World Literature in Watercolor, by Jamie Weston

Corrigan’s Editorial Notes: In my World Literature course, I invite students to practice reflective, meditative, contemplative ways of reading. The idea is to slow down, pay attention, and listen. A wide range of creative responses lend themselves to this work, including painting (which I’ve written about). The time spent painting in response to a text can bring a reader beyond simply analyzing the text to being present with the text, lingering with it. In fall 2016, Jamie Weston took up this practice regularly in her work for the course. I find her watercolors vivid examples of engaging meaningfully with stories from around the world.


This watercolor painting of a lily with roots that look like the shape of a person is an illustration of what happened to Azucena in Isabel Allende’s “And of Clay Are We Created” (Chile). Azucena is translated into “lily,” a flower associated with funerals, and the little girl with the name was seen as “the symbol of the tragedy” in the story. My painting is supposed to represent how the media and people watching the tragedy through the camera or television transformed the girl into something beautifully tragic, instead of the scared, messy, dying person that was actually there. The mud separating the flower and the roots could represent the camera lens or television screen disconnecting viewers from the raw reality.



This watercolor painting of a rose in a glass of water is a response to Gabriel García Márquez’s “Death Beyond Constant Love” (Colombia). I think that the rose the main character Senator Sánchez wears offers a lot of symbolism within the story. Firstly, Senator Sánchez took it with him all across the desert during his campaign, trying to keep it alive, much like he is trying to keep himself alive in light of his death sentence. Given that he is described as a lonely man, the rose is his closest, most consistent companion. Secondly, the village that the story takes place in is called Rosal del Virrey, translated into the Rosebush of the Viceroy, but the only literal rose in the desert town is the Senator’s. Metaphorically, Laura, the beautiful woman the Senator falls for, could be the rose of the desert village, the rose that replaces the Senator’s literal rose. This is also supported by the fact that roses are generally conveyed as romantic and the flower of love. When Laura is alone with the Senator, she seems to focus on the rose, fascinated by it or simply letting the beauty of it be her distraction while the Senator uses her to mend his loneliness. Lastly, the rose will inevitably die just like the Senator will.



This watercolor painting for Patrick Chamoiseau’s “The Old Man Slave and the Mastiff” (Martinique) came to me very easily. It is an image of an edge of a forest, with a small figure standing in front of it. The small figure would be the old man slave standing in front of what could be his chance at freedom, his insanity brought on by the surge, his forgotten, muddy past, or even a mistake that could lead to his serious injury or death (from the Mastiff). All four overwhelm him and he does not know how to approach them, just like the misty forest in the story, potentially full of zombies, is a mystery to all the slaves.



For Mahasweta Devi’s “Giribala” (Bangladesh), I painted a pair of hands with handcuffs which have the words “husband” and “death” written on them. My goal was to create an image out of the phrase, “A daughter born, to husband or death, she’s already gone.” This phrase is repeated many times within the story and seems to be a major theme of the text. I painted the hands folded together to symbolize how Giri, and probably many women like her, accepted her oppressed fate, or bondage, to be married to a man such as Aulchand and to live the hard life she did. She was under the impression that she had no other option beside death. Furthermore, both her daughters, Bela and Pori, suffered the same fate as her, having no choice when their future was decided for them, and knowing they were given over to sex traffickers, their fate could very likely have lead to the only other option for women, death, instead of a husband.



This image for Chu T’ien-Hsin’s “Man of La Mancha” (Taiwan) is a colored sketch of little items you typically find in a bag, maybe more of a woman’s purse, and I drew the items in the shape of a person. The items include a hair tie, sunglasses, nail polish, a quarter and a dime, a pill bottle, a VISA card, headphones, an iPhone, a pen, a bobby pin, a paper clip, a key, and lipstick. While the main character in the story is intent upon expelling all useless and unimpressive items in his life, I thought it was a bit sad because those little trinkets often reflect who a person is in a good way. Collecting fortune cookie fortunes, leaving a bunch of coupons and gift cards in your wallet, or keeping a journal with random thoughts jotted down all play a role in uniquely describing who a person is. I don’t think one should be ashamed of their little quirks or try to change them for the opinion of others because then they are not truly himself or herself, and their true self will be forever forgotten and lost after death.



My response to Doris Lessing’s “The Old Chief Mshlanga” (Zimbabwe) is a simple watercolor painting of a pumpkin. I was very inspired by the last sentences of the story, when the girl returns to the village and the sees it deteriorating. My painting is meant to highlight the sentence: “The pumpkin vines rioted everywhere, over the bushes, up the lower branches of trees so that the great golden balls rolled underfoot and dangled overhead: it was a festival of pumpkins.” I depicted this sentence as the pumpkins representing the native Africans. Although their land was taken away from them, they were never truly gone, and their spirit would never give into colonization.


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