With a name as beautifully evocative as hers, it’s fitting that Divya Aurora Zeiss-Cohen would have a secret door into a dreamy world of her own imagining. The places she describes through her drawings and writing under the name of Swantribune, are an ode to a bygone era of gracious travel, seen through grand hotels, wonderful train journeys, and exotic visual tales.
The digital artist lives in Italy with her husband and their baby son. “I am currently based in a village called Cabella, in the hills of Piedmont. We used to travel a lot, but since having our son travel has become less and we also moved to Italy so there’s less need. The beauty and inspiration one needs is always around the corner.”
“India is where I started to draw and Swantribune really took shape there in Jaipur. I will be forever grateful to that trip. I also attended a boarding school in India as a child, so a lot of my inspiration grows from there. Everything from the past inspires me, from lobbies to travel etiquette. Unfortunately, the romance of travel has been lost a little and so I try to recreate it in the drawings.”
She describes her work as “Magical, for me. I started drawing for my imagination, creating scenarios I found inspiring, though they were not realistic. Luckily most clients allow me to continue my style. My choice of subject matter is usually hotels and beautifully dressed people. And colour! I find inspiration in my world, my childhood and especially my upbringing in India.”
Her enchanting travel notes sprinkle her diaries like elixirs of imagination stirred into real experiences and served in jewel-coloured goblets.
Perhaps I desire a garden on the Nile where I can plant my roses. A geographer on an armchair to point me towards Bethlehem…A Maharaj to lend me rubies as large as pomegranates.
If Fitzgerald had ever taken Zelda to Delhi, they would have hired a Chauffeur to drive them in a Rolls Royce to Rajasthan but then Zelda would have pointed to the Bullock Cart and said, "I want that!"
On why modern society remains captivated by the notion of old world travel - as evident in the continued success of grand old hotels, classic luxury train journeys, and travel-themed movies that play on the romance of travel in bygone times - “Because beauty was important. There was still an innocence to certain ways of being. Women were feminine in the true sense, with a behaviour that was graceful. Things were new, there were cultures to discover and the mysterious ways of others to learn from and be inspired by. There was decorum, a wonder, returning home with souvenirs one didn’t share with social media for attention, but just for oneself. You travelled and perhaps you grew on that travel or came closer to yourself, another, or even God.”
Her favourite place to work is “Sitting in a busy cafe and allowing the world to continue around me while falling silent at my work.” For now, however, her days - and nights - are consumed in learning the steps to the dance that any first-time mother is swept up in. “I’m only slowly getting back to working after having my son, so let’s see what life has in store and where I’m heading with all this (my work)…” For the time being, life revolves around her family’s daily rituals and routines in the mountains where days begin with “The deer that stand in the garden in the morning before we open the shutters.”
The Proust(ish) Questionaire with Divya Aurora Zeiss-Cohen
What one superpower would you choose to possess and why?
To understand past lives, karmas, and destiny; to see through the veil of Maya in our lives and understand the connection, the true meaning of our existence.
Which two habits would you most like to develop and why?
Patience and discipline because I would achieve so much more.
What three essential elements does your ideal day include? A wonderful breakfast, the inner silence to bow before God, drawing for hours and feeling extremely joyous with the outcome.
Four people you'd love to invite to a party and why?
Honestly right now, just all family members with a home-cooked meal by my brother.
Name five things you adore about your home and why?
That my husband makes a fire in the evening so we’re warm in the morning, that my son looks for deer in the garden, that the peonies grow wild and wonderful, and that God feels very close in the surrounding mountains.
What is your most marked characteristic according to your closest friend/sibling/parent/partner?
What sound, scent and texture do you most love?
Any new word my son says. The scent of lilies mixed with oud in a lobby or room of worship. The feeling of the cool wind blowing on you while having a siesta on a very warm day.
And which do you loathe?
An alarm. Not a fan of citrus. Chalk.
Do you think it's necessary to do things one is afraid of or is this idea just a modern, pop-psychology nonsense designed to burden us with achievement anxiety?
It depends, sometimes our fear is our protection and it’s only our ego that tries to push us to do what is not necessary. It is more important to understand the difference between the two.
What was the last nerve-wracking or scary thing you did?
Giving birth and everything that came after.
What real natural gift or attribute - other than your artistic talent - do you wish you naturally possessed?
To love more.
How would possessing this improve your life or the way you see yourself?
It’s the most curative gift to those around you and yourself.
What single word of advice would your Inner Mentor (you) give your 11-year-old self?
Spend more time in your bother’s imaginary world.
Love God, then automatically you will love yourself.
Sleep will come again.
What's your most overused phrase or word?
I’m so tired.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Inner satisfaction and constant surrender.
A range of souvenir illustrations are taken from from Divya's travels. Prints are available @swantribune