“I collect images from various sources, read from different places and draw a lot in my sketchbook. This leads to a certain state of mind, from where I am able to process the content and construct everything into compositions,” said artist Shrimanti Saha, whose latest show titled ‘Fire in the Greenhouse and Other Stories’ is being hosted by Vadehra Art Gallery (online).
Known for taking references from a range of sources including like history, literature, mythology, science fiction, movies, comic books, architecture, natural history and news reports, this Barbara White Fellowship recipient (Vermont Studio Centre, Johnson, USA) was also a former Artist-in-Residence at OMI International Arts Centre in New York.
The two large works and nine smaller ones that are part of the exhibition have extensive references to ecology, feminism, human animal relationships; leading to the creation of dystopian landscapes or a fictional civilisation.
“I also think that viewing the works in the physical space would have made a significant difference – especially the large-scale ones; which are meant to be experienced in relation to the scale of the human body. The ‘making’ of the work is better visible, with the textures and the mark-making of the drawing. This leads to the ‘seeing’ of the work as an experience of the material and scale, as well as the imagery; which is otherwise compressed when viewed on the screen,” said Saha.
Although her drawings are content driven and almost like documentation; the artist still wants the viewer to have his/her own interpretation. Every portion of her works, usually have certain information which has a source material. She admits that while revealing all the specific references makes it easier to read the work and draw conclusions; it also severely limits it. “Most importantly there is a sensory aspect of the work or may be a mystery, which gets narrowed down by these imposed conclusions. I do use a lot of socio-political elements and contemporary issues, as the source material and code them through the process of image making into the overall composition; but have always enjoyed it when during a show, viewers come up to me and tell their own story after seeing my work. This not only gives me more ‘food for thought’ but also helps me understand my work, in relation to the context in which it is being viewed.”
Although her earlier works had direct references to existing mythological texts from different cultures, the present body of work doesn’t have any direct relation to such sources. “They are made up of references from a range of areas, and the overall structure of the story or composition is constructed by joining bits and pieces, leading to a composite or a narrative assemblage. This one is more like a personal mythology. But in general, I have often enjoyed the surreal nature of existing mythological stories and their rich content; which is usually a lot of fun to illustrate,” she said.
Inherently an illustrator whose work is drawing based, Saha likes to takes references from a range of sources. “Information from literature, films and architecture etc are coded and incorporated into my compositions. What I enjoy most is the ‘translation’ that happens from these sources – this gives me a mental challenge and I try to figure out ‘how’ to draw something and incorporate it into my compositions. Through the give and take between mediums, a certain interesting aspect can generate in the periphery of such amalgamations.”
Now working on a couple of large scale drawings, a series of smaller works, besides developing a set of animation films, the initial days of the lockdown were difficult for this artist. Adding that while many artists usually work in isolation; but it is in relation to the cacophony of life all around, this kind of isolation feels very different.
“Producing work as an artist during the earlier days of this period felt very meaningless; as one was getting exposed to the loopholes of a certain social structure/system with everything coming to a standstill. It felt more meaningful to be a social worker of some kind! But then gradually, I adapted and managed to produce. Actually, most of the works in this show were made during this period.”