Τρίτη, 6 Ιουνίου 2017

The portrait of an artist: Sonaksha Iyengar

"Hello to everyone in Greece! I’m from India. I live in Bangalore for the last 10 years. We have lovely Gulmohar trees that fill the city with color during this time of the year. We also have winters that are cold enough for sweaters and socks but not chilly enough to stop us from exploring the city". 

Tell us a bit about your life.  
I studied communication studies, which is basically a mix of everything written and visual with sprinkles of audio as well. I got to explore a lot of different fields during my undergraduation via internships and projects. I’m still very interested in how different disciplines can come together to create something powerful. So I hope to have the chance to explore these mediums through the years.

When did you begin to paint, what made you decide to do illustration?

I began painting as a child, like most other people. I loved art classes. Nothing made me as happy as playing with colors. Skip to now when I’m back to that, it’s like a full circle. There were a few years between then and now when I completely stopped painting. But in college it started again with doodling, then painting with watercolors and now digitally illustrating.

What kind of illustrations do you do? Would you like to share with us a unique experience you had when illustrating a book?

I'm only in the nascent stages of my illustration practice so I think I'm still dipping my feet in many styles and techniques. I am partial to book covers, stories and poetry, because they are very close to my heart. I really love working with a combination of digital art and watercolor. So most of my work tends to gravitate in that direction. My recent ongoing personal project, "Garden of Kindness" has really been a unique experience. The idea was brewing in my head for a while after making some very conscious choices and adjustments to attempt to be kinder. I thought of starting it as a visual documentation of the reminders I leave for myself, in turn also making them reminders for others. I really wanted to work with simple illustrations and handwriting for most of it, as if I am scribbling in a journal. So it has been very exciting to try that. It is quite different visually too from my other illustrations.

"A to Z for mental health": D for depersonalization
Is there a text,  a book, a fairy tale, a song you would like to illustrate but haven't yet?

So many! I love reading so every time I'm really enjoying a book I'm always thinking of ways to continue my experience with the book even after the last page. Sometimes these stories are already visual but it's so lovely to be able to imagine them in your own style and universe. I really can't pick. Anything from my reading list I think. From "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to Rumi’s work to Ismat Chugtai’s stories.

What materials do you usually use? 

Typically I gravitate towards watercolors and digitally drawing and coloring. I also love inks and color pencils. I want to learn printmaking techniques. So much to learn!

Are you currently working on something?

I'm working on a lot of projects simultaneously and also many boiling in the head waiting to make their way to paper. One personal project that will be released soon, "Garden of Kindness", the ongoing project I mentioned earlier, a book for children and a few book covers.

"A to Z for mental health": J for jealousness
Is illustration a profession for you or a hobby? Is it possible to make a living through illustration in your country?

I actually stumbled into it so it began as a hobby but once I realized how much I love waking up and drawing, I wanted to turn it into a profession. So now it is part of what I do professionally, along with writing. Working in the arts has always been a challenging decision financially for most people, especially when professions like engineering and medicine seem to be the safe options for financial stability. But I think we are slowly moving towards a place where more people are choosing it professionally and also realizing the importance of valuing the arts. We still definitely have a long way to go but I think we'll get there. One step at a time.

Which illustrators (classical or contemporary) have inspired you?

I love Rebecca Green, Oliver Jeffers, Jessica Walsh, Shaun Tan, Julia Rothman, Jean Jullien, Yuko Shimizu, Cecile Dormeau, as you can see, the list is quite endless.

"A to Z for mental health": P for posttraumatic stress disorder
It’s so great to see what you had and didn’t have as a child in terms of access to information, and see how you would like to speak about that now. I’ve borrowed a lot of my experiences of being bullied while expressing pain in my work. I also love the fact that as children we colored outside the lines without a care in the world. I still try and incorporate little things like that in my work now and then depending on the illustration and its requirements. While the memories, places, books and people definitely play a huge role, I think it is the sum of experiences that we pick up little bits from, as illustrators.

"A to Z for mental health": T for trichotillomania
Being an illustrator gives you the opportunity to talk about social issues in a different way. When you paint, do you have in mind that you could influence an audience to a certain direction?

Absolutely. This is one of the most powerful things for me. That we can use colors and visuals and symbols to speak about the little and big things, the things that often go unnoticed. It has been inspiring to see how illustrators (actually artists in general -writers, musicians, painters etc) have been using the medium to express their opinions and make statements. It is important for us to be aware of this while creating. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. But you try to be aware and sensitive to the images you use, the people you represent and the messages you send. I try and use my illustrations to speak about kindness, growth, love, acceptance, body positivity and mental health. But I know that’s just the beginning and I hope that as the years go by, that list gets longer.

We might not have been able to interact if social media didn’t exist. But yet, we are, because we’re able to put our work out there and go beyond the borders and oceans. You’re in Greece and I’m in India, and here we are, having a conversation, interacting and getting to know each other. Isn’t that magical? I’m aware that social media, as vast as it seems, is still quite limited in its reach. But I think it is a good start to have honest conversations and connect with people who not only support but also push you to keep going. I’ve made such lovely friends thanks to Instagram and Twitter. I’ve been able to reconnect with friends that I thought would only be a part of faded photographs, thanks to Facebook. I’ve been able to support a friend living in another state, thanks to social media. The possibilities are endless. Though, I do think it is important to also extend these initiatives and possibilities outside social media so we can reach the people who can’t access the internet.

"A to Z for mental health": W for women's mental health
Recently you made an attempt to start a conversation about mental health issues, using alphabets and numbers. How did you come up with the idea? In what way would you like your illustrations do be “useful”?

Often, since mental illnesses and disorders are invisible, they are not acknowledged and sometimes even ridiculed. After having numerous conversations with friends about the stigma associated with it and facing difficulties with the way people approach the subject myself, I really wanted to create something tangible to start a conversation. Sometimes words can be hard to describe the chaos that the brain feels like - whether it is a bundle of emotions or a mental disorder. The hope is that everyone knows that their struggle is acknowledged, whether it is someone who battles their mental health everyday or a caregiver watching someone go through it. I spent time reading various forums for mental health to collaborate the discussions people are having and experiences they are sharing. Some of these disorders/illnesses are well known but also end up being on the receiving end of a lot of myths that need to be busted and some disorders/illnesses that people aren’t aware about and the hope is that they won’t dismiss it the next time they hear of it.

I have had my own struggles and experiences with mental health and illnesses and they have always made their way to my work - whether it is writing or illustration. It is time to have honest conversations with each other about the importance of mental health. There are many layers to how I hope these would be useful.

It is really disheartening to see people make assumptions about mental health, illnesses and disorders. We hear things like “Get over it”, “Stop asking for attention”, “Liars”, “It’s just a phase” all the time and it is really unfair to make such statements that are so hurtful to anyone having a hard time with the chaos in their head. Awareness will help us make a start in the right direction towards kindness and empathy. So with the series, I hope to address mental health using a combination of mental disorders and illnesses with emotions that a lot of us perhaps feel in varying intensities.

When you’re struggling with your mental health it is really hard to answer “How are you” questions because you never really know. So I hope that I’m able to reach out to people who are fighting these battles with their health every single day and living through them and to tell them that they are not alone. There’s some kind of comfort in knowing that there’s someone else who is at least making an attempt to understand how you feel. I feel that personally when people reach out to me so I hope to be able to do that through my illustrations.

Pictures have a strong power for those who observe them. Drawing has also a healing power for those who create. Does creation make you stronger?

Definitely. I began my 365 days of art project where I basically draw everyday as a form of catharsis. I used to journal but at one point I just felt like I wanted more and I started with doodles. Now it is a combination of visuals and text. Creating everyday is my form of meditation because when I’m drawing or writing - I’m alone in my room mostly and all I’m concentrating on are the colors, the lines, the words and the textures. Nothing else matters in those moments. I always finish feeling so refreshed!

When someone discovers your artwork it fulls his heart with positivity and kindness. This is not a question, it is a thank you. How do you feel?

Thank you so much for that, Eleni. You are so kind and to hear you say that fills my heart with so much love and gratefulness. People like you keep me going, especially on the hard days. So once again, thank you for being so supportive.

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