Suri received her MFA from Central St Martins, University of Arts London and BFA from College of Art, New Delhi, India. She is an artist and educator who taught printmaking to underprivileged young adults in New Delhi and is currently working with learning disabled young adults in London.
She has mentored residencies for Printmaking Foundation of India in 2018 and 2019. Her interactive installations, paintings, drawings, and sculptures have been presented in curated group shows in galleries and museums in the UK, India, Singapore, the USA and Greece. The exhibition venue includes Gallery Rosenfeld, London; Museum of Contemporary Arts, Greece; New Art Exchange, Nottingham; Gillman Barracks, Singapore; Matts Gallery, London; OXO Tower, London; Bomb Factory Art Foundation, London; Brooklyn Art Library, USA; Print Club Delhi, New Delhi; Printmaking Foundation of India, New Delhi.
Arushee has permanent collections at the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece, Gallery Rosenfeld, London, Printmaking Foundation of India, New Delhi, Brooklyn Art Library, USA and private collectors in London and New Delhi.
Interview with Arushee Suri
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background as an artist. How did you start in the art world?
I have always enjoyed drawing, being creative, and making something with my hands. After school, I struggled with some indecisiveness in choosing the right career path. But in the end, I assumed this indecisiveness was the verification that being an artist was the right choice for me, as it is so free, open, and wide that it could involve elements or impressions from all those fields, as much as I wanted them to.
Having emigrated to another county, how do you think this was translated into your creative process?
I started exploring the five senses after I moved to London in 2013 to pursue my masters. It was the first time I travelled out of India, all by myself to live on my own. The whole experience of being displaced from a place of comfort to land of the unknown was very overwhelming. Every day was a new experience as I was in a place where I didn't know anything or anyone. It almost felt like being blind/visually impaired. Few scents and smells and moments reminded me of home and brought back memories and of course smiles.
As a starting point of my research, I started making blind drawings by blind folding myself or simply removing my glasses. I later added braille and various other textures to them so that the audience could touch and feel my drawings. I then started working with porcelain and papier mâché and did 3D versions of these drawings. I added different textures like thread, fur, beads etc to them and also different essential oils. Memories of a Mild…… was an attempt to take people on a journey of my memories of India. I used the smell of Raat Ki Raani - Night Jasmine, Cardamom and Petrichor which particularly brings back memories of monsoons in Delhi and playing in the muddy puddles and rain with my sister and cousins.
It is always interesting to see people experience my work. I like when they slowly come closer and start smelling my sculptures. They then have conversations with their friends or people around and share experiences of which memories those certain scents bring to them. This is very satisfying to me as an artist as this is what I want to achieve through my work. I want my work to allow people to experience it through their senses and make it inclusive for all.
What is the relationship between your work and the concept of identity/belonging?
The impact of social isolation I experienced when I moved out of India added layers to my work. I tried to build connections with a new place such that I chose to lead a life and pursue art as a career.
Having immigrated to another country from India, I have explored the idea of home, a sense of belonging, and memories of home through my work. I investigate the impact that each place has on me, and the memories I create with my surroundings and the people in my life. When I moved to London, I had never travelled outside India. Having stepped out of home, where I lived with over 10 people, all by myself, experiencing an absolutely different culture, I felt lost and almost blind. Everything was so new and unrecognizable. Small moments of smelling food, or perfume or listening to a song would bring joy and memories of home. I have always tried to bring elements of my identity and home through my work by drawing examples from life for my art that encourage an audience to connect with the work on an emotional or empathetic or just simply human level. This then makes it fulfilling for both them and me.
How do you normally plan your projects? Where do you find inspiration?
I value intuition. I think my art has become more open over the years. Or that's how I want it to be. If we were able to explain each aspect of a work perfectly with words, there would be no need for art. Sometimes we discover the reason why we used a certain element in our work after a certain time, looking backwards. Having experienced problems with my sight, working with visually impaired and learning-disabled young adults, moving out and feeling connected to home have all inspired my work. The experience gained while working with visually impaired and learning-disabled young adults has added layers to my work and has given me a deeper understanding of my concerns. During one of the workshops with the visually impaired, I asked one participant about dreams. His answer was because he has not seen anything ever, he smells scents and hears sounds in his dreams. This statement intrigued and stayed with me and was thus a starting point of my practice.
It’s common to see signs exclaiming “don’t touch the exhibits” in art galleries and museums. While this might sometimes be an important instruction to preserve the exhibit, it also deprives those with disabilities see the art of the pleasure of its experience - or at least limits it to a secondary experience of reading a description of it. There is a dearth of visual art that considers the perspective of those with various disabilities, and how perspectives can be a part of the art itself.
For me it is very important for art to be an experience and inclusive. My aim is not to exclude anyone or put them in a special category, instead let them feel a part of it and experience the work by their senses of smell, touch, hearing or just by seeing.
Tell us a bit about your project ‘Landscapes of Dreams and Distant Memories’. How did you come up with the idea of the project? Why did you choose this specific technique?
There is an absolute sense of joy when I think of traveling. I like the thought of destination but there’s something about the journey that excites me the most. Something about moving that is constantly engaging and constantly leading to discoveries and memories. I have used the memory of moving to create an impression of moving landscapes.
This series is inspired by fragments of memories that I have from my family trips across India, sharing stories, singing songs, and eating amazing food. The beautiful yellows and greens, different colors of massive landscapes that we drove past. For me, it is very important to hold onto these memories especially since some have moved to different parts of the world, including myself, and some have passed away leaving their imprints behind. I have used found objects that I have collected on these trips over the years. I have explored the scenery of my Indian culture, both real landscapes and landscapes of the mind that have given me a sense of homeland, the dark woods of my imagined origins. What unfolds is a series of compelling journeys through space and time: from the woodlands of Indian cities, I have tried to uncover the myths and memories that have stamped themselves on our most basic social instincts and institutions: territorial identity, the wild and domestic, mortality and immorality. Broadly, landscapes can be considered terrains of connectivity.
Landscapes encompass wild, cultivated, urban, feral, and fallow spaces, as well as the humans who shape them. Memory refers to the past as it exists in the present, bridging temporally discrete moments through the intentional or unintentional act of remembering. Taken together, landscapes and memory co-constitute one another: landscapes store, depict and evoke memories while memories recall, revise, and shape landscapes. My landscapes and memory appear in both physical and immaterial forms.
We love your project ‘Memories of a Mild and Gentle Breeze and the Smell of Rain’. Experiencing it in first person has to be amazing, it is almost like a sensory poem!! We know that it all started with your inability to see properly, tell us about it (if you want) and what have been the challenges you have faced doing this project?
My inability to see properly and working with visually impaired young adults has been an important part of my practice. My works revolves around the five senses, and how the sounds and smells of places bring back flashes of memories that we identify them with. I am constantly exploring ideas of incorporating the senses in my work and how they are related to each other. I started with making blind drawings (drawing without my glasses or lenses) and added textures like braille and embroidery to them. These hands-on processes enabled me to explore porcelain. My sculptures and paintings are inspired by my drawings, further using various textures including fur, beads, and found objects with them. I have sometimes used essential oils on these materials.
How important is the creative process for you? Do you think it is more important than the result, or vice versa?
There is a very thin line between the two. For me process is very important and how I make my installations as all my work is very sensitive and personal. I want my viewers to have an experience while viewing my work and it is important that I experience it before I put it out for the world. The process is important for me as I am putting out my stories to the world to see. The result is my narrative and I want it to be organic and poetic.
When you created these projects, for example, did you discard some ideas before focusing on these ones? Why do you think you discarded them?
I work on several ideas to reach one final result. That is the process, and it is an important part of my practice. I research and develop my ideas in different ways and then see what resonated best with me and my practice. I usually have a very strong and clear image of what I want to achieve and to reach that, the process is long which includes a lot of discarded ideas.
Though, a lot of times these discarded ideas eventually become fragments of my installations as something beautiful comes out of them.
Do you have any unfinished projects? Would you like to rework on them at some point?
I have been thinking about doing a project about the partition of India and Pakistan. I have heard many stories/lived experiences about this since I was a child as all my grandparents migrated from Pakistan to India during the partition and it was something they could never forget. My grandfather who passed away recently did not spend a day without talking about Lahore and how much he misses it. He would have given his heart and soul to get that back, or to even see his house that was in Ram Gali, Lahore. Interestingly, he saw a video of Ram Gali made by a Pakistani friend, which he saw 4 days before he passed. I have that video with me and I think that was a closure for him. Of course it didn’t look anything like it did, but t was his home, his Lahore, where his heart belongs.
I have been researching about this, have collected a of material and recordings of lived experience of people and my great grandparents, narrated by someone from the family.