Rabindranath Tagore’s “Where the Mind Is Without Fear” is memorized by most elementary school children in India. Forty years after I first learned it, the words roll off my tongue naturally. Like most things memorized in childhood, the meaning reveals itself over time. It is a hopeful poem. Similar to Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again, it points to the ideals of a nation and the labor demanded of us while working toward this goal.
Recent events with police violence, Black Lives Matter movement, healthcare disparity in the wake of COVID 19 etc., have compelled me to examine Tagore’s poem with renewed interest. We are in flux again. The flawed foundations of what seemed immovable and permanent are being called out and examined. Each brick of our society is being nudged, peeled, shoved, removed, dusted off and re-laid with an acknowledgement to truth and towards something stronger. For me, “The land that never has been yet” is also where “The mind is without fear “. The walls and boundaries within us need to shift first if we are to make any progress.
The work continues, one brick at a time, one small systemic change at a time. Progress is slow and although it may feel like “one step forward, two steps back”, that is what nation building is. A continual labor of love.
About the Artist
Nirmal Raja is an interdisciplinary artist living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She had lived in India, South Korea and Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States thirty years ago. She holds a BA in English Literature from St. Francis College in Hyderabad, India; a BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. She has participated in solo and group shows in the Midwest, nationally and internationally. She is the recipient of several awards including “Graduate of The Decade” from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual artists. She collaborates with other artists and strongly believes in investing energy into her immediate community while also considering the global. She curates exhibitions that bring people from different cultures and backgrounds together. She was a mentor at RedLine Milwaukee, a community arts incubator for six years and is now a mentor for the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network.
© Nirmal Raja