Thursday, January 7, 2010

Not Invisible, Not Mute

Yes, we women, we hide so much under mantles of lace, under saris of silk, under burqas, under apple pies and strawberry tarts. 
We hide until we no longer can.
~ Cheryl Braganza

Cheryl Braganza tells us that to be born female in Bombay, India, to grow up Catholic in the Muslim country of Pakistan, was to be rendered invisible and mute. Turning inward, the only place open to her, she began to paint at around age 12 and, through painting, retreated to a different world.

Eventually, Braganza got out of Pakistan, living briefly in Rome and London before ending up in the 1960s in Montreal, where she came to fully understand how language can provide "entrance to another culture." Her ability to speak French gave her access to a lively art scene and a community where she began to come alive. Then, in the 1970s, subjected to a racist incident, she learned that a word like "Paki" denigrates and disrupts and defines community in a wholly different way. And, again, she experienced all the old "feelings of inadequacy", plus something new — fear, fear from which she did not begin to recover until she heard a police officer tell her, "You have a right to live here like everyone else." Fast forward to 2001, and the destruction of the Twin Towers loosed in her what she termed "memory mines that exploded" and, in their turn, she began to write about her life, including the racist incident. She submitted an article to the Montreal Gazette, which published her story. Her story was answered with more stories from those both like and different from her, and from then on, Braganza began to speak out and speak up, using her writing, music, poetry, and especially her art to raise awareness, to impel involvement, to create hope, to heal.

In November 2008, Braganza was declared "Montreal Woman of the Year" by the Montreal Council of Women, which cited her for her artistic endeavors and her humanitarian work with immigrant women.

Hear her as she relates her extraordinary story to Geeta Nadkarni for Radio Canada International's Roots project:

Braganza's acceptance speech before the MCW is here. It is a story of the transformational power of family, community involvement, and art.

Cheryl Braganza is many things. What she is no longer is invisible. Nor mute.


Braganza works with silk, batik, oils, and acrylics. Her Website is here. Take some time to look at her images, which are categorized by year(s) and thus document the artistic arc of her life during youth, marriage, motherhood, divorce, cancer, recovery, and human rights advocacy. She also can be found on the Saatchi Gallery.

A poet, Braganza has published Only Goodbyes; a dozen poems from the collection are here.

Braganza is Montreal's Regional Representative for the International Women's Writing Guild and a member of the Quebec Writers' Federation and the English Language Arts Network.

A committed human rights activist, Braganza works with the organization Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.


M.L. Gallagher said...

I remember hearing the Roots doc. and being moved and inspired and reminded -- to have a voice, I must speak up.

Thank you once again Maureen for bringing such powerful reminders to the frontlines of my question to live life passionately in the rapture of now. Thank you for reminding me, there are no 'small things' we do. It is only when I think small in my mind that I act small.

Cheryl Braganza said...

I only just saw this blog quite accidentally when Googling myself. What an insightful piece of writing. I thank you for summarizing my life so eloquently. How on earth were you able to find me out there - such a small speck in such a large pool ? Good things continue to happen as I leave for Ithaca next week to speak at a Women's Conference on FINDING YOUR VOICES, have just been selected to be among 200 artists to be featured in a publicity campaign across Quebec, donated a painting for an auction with all the funds going to an orphanage in Haiti and just started to play the piano at a shelter for destitute women..... And the beat goes on. Continue your journey of inspiration and healing. Thank you.
Cheryl Braganza