Sahana Ramakrishnan was born in Mumbai, India, and raised in Singapore. She traveled to the United States to complete her BFA in Painting at RISD, has participated in residencies and fellowships at Yaddo, Gateway Project Spaces, the Robert Blackburn Workshop, the Yale/Norfolk Summer program, and received the Florence Leif grant from RISD. Ramakrishnan currently lives and works in Jersey City, NJ.
THAT: Tell us about your practice.
SR: My work is focused on painting and drawing, though I have an upcoming project that stretches beyond this realm. I use art to tell stories, but my works often function as wishes or prayers. I think of them as ways to manifest hidden or slippery energies into the layers of this world that humans have access to. For example, I once used a painting to lovingly call back a piece of my spirit that had broken off somewhere.
THAT: Can you expand on the notion of non-duality and how it manifests within your work?
SR: In language, in order to be a thing, you need to not be all the other things. We often tend to think in this way, however, non-duality reminds us that this perceived “otherness” is actually interdependence. For example, in Martial Arts, you are dependent on the opposing force of your opponent to make you better. Without conflict, you cannot participate in the process of becoming.
If you look closely at any relationship you can see there is no opposition at all, just a continuum of interdependence. Even what we take to be our bodies are not solid entities. Our DNA was given to us by our human and non-human ancestors so that we are each walking accumulations of many lives. Our cells are made up of atoms and molecules from our food, and in this way too, we are made up of many lives. Most of the cells in our body aren’t even human, but microbial. So many lives. All of these elements are constantly in flux, so taking all this into consideration, what actually is an individual life? I think about this a lot when I hear people talk about the difference between human and animal life.
If a lion eats a buffalo, what survives, the lion or the buffalo? In a sense, the lion is now made from the buffalo. Two lives that were not solid to begin with have been woven together. There doesn’t seem to be a clear idea of death, just constant transformation. These ideas are simplified here for the sake of brevity but they are the contemplations that led to “Ghost Dance (Triumph of the Dead)”, “Making me, Making you (Sparring Sessions)”, and many other of my pieces.
THAT: Can you tell us about how you approach integrating symbols and mythological narratives into your work?
SR: Paula Rego’s son recalled that she would choose a story to work through in a painting, based on what she sensed she had to work on spiritually, for herself. For me it's the same. I feel intuitively attracted to myths, ideas, and symbols that represent the parts of myself that need growth and attention, and from these, the work grows. This process of creating allows me to learn deeply.
Lately, I have been fearful about the fragility of our position within nature, and I have been turning to mythology to try to understand this on a deeper level.
THAT: Although your body of work is grounded in painting, there is so much tactility within it. Can you talk about your approach to breaking away from the two-dimensional constraint?
SR: I like to work with material that offers some resistance to me, otherwise, things get stagnant and boring very quickly - like playing with a ball that doesn’t bounce back. I use oil paint in such a way that I have to fight through clumps of half-dried paint and underlying pattern and texture to sculpt out the image I want. The material should offer some platform for my aggression without breaking, as well as opportunities for sensitivity and care. Oil paint does all of this.
Lately, I have also been using a layering process that allows me to push marks backward and forward in reaction to each new layer. This method has given me something quite magical and I am excited to continue to explore it.
THAT: What has been inspiring you lately?
SR: I have been very into Tala Madani’s work. I’ve loved it for a long while but returned to it lately out of an interest in her animations. I like how she describes how much she “trusts” the paint to become what she wills. That trust is a strong force and it really feels that way when you look at her paintings. I also like her gross sense of humor.
Aside from that, I’ve started doing yard work for the first time in my life and its bringing me into very close quarters with some very large spiders. I am terrified of spiders, but I know they’re helpful little guys, so I’ve been watching them a bit. Maybe something will come of that.
THAT: What's next for you?
SR: I have my first solo show with Fridman Gallery in New York set for March of the coming year, we had pushed it back from the initial date to make time for a big project that I am particularly excited about!
Aside from that my work will be in Expo Chicago and I’m thrilled to be a part of a large, two-part exhibition curated by Kathy Huang at Jeffrey Deitch that is exciting to me because of the company of artists and the underlying theme.
There are a few more shows scattered here and there that I will announce as they come closer via my social media!
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