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May 2007


Reconnecting with the artist within

- Priya Sundaravalli

‘Creations from Nature’ was one of the recent exhibitions at Pitanga. Aurovilian Marije Romme presented her mixed media paintings of leaves, petals, pigment and ink. The common thread that ran through the works was flora and Auroville’s forest floors. This is Marije’s first exhibition in Auroville since her arrival in 1994


Marije Romme at her ‘Creations from Nature’ exhibition at Pitanga. Photo by Priya Sundaravalli.Originally from The Netherlands, Marije Romme is an artist by training who, as she describes it, was “well into the professional art circuit” in Europe . There she had created a niche through creating public space art. This included her last work in 1991, a mural of an underwater coral reef scene at the zoological park in Amsterdam , which can still be appreciated.

Then she reached a turning point in her life. Marije was diagnosed with a slowly progressive immune disorder that was eating away her connective tissues, leaving them contracted. “It became very painful and physically difficult to finish the work. And I tried not to think about it, but instead take a Buddhist attitude to life. With that, my art career came to an abrupt end, and I had to focus on getting medical help and trying to heal my body.”

In this period, Marije began to read a lot and came across books on Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. One was The Adventure of Consciousness by Satprem, and the other, the Dutch translation of Sri Aurobindo's Lights on Yoga by Wil van Vliet. “Well, they say nothing happens by accident,” says Marije. “After I read about Sri Aurobindo, I had to make a trip to India , and visit Auroville and Puducherry.”

And so her journey began. Within three years, Marije made the momentous decision to move from The Netherlands to live in Auroville.

When she came to Auroville, Marije first volunteered at the Visitor's Centre, and later moved to the Matrimandir Nursery. “I could not do any art or painting as it was still physically painful.” At the Nursery, Marije took up the task of making signs that would display the botanical names of trees, shrubs, and plants, and the names that The Mother had given them. “There was nothing complicated about this work. In a nice calligraphic script, I painted the two names of the plant – the botanical one and Mother's name – but the work brought me so much joy. In the process, I began to observe plants very closely, and my love for them began to grow.”

Soon Marije was caught up in scouring for fallen leaves and flowers. “I would collect those that had dropped to the ground, and press them between sheets.” The flowers especially held her captivated. “The Mother has given beautiful spiritual names to them; and I became particularly fond of the ones that grow in Auroville – Divine Grace, Realization, Protection.”

Slowly Marije began making simple ink and pencil sketches of them and filling the images with colour. “Even though my body was not fully cooperating, I felt I had to somehow consciously go on.” These days, Marije volunteers her time at the Guest Service. “I believe that one has to do something for Auroville, and for me this is my work at the Guest Service.

“Drawing is what I do for myself, and it puts me in touch with myself. And this journey of relearning to draw and paint has been like learning a new language.

“The idea for the exhibition came from Joseph and some friends who kept encouraging me. The drawings were collecting in my cupboard, and they felt I should share them. But I was hesitant. Finally, I showed some drawings to Andrea, and we put together the exhibition.”

Like Marije herself, her works appear shy and unassuming. Repetitive leaf and flower motifs appear like mantras of a childlike simplicity. There is a quality of spontaneity and unselfconsciousness about them.

“The works never stay the same. Sometimes I look at them and they tell me, ‘Why not like this, or like that?' and I listen. Even for me, the results take me by surprise.” Besides the thirty-odd works hanging on the wall, there are two glass displays where she has created fresh collages from dried leaves and flowers from the blossoms and leaf fall of the week.

“Now with this show I find that I am getting to meet people I did not know and that has been really nice.”


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