Today we’d like to introduce you to Saumitra Chandratreya
Saumitra, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I always wanted to be a professional, working artist. I work as a full time artist, I maintain a studio practice and I am looking for opportunities to extend my practice beyond traditional, formal art shows. I maintain a small studio in Chicago and a bigger studio in Pinellas County, FL. I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. My grandparents lived with us and my grandfather was a self-taught, gifted oil painter. I started borrowing his crayons, color pencils and watercolors from a very young age. I liked recording my memories with a drawing or a doodle. It was my way of absorbing my surroundings, my memory is image driven so it was a way for me to record my life when spoken language wasn’t accessible to me then, as a child.
My parents and teachers in school encouraged this and always supported me through my elementary, middle school and high school education. The support came in the form of driving me to various competitions, tutoring me for skills and encouraging me to always go further. There was a painting of mine that was selected from entries throughout the state to be featured in a gallery in Japan. After that, my teachers were really eager for me to focus on art. My creativity wasn’t limited to painting. I also loved taking apart my toys and figuring out how they worked.
I also love LEGO and my parents made sure that I was busy when i wasn’t in school, I would build something or paint or read. Providing access to knowledge was my parents’ goal. I am an automobile enthusiast and wanted to be an automobile designer. I started attending a liberal art and design school for my undergraduate degree in product design but as good design schools do, they flip you out and make you reconsider everything you have assumed about yourself. I would always look at the work produced by the textile design students in their labs and was drawn to the medium and that department. So I changed my focus from product design to textile design and it opened up a whole new medium and way of thinking for me. I attended Srishti Institute of Art, Deisgn and Technology in Bangalore, India.
The process became very important, sometimes more important than the product itself. Craft played a huge role in introducing me to approaches of using textiles as art and as a commodity. My professors, Meera Curam, and Swati Maskeri were very supportive and critical for my growth during this time. I studied celebrated artists like Nick Cave, Sheila Hicks, Anne Wilson, and Sheila Gowda and wanted to master textiles like they have. I worked as a junior designer after undergrad and worked as a costume designer for a play and a film. After that, I moved to Chicago for grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I had an opportunity to work with Katrin Schnabl, Fraser Taylor, Lisa Vinebaum, Mike Andrews, Judith Brotman, Conrad Hamather, Liat Smestad and Nick Cave. Grad school was very eye-opening because it helped me focus on issues and subjects that I want to tackle through my art. It also gave me an opportunity to engage with critical discussions on race, identity, queerness, LGBTQIA culture and anti-LGBTQ bias, binary gender hegemony, feminism, anti-immigrant bias and place of art in the 21st Century.
Grad school also enabled and indulged me to have a robust studio practice. It enforced a routine where I was spending more time in my studio than at home or anywhere else for that matter. I was able to take a year off after grad school from making new work and I have been seeking collaborations, commissions, grants, fellowships and teaching positions since then. I received an Emerging Artist grant from Creative Pinellas, local art non-profit in Pinellas County, FL and that has enabled me to produce work and explore a new medium- resin. I am always looking to grow with my art and I think it’s a great perk of being a practicing visual artist.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It hasn’t been a smooth ride. There have been emotional and practical struggles. A lot of my art is very personal and so sometimes, it’s very intense to work through some of the ideas. As a queer POC, I have had to go through the trauma of growing up in a heteronormative society and so that has taken a toll on my psyche. I found acceptance in artmaking and relationships that I developed through art. It’s a challenge to make compelling, good art because it can be costly and it’s another struggle to get your art out there, where it can reach a wide audience. Sometimes, it is easy for me to fall into a rut and procrastinate but I find a solution to that creative block by making something. Anything – it helps to work through tangible ideas. Since I maintain two homes, one in Chicago and one in Pinellas County, FL, it’s difficult to gather a steady audience.
Tell us more about your work as an artist – what else should we know?
I am a visual artist, I makltain a studio in Pinellas County, FL and a small studio in Chicago. I produce textile art, I use fabric as the main medium and I create installations with fabric that I create in-house. The installations can be very large, depending on the space I am creating them for. I like that my art can be installed in a formal, gallery or museum setting as well as in a retail store window or on a wall in a sports arena. I specialize in screen printing, I also do shibori (Japanese art of tie-dyeing) and weaving. I am skilled at manipulating fabric. I come From a craft and fine art background, I am a part of both worlds, West and East. I am known for perseverance, I am detail oriented, I can handle pressure and my art represents a focus on skills and message. Since I have a presence in both Florida and Chicago, it gives me an opportunity to indulge in very different tastes. I want to make art making accessible to people, so i teach a class at Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg, FL and I plan on doing open studio days at my studio in Pinellas County, FL.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
To me, personal success and success in what I do are intermingled. As an artist, I want my art to evoke emotional reaction, I want my art to stand by itself, I want my art to make a difference and I want it to be a part of history.
Success to me is to able to live your own truth. To be able to stand up for your values and trust your ability and uniqueness. To be able to do what you do and enjoy that process. The formal success represents a nod and recognition and that is important to me.
Asad Badat, James Prinz