If you follow her on Instagram on @devangana_m, you’ll often see her art, her mathematically twisted poetry and her work with her foundation, BrainBristle, for children on the autism spectrum. 

Published by: Martin De Juan

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