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'366' Art Exhibition Showcases One Artist's Daily Resilience Throughout 2020

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Joy Powers
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Three mandalas commemorating the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

On Jan. 1, 2020, artist Bela Suresh Roongta set out on a 30-day creative exercise. She decided that each day she would start with a circle as a canvas to either draw or write on and no matter what she ended with, she had to keep it.

Roongta calls each piece a mandala, which comes from her East Indian heritage where a mandala is a geometric configuration of symbols often used for spiritual traditions.

What was supposed to be a month-long creative endeavor turned into a yearlong marathon that produced 366 circles. Her mandalas, along with journal entries she created alongside, now make up Roongta’s latest art exhibit “366”, showing at Var West Gallery in Milwaukee.

“It started as a commitment to myself to engage in a daily art practice, which, for any artists that are out there, anybody that has tried to do anything on a daily basis, it’s difficult and as artists, it’s something that I know I’ve always struggled with and always tried to figure out a way to do it,” she says.

She says that the pandemic challenged her practice, despite being nearly three months in when Wisconsin issued the first stay-at-home order, she says finding motivation was difficult.

But when she completed her 366 mandala and started to conceptualize how to display her work, she felt a sense of accomplishment that she had made it through the entire year completing this daily practice.

“More than anything it just reinforces this idea of how resilient, not me personally but just we are as people because I feel like the story that gets told through these drawings and the writing is really a story about, we really just have to live our lives no matter what’s going on,” she explains.

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Credit Joy Powers
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Artist Bela Suresh Roongta in her 366 art exhibition.

Roongta hopes that the exhibit can serve as a reminder for people as to just how much happened in 2020 and that it can help others examine their own resiliency.

“People have said to me, reading all of this and looking at all this I remember just how much happened and people remember where they were and who they were with and how it impacted them,” she says.

Coming away from her experience creating a new art piece every day, she has a better appreciation for the fact that perfection is a difficult standard to set and that to get through difficult times, it is fine not to be perfect.

“Some of my drawings I loved, and some of them I didn’t,” she says. “I hope that people, when they look at this work, if they see the imperfections that they see the beauty in that.”

“366” is open Wednesday through Saturday at Var West Gallery and available online for a virtual tour.

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.
Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July and Digital Producer in January 2021.