Every canvas is a journey all its own

Painting your way out of pain.

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A melancholic canvas to begin with in the first place. Justin’s story is filled with inspiring, miraculous turns of events. From growing up as an orphan under heartbreaking circumstances and poverty to becoming a star seller artist in the USA, Justin has come a long way!

Born in Ukhrul in a family of five siblings, Justin Keishing from Tashar village, who is now an artist in the USA has defied all odds to get to where he is right now.

His family lived in Imphal until his father suddenly passed away when he was just 3 years old. They had no source of income and his mother had no other choice but to move Justin and his 5 siblings to her village where they lived in a humble home on a borrowed land of his uncle. His family had nothing but his mom’s prayers and faith and despite the challenging situation, she insisted on taking up the task of providing for all her kids making sure each one of her children receive a proper education. And somehow by the grace of god, she managed to send them all to college.

As if the burden of his father’s passing when they were little wasn’t enough, life handed his family an even heavier burden. Justin’s mom passed away from cancer when he was 19 years old. His family was devastated. It is said that his mother, knowing that they didn’t have the money for her treatment, hid her cancer from her family until it was too late. Her last words to Justin and his siblings were, “Love one another”. Her passing was the darkest moment in their lives.

Earlier in school when his teacher asked Justin what he wanted to be when he grew up. he said, a traveller. True to his words, Justin has been the international travel manager for a USA-based NGO – Global Hope India for the past 6 years.

In 2017, he tried multiple times to get a USA visa. On the fourth time a woman at the US Embassy in Chennai not only denied his visa but also added, “Sir, you will never see the USA in your lifetime”. He was devastated as he had sensed god was giving him faith to apply. Nevertheless, a friend encouraged him that god always has the final word, and so he applied again. To his surprise, he got a 10-year visa. It was a miracle!

In January 2020 he entered the USA for the 7th time. When his return flight was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he started binge-watching YouTube videos of Bob Ross and other art-related channels in his spare time and began experimenting with Art. He felt another sense of calling. Justin was determined even though he had no formal education in drawing, painting, or the arts whatsoever. All he had was a dream. For him, it was all that it took. That dream fueled a fight within him to take the risk of learning, experimenting and practicing even more, which eventually led him to become a star seller artist.

“Every piece of art starts with a dream. Every display of my art continues with gratitude,” said Justin.

His roommates asked him what he’d do with all the art he was creating. In June 2021 he entered his first art show and was pleasantly surprised with the reaction when so many people loved his art and even purchased them. These early experiences helped him to learn and upscale his art business.

He was recently featured and nominated for the 2022 Movers & Shakers by Cary Magazine. A North Carolina based community magazine.

Justin, till date, has done multiple art shows across North Carolina. During the holiday sales, his online store grew rapidly. He quickly became a star seller on etsy.com. Today, his art has gone all across the United States including New York, Las Vegas, California, Florida – even Alaska and Hawaii. His art can be found in the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and India. “It’s all been a miracle of god!” exclaimed Justin.

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As a means of giving back. He uses a portion of the profits to sponsor education for several needy women and deaf children in India. “I’m happy that my art is an art with a purpose.”

In his art shows, he showcases epoxy resin arts, canvas arts, string arts, and feather arts. One of his most popular canvas arts series is called Chase Your Dreams. It’s a series of various characters (animals, musicians, athletes, emergency services personnel) all demonstrating their gifts with a burst of colors following them.

“Chase Your Dreams” for me, it’s more than a series. It was born out of my ambition to chase my dreams, no matter what happens. It’s my life. It’s my mom’s dream. It’s the favour of god in my life. He offers the same for you. I’m living proof you should chase your god-given dreams and never stop chasing them! He still works miracles. What he’s done for me, he can do for you. Never let poverty, broken family, or hardships in life stop you from chasing your dreams. Growing up, most of my peers wanted only government jobs. They never considered anything better. They didn’t dream of starting their own business. My encouragement today is–Chase your dreams! I love you all,” Justin.

Ukhrul is home to a community rich in talent and creativity as recently proved by the many local artists with their unique signature art styles and genres that came out and exhibited their talent and creativity through the murals and street art in the ongoing Project Paint Ukhrul.

Also read: Ukhrul’s attraction: Garbage or murals?

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The idea of art within the community is still seen as something of a mere hobby and it’s yet to penetrate the cultural roots and change the traditional values of Tangkhul society. It is what separates the community from the more developed societies in other parts of the world where art has been embraced to influence the cultural heritage, traditions and lifestyle. In doing so, they tend to be more open, creative and bold.

What the raw talent of the Tangkhul community needs, perhaps, is a platform. Many feel the need for art exhibitions and galleries to encourage the society towards evoking a deeper sense of intimacy with art so that cultural acceptance can be brought about. Art is benevolent and has always been about change and acceptance and it should be seen as a powerful medium to transform society. It is also important for emerging artists and youths to have a safe space and a platform to express and showcase their innate creativity through art. Otherwise, art will cease to thrive.

The Tangkhul cannot ignore the fact that artists cannot just do it as a hobby all their life. At some point they will look for ways to commercialise or make a living out of it. But when they realize, it’s not going anywhere, they will switch to other engagements or professions that will help them earn. Art ceases to exist when the artist stops believing. And like it or not, money is an important contributing factor.

But Justin’s success story of commercialising his artworks and running a successful art business could be the light of hope that the local artists have needed. His story has proved the possibility of going far and making it as an artist. Even as a poor orphan boy from a tiny village in Northeast India, Justin’s journey is a living proof that dreams really do come true.

Also read: Nagas pay rich tribute to Mao Gate heroes of May 6, 2010

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