Shivani Ghoshal, MD
Currents is excited to launch a new Arts Corner to recognize visual, performing, and creative artworks pertaining to neurocritical care, as well as makers within our own community. The practice of neurocritical care is as humbling as it is rewarding, and requires mindfulness both of oneself and one’s peers. We hope this corner will be a step toward recognizing creative outlets for NCS members and bringing our community closer together even while we are apart.
For its debut, we’d like to introduce Shivani Ghoshal, a neuro-intensivist and burgeoning artist who will be leading this new section. Outside of hospital and research work, Shivani is a self-taught woodcut and linocut artist, with a special interest in rethinking folk art for first-generation Indian immigrants in America (such as herself).
I first learned how to draw from my mother and grandmother. My grandmother never learned how to read or write, but even with severe dementia at her later stages of life would draw the Bengali folk art patterns she remembered from childhood. I learned first by watching and imitating her style. From my mother, a civil engineer and expert storyteller, I learned about composition along with the Indian folk tales and mythology I draw upon now.
I stumbled on carving as an outlet halfway through my first year of fellowship. Many of my close friends weren’t in medicine. Though training kept us from spending as much time together as I would’ve liked, I wanted to make them something special. I noticed a hardware store on my walk to work had cheap shelf wood – cut pieces leftover from older jobs, and some soft enough to carve. My first carvings became prints, sent as cards to my friends. As I started carving more, I circled back to my grandmother’s folk art and myths I remembered from growing up.
I now live in western North Carolina, where Greater Appalachian and Southern culture meet on the skids. People here have lived for generations, a region once famous for Camel and Winston cigarettes (our nearest town over is called Tobaccoville), now peppered with broken tobacco mills along with unsurprisingly bustling cancer and stroke centers. It’s not uncommon to see patients suffering their first strokes in their thirties, or to walk into rooms with people looking twenty years older than their stated age. It’s a poor part of the country, with high rates of food insecurity. Neighbors live evenly divided along political and social lines. And yet, what people make here – in music, art, crafts – is stunning. It’s a region steeped in folk art which carries a sense of belonging – to the region, and to the generations that came before. Friends can find their family names on streets their grandparents once lived on, and household quilts carry scraps and feedsack spanning decades before the current owners.
All this makes me think of what folk art means for first-generation immigrants like me. What is folk art, when I belong fully neither to Indian nor American culture? What did it mean for mothers like mine, to create and nurture a sense of home and beauty in a country that wasn’t theirs, and where they were not always welcome? A culture to which my parents and their peers would never feel they completely belonged, while the children they raised became assimilated to varying degrees, with the hope that one day they could thrive. What is the folk art that shows my own history, and that qualifies as my belonging?
Top row (left to right): “Starlings” (Woodcut); “One year later (shelter in place)” (Linocut); “Summer quilt” (Linocut)
Bottom row (left to right): “Chulitna 2” (multi-block, Linocut); “Rain shower” (Linocut)
I have been lucky to live here in Winston among a large, diverse community of woman printmakers – each with their own styles and techniques, and each as proud of each other’s work as they are of their own. With their encouragement, I began selling my prints starting in September 2020 at our neighborhood’s first “Ardmore Artwalk” – a masked outdoor street and yard fair organized by the artists to promote pride in our neighborhood’s creativity and community during the pandemic. All of my art sales have gone directly to non-profit organizations and charities – most recently to our town’s foodbank, Winston-Salem art programs, and to the NCS Run for Research fundraiser.
Ever since that first Artwalk, it has continued to surprise me that those in Winston and beyond have asked about my prints, along with the stories that go with them. And I continue to be surprised when I see a print of mine hanging on a stranger’s wall, which shows that – despite differences in political, social, or cultural beliefs – there is some love to be shared among us all. From our first Artwalk of 20 artists, the next Ardmore Artwalk on May 8 has now grown to showcase 60 visual artists and neighborhood musicians, with greater inclusion of Black and minority artists.
I now teach linocut techniques at our town’s community art school in my non-medical time, and more recently have worked with the school to offer discounted linocut classes on Zoom for Winston-Salem’s healthcare professionals as part of their “Art and Wellness Series”. I have been lucky to serve on the board of directors of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) over the last year, working with others to promote diversity and inclusion in its community programs. I continue to make prints for myself and friends. More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of designing the cover for a friend’s patient-centered neuro-oncology textbook, as well as the logo for the upcoming “Murphy to Manteo” record label showcasing historic and overlooked North Carolina music. I hope to start a series of illustrations for a children’s book of Indian folk tales later this year.
“Mothers were called out for, everywhere (George Floyd)”
About the piece: One part, how as George Floyd was dying, he didn’t call out for God, or his lover, or his father, or any other person. But he called out for his mother. I keep thinking about this. Imagining when he called out to one mother, maybe all mothers (with children or without) heard him – all of us for a moment growing from the same body.
I also think of Kali, her dark skin – what is divine rage in its feminine form, what is grace within rage? I grew up seeing goddesses painted with many arms, branching in a way that reminded me of trees. I wanted to show that here. Something feminine, dark and waking, branching and blossoming red.
If you are interested in sharing your creative pursuits in Currents, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org