Margaret Fabrizio comes almost every year to the Ernakulam temple festival. Why? Because India is so rich

It was dawn when Margaret Fabrizio returned to her hotel room. The whole night she was at the temple festival along with a handful of bleary-eyed people sitting through a full Kathakali performance. This popular octogenarian American harpsichordist and much sought-after creative artist has almost been a regular at the Ernakulam temple festival.

Starting off as a pianist Margaret was initiated into music a ‘few weeks before her third birthday' and appeared for her first recital when she was hardly four. As a harpsichordist she has performed in concerts throughout the United States and even held a solo show in Mumbai in 1996. For 25 years she was on the faculty at Stanford University before she took a decision to end her performing career.

She still continues to teach even while pursuing creative activities like quilt making, is a well-known collage artist, has been making video films, writing ‘travel-art' books and now creating and building a forest environment of sculpture and landscape on a remote 40 acres called Cazadero Conservancy of Nature and Art. Her thoughts on life, music and art are, like her, unique.

Her Manifesto

When I was approaching 70 I started a project which I called ‘Pressing Seventies' and it was basically a way of getting rid of things. If I have something in a box, on a shelf or a closet. I began putting things on the sidewalk of my home and watched from the window as people, the most unexpected of them, picked up stuff I never thought they would like. So it is a matter of letting someone else enjoy them.

Loose Ends

I'm over 80 and I still have a million Loose Ends. It's time to take care of my Loose Ends. So I started ‘autobiovideography' a word I invented. My life has been so lovely, had some wonderful times, and met a lot of interesting people. So instead of telling a story I put them on video, 650 of them, tying up Loose Ends. One of them I may not be able to tie up at this age is learning Malayalam even after being here all these years.

On ending her music career

I did it for so long, more than 25 years and I was not enjoying it any longer. The aspect of being in arts is that you have to do a lot of other things like dealing with agents, marketing, with politics, things that are not music. In the University there is more of academic work. In Western culture the scholarship is more important than the art. They began phasing out music, focusing only on theory. This was not the place for me. But I still teach students who come to me.

Indian music

I was a regular at the Chennai Music Festival for years. I also studied the sarod for two years, from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan at his institution in San Francisco. I believe that Indian music is miles ahead of any other music in this world. The structure, rhythmic patterns, ragas are so rich, so intricate. I also watch a lot of Koodiyattam and for the last 50 years I have been in love with Kathakali.

On Indian culture and heritage

People back home are so smug. I'm embarrassed when they state that India is a Third World nation. Many have told me that I must be really brave to travel to India. They don't know how rich and sophisticated this land is, its culture and history. What do we have? Nothing; no history, no culture. Everything is going down, we have money but that's also fast disappearing.

Quilt Making

Yes, I still make them. I studied this art from Grace Earl, noted designer at the Chicago Art Institute. I have made 28 of them in a typical Western style. I saw an exhibition at San Francisco of quilts made by the Siddhi tribes from India. I could not figure out how they were doing it. So, on this visit, I travelled all the way to interior Karnataka and met this woman who makes these amazing quilts. I have made a video of this woman making it.

Her films

My films don't fit into any accepted category. I'm not trying to teach anyone, push in information. I'm only interested in the experience. ‘Myanmar Continuum'was screened at the Asian-American Film Festival and also in Melbourne. My favourite is on an elephant being given a bath at the Ernakulam temple. I'm trying to convey what it is like to stand a foot away from the animal, have water sprayed on you and listen to the brush on its skin.

And she will keep coming back...

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012