Talking to Akshita Gandhi is like rifling through a scrapbook. The artist often supplements an idea with a quote or lyric, and it feels like I’ve flipped temporarily to a different page in her book. These stories, songs, and symbols form a rich visual and narrative vocabulary that has guided her artistic development from a young age. The complexity of her ideas resonates strongly in her work, which pulls from her many pages and presents itself cohesively on canvas.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Gandhi will be spending her first Miami Art Week as an exhibitor at Scope Art Fair– a personal favorite, for its exciting display of buzz-worthy emerging artists. She comes well equipped for the next step in her career. Gandhi has shown at the International Boat Show in Dubai, and has exhibited at World Art Dubai for the last four years. The work she’s presenting represents a strong step forward– it is a multimedia explosion of her personal dreams, flavored with delicious cultural references. Take a look at what Akshita Gandhi is bringing to Scope, and enjoy an excerpt from our our conversation…
CH: I am particularly fond of “Agamemnon’s Reverie.” Can you tell me more about this work? What inspired these particular shades of color and their application?
AG: This artwork is inspired by a little snippet from Greek mythology. In The Iliad by Homer, Zeus, also known as the father of gods and men, plants a false dream in Agamemnon’s subconscious. Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and the leader of the Greek army in the Trojan War, wakes up from this dream determined to continue fighting the Trojan War– much to the dismay of his soldiers. [They come to distrust] their king who was willing to risk his all on the impulse of a dream. The colors black and white represent reality. The various shades of pink symbolize a tainted dream. The flowing waves and intricate strokes in the middle of the canvas emerge from the concrete structure.
My artwork aims to capture the fickle nature of fantasies, whims and reveries we so often deem reality. My art is also meant to depict life in abundance, adding colour and vibrancy to the mundane. [By coloring] over the existing environment, the viewer is transported to another realm, [separate] from the viewer’s existing state.
CH: You are inspired by so many stories, quotations, and songs. I love how “Agamemnon’s Reverie” reconciles an ancient Greek tale with contemporary Indian history. What can you tell me about “The Enchanted Realm of Roald Dahl?” From its title I can already sense a confluence of narratives…
AG: As a child, nothing delighted me more than reading Roald Dahl’s tales. The magical realism in his stories transported me to utopia. The magic was always seen through the eyes of a child. His characters escaped their dire life situations by using their imagination– [they used their] magical powers to attain justice. As time passes and the world begins to taint us, this unwavering faith we all had as children becomes reckless optimism.
The Enchanted Realm of Roald Dahl is a photograph of the mundane. The strokes of neon and metallic gold and silver [on top] represent enchantment– the viewer slipping into another realm. I hope that the blurred line between reality and fantasy in my work inspires the viewer to believe in magic again.
CH: Your work seems to play quite a deal with space. Looking at “Roald Dahl,” my eyes oscillate from background to foreground, trying to find stability. Is this an intentional effect?
AG: Yes, this is an intentional effect. In fact it is one of the most important elements of my work. Space is critical to the composition of the piece just as pauses are to speech. The long vertical strips of pink over the concrete structures, covering parts of it and revealing others, are meant to take the viewer’s eye back and forth, moving metaphorically between different realms. Space is depicted as being both finite as in reality and infinite as in the mind. Intricate detailing connects the monochrome of the photograph to the brightness of the paint, [becoming] a pathway for viewers to to slip from fantasy to reality and back again.
CH: I’m fascinated to hear that you studied finance before pursuing your MFA. How did you decide to make that transition?
AG: It’s not a transition. For me, my work in business and art has never been in conflict. If anything, like yin and yang they bring a balance in the expression of my personality. There have been challenges of course – When I applied to university, it was understood that I would be applying to business school in order to come back home and join the family business. However, behind every assignment I submitted in business school, through the pages of the textbooks I owned, there were endless doodles, artistic concepts and notes about great art that inspired me. While I thoroughly enjoyed studying finance, I realized that art was as significant a part of my being. And so, I decided to pursue my MFA. Fortunately I was able to attend both schools simultaneously, business school through the day and art school in the evenings. My mind and soul became like the yin and the yang, coexisting in harmonious equilibrium.
CH: What inspires you in general? What makes you wake up and want to create? What objects, colors, sounds, shapes, people… take us inside your head!
Creating art is a way of life for me. My journey began when I was sixteen years old and read Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf and was struck by the line, “I wished to be a hundred years old. In eternity, however, there is no time, you see. Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.” These words inspired me to start making art.
I started by photographing slums, quaint lanes, and architecture in different cities. Parts of cities that make people cringe and parts that make them fall in love with a place over and over again. My soul connects with my canvas and that’s it– I am transported. I usually play music that allows me to tap into personal life experiences and let them flow onto my canvas. On difficult days, my strokes are restrained and constricted. But when I let go, my strokes are liberated and show a sense of fearlessness. With every stroke, I lose and re-discover myself.
As an adolescent, when I read about timelessness, my naïve self thought of it as longevity. And then my inward journey began. I started to seek the truth, moksha, and my purpose– ideals we can only fantasize to comprehend, let alone achieve. If it were true and eternity could be experienced through moments of bliss, then I wanted to drown in that quest.
I invite my viewer to philander with my artwork and have a visual orgasm– even if just for a few seconds. To live eternities through the joy they experience in my work. It is this quest that inspired me to create a kind of art that is not only welcomed but also celebrated. The photographs represent our lives, the mundane we live in. The bright colors represent the viewer’s achieved, repressed, conquered, yearning for or maybe fulfilled dream.
CH: I think that is an absolutely beautiful mission, and one that you have accomplished through these transcendental works. But now I’d like to talk a bit more Scope! How are you feeling about Miami Art Week coming up so soon?!
AG: Humbled, nervous, excited! It is coming up so soon, just thinking about it gives me butterflies in my stomach. But I am eagerly waiting to see how my work will be received at the fair. As Judy Garland sang, “Dreams you dare to dream really do come true!”
CH: Why do you think Scope is the best place to showcase your work?
AG: Scope is a highly reputable brand in the art discipline and its sales have skyrocketed over the last few years. It goes to show Scope’s expertise in generating mass appeal in an underrated professional field! As an aspiring artist venturing into the contemporary art genre, Scope is a great platform to showcase my work.
CH: This is both an exciting and frustrating time to be a female artist of color in the art world. It feels like more voices are being heard, but at the same time, the statistics about representation are horrifying. What are your thoughts about this? Do you like the term ‘female artist?’ I find that many artists who are women claim the term, but others find it pigeon-holing. I’m curious about your opinion on this issue of semantics, as it has so much to do with identity and your voice as an artist.
AG: Artists usually perceive themselves as free souls who [don’t want to be defined by] something this trivial. So I completely concur that we need to do away with gender binaries and labeling professions as per stereotypical gender nomenclature, especially with predominantly ‘male’ professions. The term ‘female artist of color’ does indeed seem pigeon-holing. Personally, I’d like to work towards normalizing the term ‘artist’ to communicate what was originally intended – an artist, regardless of gender, creed, class, colour, race, etc. I’ve never heard anyone using the term ‘male artist’. So I hope with time we normalize this.
However, I do appreciate those who proudly claim the title of a female artist. The semantics and numbers that lead to the need for such labelling are dismal and appalling. Most jobs in the art world, even if bagged by women, are mostly white women. It makes me cringe, yet excites me, because for the first time artists and women are addressing this issue, There are studies being done and the statistics are exposing the flagrant gender and racial discrimination in the art world. We have artists like the Guerrilla Girls bringing this issue to the world in such a strong manner.. The secondary art market and auction houses are extremely discriminatory as well and the statistics are shocking. Whether or not this is intentional, the fact that we are increasingly bringing these facts to light, makes it an exciting time to be an artist and part of this challenging market. Art is such a pure medium and every artist has a story to tell the world. I hope the purity of this form of expression is only encouraged and not tainted by these stereotypes.
CH: I completely agree. It feels like we are at the brink of some very big– and much needed– changes. Thank-you so much for your words! Any last thoughts?
AG: Art is, and always has been, an open doorway to my soul. I live for it. My process leads to unexpected introspection, so much so that I have known and understood myself through it. It is as much my escape as it is my cure. I am most alive when I am creating art.
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Akshita Gandhi is managed by eKo system Inc and she will be exhibiting at Scope Art Fair with Vogelsang Gallery during Miami Art Week next month. Be sure to stop by her booth!
Until next time,