The landscape of memory, time, emotion, collapse, resurgence, pistachio shells and electric wires: all elements in the beguiling and beautiful works of Devika Sundar, an artist you definitely-without-a-doubt should keep on your radar.
Why? Using a range of materials, some surprising and others downright strange, Sundar’s works are imaginative visual narratives, inviting strangers into the most intimate, raw and honest of quarters: those that exist within the mind. By revealing herself, she invites us to do the same.
We interviewed her to discover more about her work, how she picks her materials, and about sharing her personal experiences with the rest of the world. Here’s what she had to say:
1) How did you get started making assemblage and mixed media art?
I started 6 years ago at my first year visual art class in New York, in which we were encouraged to experiment with different materials, as we evolved our own voice and style.
Around this time I was also experiencing weakness and pain due to a chronic condition that was severely affecting my arms and fingers. It was preventing me from being able to paint or draw for extended periods of time.
Observing this, my professor suggested exploring collage as a possible medium I could incorporate into my work. At first, I was a little hesitant, but over time I was soon surprised and excited by the ability to juxtapose and play with elements of paint, text and collage.
And more recently, I’ve been experimenting beyond the 2D layer of collage, incorporating form and object into these artworks. I have a growing stash of odds and ends I have collected – everything from pistachio shells to old gadgets, and unused jewelry to electric wires – that all find their weird little way into my work.
2) Do your works collectively have residing themes that you’re interested in? What are they?
As a child and growing up, art was always a sort of escape from my immediate world, and I often found myself retreating into imagined spaces and imagery that i would create for myself through my paintings. I was always fascinated by dreams and the surreal world of our subconscious, exploring both whimsicality and peculiarity in the way i saw the world around me
More recently, I find myself turning inward and allowing a vulnerability within my work, something I always struggled with before. In these last two years I’ve searched and expressed a sense of both personal and shared human experience in my work, across different projects – exploring collective themes of memory, dreams, nostalgia and longing.
Through art, I’m interested in articulating and giving form to universally intangible feelings that lie deep within each of us.
3) How do you conceptualize what to feature within your works?
I carry fragmented ideas, thoughts and imagery that float and accumulate in my mind over a long period of time. There are moments where I may make a quick scribble or note of these in my sketchbook.
However, it’s always been in the process of making, of working and reworking, where I’m able to see these thoughts articulate themselves into a visual and tangible concept and experience.
4) Tell us about the box of lost dreams
Two years ago, I explored the idea of reminiscent memories and dreams within a mini installation project.
For this, I created a series of nested boxes inside one another, each enclosing a particular dream or “lost” memory. The viewer had to listen to a musical track and simultaneously open the boxes, discovering and interacting with the collective “lost dreams” – hidden and layered objects, letters, photographs and memories found inside.
At the end, each person was required to record their experience in a collective journal. When reading through these, I remember being overwhelmed. Each individual had poured their own private moments and memories into these pages, completing a circle of my own connection, and journey with this art piece. It was an extremely personal and fulfilling experience for me.
5) And tell us about your art journal series – the interplay between word and imagery
The chronic illness I developed when I was 17 has since followed me over the last six years.
There were periods where I found myself forced into a state of pause, wherein I felt a silent discomfort and disconnect with a body that felt alien to me. I saw myself floating in and out of limbo, swimming between the reminiscence of a person before the pain, and a longing towards a future that still remains ambiguous and uncertain.
Through the years of fighting, rehabilitating and living through chronic pain, there have been many quiet moments of a vague wistful “in between”. The artist diary was a part of an installation, wherein I drew from my own narrative to give form to emotion and experience that has been complicated to verbalize. Expressed through fragmented, layered and muffled words and imagery, it chronicles that which silently floats their way in and out of our hearts, bodies and minds.
6) What is the greatest appeal of working with multiple mediums for you?
I love the materiality of working with different media, where each medium plays its role in influencing and inspiring a particular artwork. This is probably why I’m drawn to assemblage so much as it gives me the freedom to not be limited by a single medium but play and juxtapose between different layers of form and material.
7) Are you working on any new pieces or have any exhibitions coming up?
As of now, I’ve had to take some time off to take care of my health, but I have been ideating and working on multiple ideas that I hope to exhibit sometime in the coming summer of next year.
I have a collection of monoprints and paintings that I plan on exhibiting together sometime soon.
One of my dream projects is to turn the box of lost dreams into a large scale experiential installation that people can interact with and enter into. It’s been an idea in my mind for a while now, I hope I’m able to physically recreate into a reality in the near future!
We can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Words by Pavi Sagar
All images credit: Devika Sundar