When I was away at university, all the cool kids had art prints up on their walls: cheap, twenty-dollar reproductions of Monet and Matisse, hinting at future lives of great sophistication.
To what could I, a poor student from the benighted tropics, aspire? I looked in vain for something similarly sophisticated, but which reflected the world I knew, now so distant.
All I could find was a print of Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream,” my home as seen through the eyes of a nineteenth century middle-aged French tax collector, who’d never even been there. And so I bought it.
On days when I was very homesick, I would stare at it for hours, willing traces of myself and my home into this fundamentally foreign image. Was I the European woman or the tribal savage? I couldn’t answer, but over the years, I grew attached to M. Rousseau’s version of my world.
But it’s time now, I think, to retire the painting, or at least to talk back to it.
After all, I can speak for myself.
Photo by Alex and Veronika. Models: Yuliana Surikova, Romit Roy and Edward Yong.