UT Tyler

Where Life and Creativity Converge

Student Weaves Experience and Heritage Into Works of Art

As one person among billions, artist Abhidnya Ghuge once thought her life was of temporary and little significance, unaware of her greater purpose.

Ghuge, a graduate art student at The University of Texas at Tyler, later realized after years of reflection and a series of events, including the death of a friend's teenage son in her homeland of India, that no matter how short or humble one's life, each person is a significant piece of a larger picture – God's greater work of art.

That revelation breathed new life into Ghuge's own works of art. With artistic foresight, she began to transform a common medium, paper plates, into uncommon masterpieces. For Ghuge, the paper plate symbolizes our mortality, her humble origins, how one individual can make a positive difference, and how people and things large and small, common and uncommon, are important pieces of God's universe. The paper plate has become her signature artistic medium.

Ghuge has since become a nationally recognized artist and is set to earn her master's degree in fine arts in May.

She carves traditional Indian designs into blocks of birchwood, which she uses to print numerous plates with repeated patterns. She then plugs thousands of printed plates into wire mesh to create vast, three-dimensional experiential sculptures spanning up to 18 feet wide. The artwork is considered experiential because viewers can walk into its interior space and be surrounded by it.

With a mission to use art to make a positive difference, Ghuge says her art's broader theme is about transforming something that is seemingly insignificant into something worthy.

"It's about making life meaningful, and while you live here, not just living day to day as if you just exist," she said.

Beginnings in Bombay

Ghuge's interest in art dates back to her childhood in India. Born in Bombay, Ghuge was raised by university professors. Her mother taught economics, and her father taught philosophy. Her father never fully pursued his artistic passions but, as a self-taught artist, encouraged his daughter to explore her artistic side and taught her some techniques.

Ghuge's talents were first formally recognized when, as a third-grader, she won first place in a citywide art competition in Bombay. A few years later, her parents divorced and communication with her father was cut off. In the years that ensued, art for Ghuge became therapeutic, helping her through family issues, she said.

Though her mother didn't oppose her pursuit of art, she influenced Ghuge to get a medical degree so she could support her family if necessary.

"Don't waste your time in the kitchen. Go make a difference in the world," she recalls her mother saying.

Ghuge went to medical school, where she met her husband, a fellow medical student. After they got married, she continued her residency in dermatology while he worked as a lecturer in medicine. They were living off of his income of about $100/month when they had their first child.

"We didn't own a car or anything. We didn't even have a bicycle, but it was good enough to get along," Ghuge said.

The impetus to leave India had more to do with her brother's illness and death, and a medical system Ghuge and her family viewed as underprivileged. Though she and her husband were both physicians, critical factors were out of their control.

"We felt pretty helpless that we couldn't diagnose or treat him, because we didn't have the facilities and the tests and the equipment in the hospitals at the time," Ghuge said.

Her mother insisted they go to America for better medical care and opportunity, Ghuge said, adding, "We came for a better life, not just for us, but for our son as well."

Twenty years ago at age 26, Ghuge left Bombay with her husband and their 2-year-old son for Detroit, Mich., where her husband did a medical residency for three years. They later moved to Henderson, where he soon started his medical practice and they had a baby girl.

Ghuge stayed home to raise her children with the intent of returning to medicine when they became older. However, the road in Texas took an unexpected turn, leading her back to her passion.

Opportunities in Texas

It happened that Henderson was only a 45-minute drive from Tyler, where her children went to school. After dropping them off each morning, she stayed in town to avoid spending hours every day in the car.

"So instead of just hanging out at the mall and spending money ... I went to see what the university had to offer," Ghuge said.

She began studying art at UT Tyler in the fall of 2006 and, after earning her bachelor's degree in fine arts in May 2010, continued there in pursuit of a master of fine arts in studio art.

She has been greatly influenced by her academic studies and professors and has benefited considerably from their guidance and instruction, she said.

"I've gained the world just being at the university," she said. "... It's the relationship with the professors and the way they have nurtured my talents right from the beginning."

Her first adviser, Gary Hatcher, professor and chair of UT Tyler's Department of Art and Art History, described Ghuge as creative, intelligent, organized and very driven to succeed, adding, "She's definitely one of the more exceptional students that we've had."

During her academic studies at UT Tyler, she was first exposed to installation art, including experiential art. Her artistic focus further developed in 2007 when she took a sculpture class. The professor challenged students to create something out of a string for which string was not intended – an exercise that proved a significant inspiration for her later idea to use paper plates as an artistic medium, she said.

One of her most memorable experiences with UT Tyler was participating in a two-week summer study abroad course in 2007 in Italy, where students saw original works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and others.

"Once you go abroad and see other cultures, it does broaden your life and your view on life. ... That's something I really appreciate about this university," Ghuge said.

She also appreciates that UT Tyler and the art department are relatively small, which fosters a closer-knit community and more individual student attention.

Merrie Wright, a UT Tyler assistant professor of art who is on Ghuge's graduate degree committee, first taught Ghuge six years ago.

"Whether she's making an intimate object, like a small sculpture or one of her larger-scale installations, there's always an obsessive quality. Whether it be the repetition of an element or her attention to detail, I think that's one of the strengths within her work," Wright said.

"The second thing I see in her work is that she's very much into these intensive investigations of material and process, and I would say that her ability to transform materials is pretty remarkable."

Another of Ghuge's professors is her graduate adviser, James Pace, a UT Tyler professor of visual art.

"She is one of the most open, kind human beings I have ever met," he said, "and that creates an opportunity for not just her professors, but her peers and friends, to access her in a really open manner."

Recognition From Near and Far

Ghuge has shown her work in places around the country, including New Orleans, Dallas, Houston and New York, and has works in private collections in the U.S., England and India.

Though still a student, Ghuge has already achieved considerable national recognition for her artwork. Among her most impressive accolades:

  • Two of her art pieces were selected to be included in "500 Paper Objects: New Directions in Paper Art," a book due to be released in May by Lark Books.
  • Ghuge was among 12 artists selected out of 500 last year in the 16th annual No Dead Artists 2012 Juried National Exhibition in the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans, La.
  • Several of her pieces have been exhibited and sold at the Craighead Green Gallery in Dallas, and her work will be exhibited this spring in the gallery's group show.
  • The journal of art and design, Creative Quarterly, held a juried competition and selected Ghuge's work in the fine arts student category.
  • The Lawndale Art Center in Houston chose one of Ghuge's experiential sculptures to be shown for a month, beginning May 10.
  • Her artwork also won recognition in the 29th Juried Exhibition Visual Arts Alliance in Houston last year.

Ghuge's art first caught the eye of Kenneth Craighead, a co-owner of the Craighead Green Gallery in Dallas, in 2011.

"It's so unusual, and we had never seen anything like it," Craighead said. "That really is the goal of our gallery, to find work that's unique."

Becoming a Master

Last fall and this spring, Ghuge began working as a teaching assistant to Hatcher for an introductory art course.

"It has been such a great experience teaching, maybe because my parents were professors," she said.

Ghuge reconnected with her father five years ago after her mother passed away, and intends to continue pursuing a passion in a way that would surely please him and her late mother. After graduating with her master's degree this May, she would like to teach art and continue as a professional artist.

She believes in sharing her art publicly: "That goes back to my mother saying, 'Go make a difference.' ... To make a difference, I have to show it."

She has no plans to return to medicine, she said: "Art is my calling."

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