There is a new and exciting arts venue in town and after a two and half year dry spell creativity is back in a BIG way.
The Artful Yoga Gallery is a chic New-York style art gallery and yoga studio that will truly captivate all your senses and make sure you walk out with an experience like no other. The space is ALL about creativity and community whether it is producing an event featuring some of Melbourne’s most talented artists and their work as a backdrop or perhaps Yoga in an art gallery that’s anything but your average Yoga class.
The gallery provides an affordable space to create a community and a platform for artists.
Robert Chuter speaks with founder Neha Kumar
Tell us a little about your background Neha
I was born in India in a middle-class family. In our whole family (all generations), no one ever even dreamt of owning a passport! Let alone leaving the country. But my dad was a professional athlete and through luck and perhaps a lot of fate via his weightlifting competitions we moved to New Zealand. Unfortunately my parents did not last long in their marriage as my dad had a real issue with alcohol abuse which led to violence in the household.
Mum did her best to raise my sister and I overcoming many obstacles including not speaking English in a foreign country with no family support, not knowing how to drive a car, not even how to pay a bill. In traditional Indian roles, the woman is not given the duties to ‘manage the finances’. But mum was amazing, she went to English classes, even tried taking up a computer course. Regretfully I wish I could have given more care and attention to help her with these things instead of getting frustrated with her as a kid thinking ‘why cant she be like other mums’… how little we know of the world and awareness of what our parents go through.
She was strong in overcoming everything, except her past traumas. The domestic violence played again and again in her mind and eventually made clinically depressed. Mum’s disease manifested in the form of chronic cancer, which took her life at just 51 years of age in 2015. I don’t like talking about her story in vain, I believe my mum’s story is all too important, and in-fact common to everyone.
Why have you set up the Artful Yoga Gallery?
We are all at some point sufferers of the mind, and if allowed to progress this suffering in the mind becomes illness in the body. Not letting my mother’s story go in vain, and to help people with their minds and bodies, I decided I was going to create a place of healing. Thereafter, Artful Yoga was born.
It’s true that unless you’ve had the experience first-hand there is only so much you can experience when it comes to matters of chronic illness and disease of the mind. We can try and teach as much as we can but we need that next layer or either empathy or direct experience. I know now from seeing what people with cancer have to go through, the silent battles they face with the drastic affects of chemotherapies and radiation leave scars in layers of ourselves that are too deep to fathom.
And yes, there are clinical facilities to help us with medical help, and yes there are therapies available i.e. councellors and psychologist, BUT, what I found through mums journey was that the day-to-day ‘normal’ help, support, mental agility building tools etc. this was very much lacking and I saw mum so isolated and discouraged from her battle. I often saw her sit in complete darkness just listening to music for hours on end, that for her was medicinal. It was healing.
I am a believer that we need healing that is back to basics, nothing to do with fancy labels or institutionalised, just simple human needs met through the things we connect with easily and yet quite profoundly since the history of time; music, art, movement, community. The first expression of human communication, emotion, expression was through Art; painting, dancing, singing and it helped us evolve as human beings. In-fact the key reason humans have evolved and are the most powerful of species is not because we are the strongest, it’s because humans have imagination. We can create things in our minds and then in reality.
We need to tap into this expression of imagination and creation in order to expand ourselves beyond what we think is possible. I believe Art is what is needed to help heal the world. We need to paint hospitals with healing colours used in therapy, we need to play music in schools, prisons, institutes, retirement homes that help stimulate certain brain waves, to help function and better control our thoughts and feelings. There are so many things that Art is recognised to help; it heals, evokes human emotions, and overall improves health. Art is the answer to human healing in the mind and in the body.
Hence Artful (all things Art) and Yoga (meaning union) was born, to help people just like my mum to heal, to help, to improve life quality and give people hope out of any adversity they may be going through. Art truly is going to heal the world.
What are your aims for the Artful Yoga Gallery?
We are capable of healing from our pains, stopping generational cycles of abuse, create the life of our dreams, and have the best human experience possible…. but you must do these two things a) believe it’s possible and b) have the tools to implement action – we created a place that can teach people the tools and show them possibilities for a better quality of life. The aim is to make our community healthier (mind and body level) and happier (soul level), and the objective is to make every person who walks through our doors believe it is possible to do that and then teach them how.
Why do you do the work that you do?
I have a fundamental belief, that everyone reserves the right to change their life. No matter how dark of a hole you find yourself in, whatever situation you find yourself in, whatever may have happened to you. Everyone reserves the right to change their life…. But so many people don’t know how.
I too was in a deep hole, diagnosed clinically depressed at the age of 27 after my mother passed, I had suicidal thoughts, I did not see colour in life anymore, I was sick all the time, and I was sick of who I became. After a very messy night out, driving home from Melbourne to Gippsland (where I previously lived) having suicidal thoughts and with tears just uncontrollably streaming down my face, I was either going to hurt myself or worse myself and others, including my beautiful dog Frankie who was by my side in the car. I looked over at him and could not even think of hurting him or leaving him. I pulled over to the nearest carpark I could find and it happened to be right outside of Powerhouse Yoga Studio in Berwick.
Feeling too exhausted to drive, and emotions running wild, I thought if I go into a class perhaps I could kill some time and get myself back in order. Lucky for me, moving my body was always my way of expressing my emotions. So I went to class that early morning… and it changed my whole life. The teacher introduced the theme in that class and said these life-altering words that struck something in me that was like a key turning a lock open; “we are NOT our stories”. We are not our stories, such a simple sentence, with such a significant impact. This reminded me that cancer is not my mums story, her amazing life and personality, and kindness is her story. Her love is her story. Being my most amazing mum is her story. Cancer is not her story…. And I was going to stop seeing it as that. I decided from that moment on that I would re-write both my own story and her’s.
My journey kept going deeper, I went to yoga classes every week travelling 200km from Gippsland to Berwick just to go to class, because it truly helped me so incredibly much. I dove deep into the philosophies of Yoga – which basically transcribe all the lessons in life we must learn, and it helped me deal with my situation in every aspect of it. It helped me prepare for my mum’s passing and it helped me see that we are NOT our stories, in-fact we write our own stories every conscious moment, thought, action at a time. So I decided I was going to write the future of my story the way I wanted, in doing so re-writing mum’s story too. That’s when my thoughts of creating empowered human stories came about.
Mental health is a real issue in our world today, and mental-disease is ever increasing in our community. I wanted to create a place with a different kind of healing, where there are no prerequisites to entry, you don’t need to be ‘an artist’ or a ‘yogi’ to come to our gallery, in-fact it’s a place for all kinds of human beings seeking the same thing – healing, expression and a new story.
What have been some of the difficulties in running the gallery?
The hardest thing for humans to accept is change, and the only sure thing about life is that it’s always changing. For me the challenge with the gallery thus far has been that I am doing things very differently – the Art Gallery is not ‘traditional’, the artist presenting t their artwork need no prerequisite to showcase themselves, they simply need to have the right intentions and messaging behind their pieces. And most Art does, and most Art in fact is born from profound stories of adversity, feelings, pain, and the journeys we must go through. We just want storytellers to help community through Art – whether its on the walls, through music or via movement (dance and yoga), something that can help people heal and provide a channel of hope. I do find, because I have such a blend of the Arts in an ‘Art Gallery’ that the music side of things can be difficult for some people to understand. But that’s okay, I know that not everyone is going to understand my vision, or the studio, and I accept that.
The difficulty arises when people don’t understand and try and stop and make it difficult for the business to operate i.e. with music we have noise, with an open studio we welcome all types of people; homeless people, people from domestic abuse, mentally challenged and sometimes pre-conceived notions and prejudices do come to the surface. I simply ask that our community takes the time to understand what we are doing, and why it is important. That the Art world does meet the music and dance and yoga world!. That we do blend these remarkable tools that will help us and evolve us. And that we welcome change without bias.
What’s been some of the positives of running the gallery?
Without doubt, the biggest positive in running this space has been witnessing the amazing Artist that are in-fact around us everywhere! Especially in the St. Kilda community. And to give these amazing human beings, doing incredibly important things a platform is the biggest positive for me. Art is truly the gift that keeps giving; it doesn’t just help one life, it touches every life Art comes into contact with, and when people leave the gallery having had that experience of connection, upliftment and happiness, that’s the gift that keeps going, because then they will translate that feeling into their lives and the people around them.
I do feel that people need to recognise the amount of work and dedication it takes to create art, and build the courage to present it to the world. These Artist put in so much of themselves into their craft, but as onlookers we almost feel entitled to see and hear Art without often realising what a privilege it is to see and hear and feel what has been created with so much time, energy and resources. We seldomly recognise that these Artist who are hustling jobs in service and making their Art in all other hours of the day, when they finish work, before work, riding the train to work! These artist need money to survive and create their art too, and they shouldn’t have to survive on very little to get by if they decide to make Art as their career goal.
There are SO MANY talented people around us, right in our very community of St Kilda, they just need a platform, and one that gives them monetary gains to live and keep making their art available to all that need it so desperately. So many people are looking for inspiration, a space that fills their ‘cup up’ and helps them feel connected to a safe community where they can get help for life matters, and compassionate teachers that can assist in their growth and healing journey. Artful Yoga has sourced some of the best teachers and Artist to help our community; Art teachers, Yoga and Meditation Teachers, Body and Energy Healers, we also curate art workshops (poetry, art, journaling, lifestyle management), and healing circles to talk about matters that are important and that we need help with.
What career path would you have followed if you didn’t do this?
I have always had a deep appreciation for the things that give us life; the water that sustains life, the soil that makes our food, the air that keeps us alive, and everything that surrounds us to give us this experience of life. Growing up in NZ, surrounded by nature and living close to the beach made me deeply connect and have this outlook on the environment. Hence, why I became an Environmental Scientist, which is what I was doing for the past thirteen years, helping the clean energy transition. Until! I quit everything to become a “yogi”! (and create Artful Yoga Gallery!). But if I couldn’t do the gallery anymore then I would combine efforts to make another business to help human and nature, maybe a sustainable Yoga Ashram in countries and places that cannot afford it, where we teach people how to live sustainably using the Yoga philosophy.
What future events do you envisage?
My aspiration and passion is around three topics; Human and consciousness, the Environment, and Animal rights. The future is so exponential for this place and I have high dreams for it. In-fact what is materializing are all the things I have envisioned and are dear to my heart. In June 2022, we are teaming up with Artistic Director Robert Chuter, Curator Anthony Breslin, assistant Jason Marx on a project called ‘In Good Company’ devoted to promoting excellence in the artistic portrayal of the creatures sharing our planet, and to educate ourselves, using art. There will be abstract art, sculptures, installations and performances. It will be a whole thing honey!. We have also collaboration with ‘Art Disrupt’ an independent organization that advocates for climate and environmental matters using Art as the medium. They will be holding an exhibition in June 2022. In the near future I want to team up with local schools to do programs on art and yoga as therapies for coping with topics that I know as a high school emotional teenager once myself, I definitely needed some help with!. Topics such as self-esteem, body issues, confidence, change, purpose!. Don’t underestimate the need for a young adult to be asking life’s ‘big questions’, and when we are our most curious, its needed to feed those questions with the right information. Lastly, we want to provide programmes to women of abuse that are needing healing therapy and support from emotional and physical wounds. We want to team up with local women’s shelters to help women out of a very unfortunate situation and into a new story, one where they are their own superheroes to save the day.
Is there anything you would like to leave people with? Last thoughts?
The value of all people is needed to heal the world. Not just the people that look a certain way, come from a certain background, or are defined as ‘worthy’. All people deserve to receive help and inclusion. I sometimes see prejudices around us, I see discrimination still due to colour and racial or socio-economic backgrounds. And the age in which we live in today, we have to move past a lot of this to really allow for a healthier and better world. It starts from working on ourselves right within our communities. It starts from catching yourself the next time you want to judge someone on the street, or walk past someone in need. If you can help then help, but if you cant help at least not judge. Yoga teaches us to see all (people, animals, this earth) as one unanimous being, and when one part is hurting it has a link on effect to the other. So if we can start seeing that everyone is in-fact just like me, we will treat them the way we would want to be treated. It’s actually really easy to be kind. And kindness will heal the world.
Artful Yoga Gallery, 1 Vale Street, St. Kilda | www.artfulyoga.com.au