Ela Mekherjee, a ceramic artist visiting from India, has her work on display June 26-July 2 at the Vernon Community Arts Centre. (Submitted photo)

India artist leaves legacy after Okanagan visit cut short by COVID

Clay journals experiences transitioning from winter to spring, on exhibit

After coming to Vernon, all the way from India, Ela Mukherjee was planning to spend a lot more time in the city when COVID-19 cut her trip short.

She arrived in January for the CeramAir artist residency with the Vernon Community Arts Centre, where she spent her days chronicling her experiences through ceramic art and teaching classes to adults and children, while staying at the Caetani House.

“As I am from Delhi, India, one of the most populous cities of the world, the sparseness of the place was a pleasant surprise,” said Mukherjee, who had mixed feelings of wonder and desperation coming from a tropical country to Vernon, where the temperature was well below freezing.

“My initial days were difficult to make my way to the studio and back to the residence walking every day. The whole surrounding was white with snow, sidewalks were many times icy, the confusion was there between streets and avenues — all these jumbled up in my existence of adapting to the new environment. The initial works were thus more monochromatic, geometric and linear reflecting the frozen state of my mind.”

Over time, she made friends and got to know some of locals, which is where her love for the city was sparked.

“With the warmth of the people’s hearts, their welcoming smiles, their kindness, I fell in love with Vernon. I started almost living in VCAC, as I could interact with people there and I loved that. I started enjoying the beauty around, the walks were no more a task. This personal transition started getting reflected in my works and so the later works have more fluid lines, broken geometry and organic forms introduced.”

Each work from the exhibition is therefore a page from Mukherjee’s diary — steeped in the experience of the city.

“The COVID-19 outbreak forced me to leave Vernon abruptly with a proper good bye to the city and its people I fell in love with. So this exhibition is dedicated to Vernon and a way of thanking everyone there who made my residency such a memorable one. I will be happy if my works find homes in Vernon and thus, I stay on with the locals.”

The collection called Snowflakes on my Shoulder is all for sale, and is on display at the Arts Centre from Friday, June 26, to Thursday, July 2, between 9:30-4:30 p.m.

“She was a delight to have around the studio, and everyone was intrigued by her body of work,” Arts Centre marketing and events coordinator Sheri Kunzli said.

“It was her wish to return to her home country of India, with only her memories and experiences in hand,” said Kunzli. “Her legacy is left behind in the city among the people where Ela feels the work belongs.”

Despite trying to stay as long as possible to to finish what she started, Mukherjee’s residency was cut short when the world pandemic was announced. She flew out of Kelowna expecting to see her family within a day, however, the airlines stopped moving and she was stranded in Toronto for two months.

“As you can imagine, these two months were very difficult,” Kunzli said. “A GoFundMe account was eventually set up to support Ela, and thanks to the generosity of strangers, Ela was able to purchase a flight back to India when flights became available.”

It would still be weeks until she could hug her family again, as quarantine became yet another part of the ordeal when she touched down on Indian soil.

“Her journey has been an epic one, yet Ela remains humble, grateful and safe. It saddens us that Ela won’t be here to see her own art exhibit, or even touch her last few pieces that hadn’t yet been sent to the kiln for firing. But we’re doing our part to honour her journey, and all that she has given to city of Vernon.”

READ MORE: Mural tours return to downtown Vernon

READ MORE: Staff shortage closes Vernon pub


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