In her early twenties, Sneha Suresh is every bit of an enthusiastic and aspiring youngster. Yet, there is one distinct factor that makes her stand out. Her love for the ancient and historic coupled with her artistic inclination has given rise to a wonderful repertoire of traditional visual art designs. The brain behind the Prajne and Inaipu series, she is also a proud entrepreneur of Tucksac.
Where Prajne was a series of illustrations that explained the utility of artifacts from Northern Kannada, Inaipu was an interesting take on Tamil letter forms and proverbs. Her most recent work is inspired by ‘Indian musical instruments that are either forgotten or on the verge of extinction.’
We spoke with Sneha about her latest projects, the need for preserving our heritage, her own brand and much more.
Tell us a bit about your series on Indian musical instruments. How many instruments have you illustrated and how did you go about your research for the same?
A year ago, my father visited his boarding school decades later where he found and re-united with his tabla after 48 whole years. The sheer joy on his face while holding an instrument that he played 48 years ago inspired me to work with Indian musical instruments that are lost in time.
This series of illustrations is a playful re-interpretation of lesser known Indian musical instruments that are either forgotten or on the verge of extinction. The purpose of this series is to preserve and pay tribute to these instruments and give them a new life through illustrations while keeping the essence of the old intact. Each illustration is a tribute to one such instrument with an aim to push people to think, wonder, imagine and perhaps even create.
This October I decided to take a few prompts from the #inktober2019 challenge and use them as cues to re-imagine and illustrate certain instruments that are on the verge of extinction. In each of the illustrations, the re-imagined instrument is painted in black and gold.
As a part of research, I did a lot of reading prior to a visit to IME (Indian Musical Experience), Bangalore. The museum was very well curated and gave me a better understanding of the context I’m dealing with. I’ve 4 illustrations that together cover 6 instruments.
The musical instruments are visually expressed as animals in your illustrations. Any reason why you chose to have this connection?
The instruments that I chose happened to be in the form of fish, crocodiles and snakes. For example, a ‘nagfani’ is an instrument that looks like a snake and translates to mean ‘snake hood’. And then, we also have a ‘makara yazh’ that looks like a crocodile and a ‘matsya yazh’ that looks like a fish. The words ‘makara’ and ‘matsya’ also mean crocodile and fish respectively.
How would you suggest reviving the use of these musical instruments?
There are museums in India that focus on tribal musical instruments and other instruments that are either endangered or forgotten. Some of these museums don’t have enough space to keep all the instruments that they have in their possession on display.
If given an opportunity, I would like to bring together collectors of such Indian musical instruments and artisans of India’s lesser known art forms.
This would bring about awareness and give the history of these instruments a new life through work that tells their stories while also reviving art forms that are getting lost in time. The narratives could then be made more accessible through books and magazines in addition to being placed in the form of artwork along with the actual instrument at a museum. In museums that lack space, these narratives of instruments that are not on display along with a photograph of the instrument could be made available for viewers to pick and flip through.
The benefits of this project would be 2 fold – to preserve and pay tribute to India’s cultural heritage while also reviving dying art forms and giving artisans a sustainable stream of income.
Your earlier projects, Prajne and Inaipu also like your latest work is seated in the ancient or traditional realms. Being comparatively young what drives you to invest in older heritages?
I’m hugely inspired by Indian history, oral traditions, art forms and my cultural roots. Now that I think about it, this probably started when I was little. I was always drawn towards images of seals from the Indus Valley Civilization that featured in my school. Over the years, my love for people, conversations, communities and their practices continued to grow and that led me to dig a little deeper. While I also get inspired by our ‘everyday’, different cultures and traditions and all that we’re surrounded with here in India, my quest for narratives from the past continues to grow.
Out of the three projects, which one do you think was harder in terms of research and illustrations? Also, which one is closer to your heart?
In terms of which one is closer to my heart – I’d say Inaipu. I worked with my mother and both my grandmothers during the length of the project a couple of years ago and they helped me pull it off. We made memories that I’ll forever cherish.
In terms of research and illustrations being more challenging – I’d say Prajne. It was hard to get information about certain ancient artifacts even after speaking with historians, archaeologists and collectors. That series was also entirely lino-printed which is a very time consuming process.
Can the Prajne, Inaipu and illustrations on musical instruments also be purchased by art lovers?
At some point, yes!
Tell us the inspiration and motivation behind Tucksac.
In October 2014, I accidentally stumbled upon entrepreneurship when I got multiple orders for ‘roll-up stationery pouches’ that I had actually made for myself and my art professor to use. I was 18 back then, in my first year of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology and decided to take my first baby steps into the world of entrepreneurship when I founded Tucksac. All that I knew back then was that I was passionate about textiles and wanted to avoid the use of leather and plastic while getting my products made.
Today, the brand works towards making certain narratives from the past more accessible while offering quality products for artists/designers. Tucksac also takes up commissions related to Branding, Surface Pattern Design, Wall Art for Commercial Spaces. You can find @tucksac on Instagram.
You call yourself a visual communicator. What does this mean?
My penchant for color, texture, pattern and text and image is what made me want specialize in Visual Communications and Strategic Branding.
I create with the intention of using visuals to tell a story that looks at particular theme through a different lens. Since what moves people in every case is the unknown, the aim is to tell a story through visuals that open doors for imagination in addition to creating awareness about a certain topic.
Which form of expression do you prefer more? Hand painting or digital designing?
That’s a tough one because though I enjoy hand painting and any kind of hands-on work more, I absolutely love combining that with digital work because of the endless possibilities that the medium offers. A good example of this would be Inaipu, where I first sketched all the letterforms out on paper, tweaked and composed them digitally and then eventually screen printed them on paper at home. In the case of Inaipu, though an important step was done digitally, the outcome involved hands-on work.
Who are your favorite illustrators or artist?
Chaaya Prabhat (Artist); Sophie Robinson (Interior Designer)
My most favorite artist though is my little niece, who is just over 3 years of age. Her work amazes me while her carefree nature while creating inspires me. This 3 year old artist’s color vocabulary isn’t limited to yellow, blue and red but also includes words like “emerald/lime/olive green, turquoise, lavender and magenta”.
From ancient artifacts, to Tamil letters to musical instruments – do you plan to continue trying to revive or find meaning in traditional cultures or would you not mind switching to more modern topics in the future?
Just like any other creative practitioner, my practice is constantly evolving. For now, my work is also hugely inspired by nature. I trust the process, am open to and optimistic about the wonderful possibilities of the future.
Any thoughts or suggestions for youngsters trying to make their space in the artistic and entrepreneurial worlds.
The same things that I often tell myself:
Take one little step at a time, enjoy the process and know that whatever happens, really is for the best! 🙂