Interpreting Identities

Ranjan De

The New Indian Express, January 4 2001


SOUMYA Sitaraman has a passionate energy, which drives to create works that are deep-rooted in the Indian ethos and awakens in each viewer a strong feeling of self and what is to be an Indian. At her exhibition of paintings and installations held recently at the museum Centenary Hall (as a part of The Other Festival) we caught up with the artist..

On Lifelines

"I call this series of portraits Lifelines.It documents the individuals personal sense off self .The series evolved with a lot of women artists I knew and interacted with. I worked on portraits of Sundin Ang Loob Moa, a nurse who deals with handicapped kids, Flo Oy Wong, my Chinese American mentor and dawn Eileen Nakanishi metal artist, art professor and a breast cancer survivor. Each of these women gave me their thumbprints and these I incorporated into my interpretation of their selves. For instances, Wong had decided to become an artist at the age of 40,after retiring as a Schoolteacher. It is her search for Identity as a Chinese that reflects in her work. I took her thumbprint and incorporated it into an installation as I thought it would bring out her character. Before I created the portraits, I spoke to the individuals at length, trying to understand them. Of course, they were busy individuals, but once I convinced them, they were co-operative and offered their time."(In her Self Portrait Soumya Sitaraman had incorporated her mother's multi-colored chequered saree, and her face has an imprint of an embroidered thumb print. The image, she tells you reflects a strong sense of self and her discovery of the beyond. The thumbprint links her own self-portrait to that of her fellow woman artists and interviews.)

On her installations

Her installations have a certain soul-searching immediacy and a gut wrenching questioning .The simplicity in her approach subjects is what sets Soumya Sitaraman apart from the rest Asian Women artists working from the USA. Or for that matter, from her own generation of women artists, who, in the process of trying to explore their psyche as women artists, tend to create images that border on the flippant or turn out to be too gimmicky. Like in one of her installations, which was the center-piece of the show, she had heaped rice and lentils in the shape of nurturing breasts. These two mounds were supplemented by smaller mounds that indicated smaller breasts. Yet another installation had an array of blouses, each with one breast missing "I wanted to bring across the nurturing life-giving quality of a woman's breasts. So, I used rice and lentils. The other installation is my way of interpreting how breast cancer has a democratic way of choosing any and all woman, across all boundaries, and the various filled blouses and a smaller heap of empty blouses signifying potential victims."