Where was it that I first met Soshana? Thousands of feet up, on the eastern slope of the Himalayas, between Nepal and Pakistan, in a little train that slowly and laboriously pushed its way upwards, its wheels scraping the sand thrown on the track as a kind of a break, as it moved towards Darjeeling, which happened to be the only gateway from the East toward Kintchinajiga, the holy mountain, perennially white and unprofaned.
Against this wild landscape I now set eyes on Soshana, like a princess out of a Persian miniature, her massive black hair framing two eyes that were even blacker, eyes so elongated that they cut into the profile of her face; her reddish lips were ajar, her body resembled to the one of a sylph.
Since it seemed unlikely she was on her way up there to buy tea or to manage a family-style pension, I took the liberty to questioning her.
Well, she said, her only objective was to get to the other side of Kintchin, moving toward the blue-black mountains where the Todd giants hold sway along with their buffalo gods and dwarf servants, the Kouromba, a region of evil sorcerers who teem in caves, as innumerable as rats in a cemetery in a plague-infested land.
I tried to dissuade her from going on, first of all because she would need to shave off her magnificent hair; secondly because when I myself made the same attempt, I had been forced to take flight, almost in terror and hallucination, desperate to escape from the black liquor that the with-men gave me and which was to leave me paralysed but conscious for thirty days in a kind of cataleptic state!
Soshana listened to me as we drank a cup of tea in one of the little cottages that overlook the golf course – for there is one in this open-air fore-temple housing some secret rituals…. Then we took leave of each other, both of us smiling.
I was to see Soshana the painter many years later, in a studio in the Rue de la Grande-Chaumière in Montparnasse, Paris. It was at the end of a long corridor looking out on an old court-yard, where she piled up totems, Jivaro heads and African amulets.
For in the interval, and over a period of more than twenty years, she had painted her way across the islands of the Pacific, through the countries of the East Indies, of Africa, of South and North America. And she had exhibited in Antwerp, Munich, Sao Paulo, New York, even Antibes.
In her Paris studio, which had once belonged to that other traveller, Gaugin, Soshana finally asked me to view some of her work. And I was at once in the grip of anxiety. For although this painter had crossed many lands and oceans, her work bore the ineradicable mark of India. In each of her canvases, however bright its colours, I found myself back in the atmosphere of horn-headed sorcerers' lairs, I was again deep in the dark valleys moaning the lugubrious sounds of sacred trumpets, moving through subterranean vaults where for weeks on end victims were proceeding, often at the risks of their lives. These things were what I saw, even before I could consider the works as paintings to be judged on their own merits.
Soshana had started to paint at the age of sixteen. Her first trip was to France, and her first visit was to Picasso, who advised her, at the same time that he was painting her portrait:
"Listen to no one. Look at many things. Work all by yourself".
That is just what she has done: looked at many things and worked a great deal.
I stand now in the midst of a hundred canvases. Abysses of blue predominate, but the artist has not hesitated to set in contrast to all that dangerous Prussian blue the tenderest shades of ochre, resulting in the case of her landscapes, in cataclysmic scenes that are like the sonorities of Le Sacre du Printemps.
Or else, when she remembers Thailand and other places, fiery pagodas blaze forth from the depths of indescribable nights. And none of these is affected or contrived from anywhere except from herself. Never an artificial note. "From her soul's depths", as the first painters after Cubism would have expressed it. And what a soul, stamped with what abysmal mysteries, spawned purely from colour!
But a fig for the language of criticism. Readers, do like Soshana: Rivet your eyes on her canvases. And as she did, look into them and into yourself: what surprises and what emotions you will find!
Michel Georges-Michel, Paris 1969, art historian