Memory is probably the most significant fodder for artists to work with and distil into their art. Often visual artists explore their own recollection of lived experiences, with the intent to evoke a similar response from their audience. Artist Savitha Ravi has a unique engagement with this idea. She says that she likes to explore the “nostalgia that she never lived”. She explains her approach to creativity, “People have a habit of keeping a diary with everyday entries. They often record what happened, but also aspirations, of hopes for the future, imagined life, dreams. My art is nothing but my visual diary.”
Each artwork has a story attached to it. And just like memories are in layers, with multiple recurrences to a single place, person, or event, her works are uniquely layered. The process of discovery is both by way of juxtaposed imagery and also through the distinct processes she employs to make her art.
Savitha grew up creating paintings in her play time. Her mother was extremely encouraging, even introducing her to masters like Van Gogh and Cezanne. But she credits her formal learning at MS University, Baroda, for a solid foundation. “I wanted to study commerce for my higher studies, but my mother wanted me to pursue art. I am glad that she was able to persuade me into it,” she says.
Savitha has had a long-standing engagement with architectural elements, floor patterns and staircases in particular. Her association with space is more significant when exploring the idea of nostalgia, and architectural elements become the identifiers of the specific place. “I always had a fascination with old houses and the patterns they contain. These also have history and buried stories. By painting them I am bringing these tales alive, in layers, to be discovered,” explains Savitha, clarifying that her own references may be specific, but she allows for her audience to view them with a fresh perspective.
Among the several buildings and architectural motifs, a recurring occurrence in her works is the Athangudi tile tradition. Savitha says that the repetitive patterns come together to create a distinct and larger composition. It is intriguing how a single shape divided into parts can create endless variations in designs. Savitha says, “It looks as though each floor tile is dependent on the other to make sense…but actually they are complementing each other. Coming together, they support each other, embrace each other. And this way each single component gets a new life in which every tile is important with an identity of its own, and yet they are meant to be together”. Incidentally, Savitha hails from Chettinad region of the country, also the origin of this tile making tradition.
Savitha has developed a unique style and process that includes non-toxic printmaking and painting. “Visiting artist Nicholas Hill from Ohio, USA, conducted a workshop at Chapp Studio (Vadodara) about alternative and eco-friendly printmaking processes. It is there that I learnt techniques which add a certain immediacy to printmaking as a process and inspired me to be experimental”, she says.
Savitha often combines more than one process and many of her prints (that by definition are meant to be in repetitive editions), end up as unique versions. In continuation of her vision or using repetitive motifs, of components making a whole, of nostalgia and memory, Savitha worked on a participatory community project recently. Titled ‘Recollection Through Impressions - Impressions through Recollection’, this body of work focused on the idea of creating an experience and interventions where the viewer became part of the space, connecting their personal memories in an imaginative construct. “My aim was to give viewers a chance to become the creator, as well as the critique as they themselves went down the memory lane,” she says.
Rahul Kumar is a Delhi-based culture writer