Although artist and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) graduate Maya Grant had never been on a plane before, one morning they woke up and felt an urge to explore and feel challenged. As soon as Grant saw a picture of India, they knew this was where they needed to go. Not only did India intrigue them, but it also fits in well with their sociology major and their passion for photography.
Ever since their first time capturing soft red poppies through a lens, the camera has never left Grant’s neck. They take it everywhere with them and whenever Grant feels an urge to capture a moment, they whip out their camera or else they know life will pass by and they will never see it again.
However, they do not want to keep these remarkable moments to themselves. Grant created an exhibit to share their pictures with the entire community. “I wanted people to understand how special India is,” Grant said.
Even though many people warned them not to go to India or told them it was too dangerous or dirty, Grant knew “poverty exists everywhere and there are problems throughout the entire world.” By attending this exhibition, Grant hopes people realize “life is more intricate than a single opinion” and “there is beauty in places you may overlook.”
Although many college students choose to study abroad in a European country, this did not appeal to Grant, who wanted to learn through living uncomfortably. “There is not as much to learn from places that are doing well as to places with conflict,” Grant said. During their semester abroad, Grant did experience many challenges and conflict, both on a personal and national level, such as water and money crises.
Despite facing some challenges, there were many wonderful memories throughout the semester, such as teaching an art class to young children in the slums and traveling with the Bangalore Wanderlusters.
As soon as they first met the Bangalore Wanderlusters, Grant knew “they were the perfect people to have met” because they both shared an appreciation for the outdoors and a love of community. The first trip they took with the Bangalore Wanderlusters was one Grant still dreams about today.
After driving two hours on a bus to a remote waterfall, Grant was taken aback by the untouched beauty of nature. Throughout the rest of their time in India, Grant mentioned how emotional and wonderful these experiences were to them because of all the beautiful places they witnessed and photographed.
One of Grant’s favorite pieces in their gallery is “Patient Vendor,” because it all happened so fast. They were at a market for the first time in India and Grant saw this man encircled by tons of perfectly stacked food.
Intrigued by this vendor, Grant asked if they could take a picture of him, even though Grant’s photography does not normally include people. However, the man nodded, placed his hand over his mouth and just sat there, which turned out “weirdly perfect,” said Grant.
Unforeseen experiences, such as this beloved photograph, helped Grant discover who they are and what they want in life. While they learned numerous things on their semester abroad, one unexpected lesson was when Grant realized their gender was not correct. After six months of being back in the United States, Grant came out as non-binary.
While they did have an amazing experience in India, Grant sometimes felt as if they forgot who they were since they were trying to fit into the culture. However, India taught Grant that as you travel, “you should be strengthening your identity with the help of others,” not erasing it.
Grant currently works in Traverse City and is excited to continue exploring new places. You can check out Grant’s exhibition of more than 25 photographs documenting their experience in India now through March 2 at the Blue Wall Gallery (Building B), DeVos Center, Pew Grand Rapids Campus.
*Photos by Maya Grant