Interviews / March 2017 (Issue 35)

A Portrait of a Painter: An Interview with Artist Sravanthi Juluri

by Jhilam Chattaraj

Jhilam Chattaraj and Sravanthi Juluri

Sravanthi Juluri is a painter from Hyderabad, India with a growing reputation in the country's art scene. Jhilam Chattaraj caught up with Juluri at a recent exhibit to discuss the role emotion plays in her work, the changing global view of Indian art and her experiences as a victim and now a crusader against domestic violence. 

Jhilam Chattaraj: What does art/painting mean to you? Is it a catharsis or an escape?

Sravanthi Juluri: Art, for me, has always been a deep-rooted expression of an artist's thoughts. I always say that my paintings/creations are an extension of who I am and what I think. I never thought of my art as an escape but more like an explosion of emotions. My work was a catharsis during my struggle with a personal turmoil. When I was fighting a long legal battle against domestic violence, I met many women who were survivors of sexual abuse, violence, etc. It was a personal connection that I felt with them, and my paintings at that time expressed my feelings about atrocities against women and girls. Each painting expressed many emotions. I used a lot of symbolism and depicted the loss of innocence in morbid situations. It left a deep-rooted impact, not just on me but also on my viewers. I felt these works acted as a cathartic medium, not just for me but also to many women.

JC: Popularly your work has been identified with the "abstract" genre. Do you agree with such a categorisation?

SJ: Though I have done a lot of painting which was very symbolic using metaphors that I connected deeply with, now I am working in the abstract form. I feel abstraction is my calling as it creates a stronger connection between the art and the artist. I agree with the categorisation but would not like to limit myself.


Rising from the Ashes, Sravanthi Juluri

JC: What inspires you to paint? Are there any artists whose works have been a guideline?

SJ: Emotions! When I look back at a certain experience and the emotions that churned in me, I have a strong urge to capture it. I paint the energy that I felt when feeling these emotions. And I believe emotions cannot be contained, just like the energy they give or take from us.

I definitely feel an intense energy flow through me when I see Jackson Pollock's work. I also connect with Frida Khalo's work at a very deeply emotional level.

JC: What is your painting routine?

SJ: I am a spontaneous artist! I love creating as it comes naturally. Since I paint a particular state of mind, I love listening to music to sustain that emotion till the work is complete. I can never stick to a timetable to work.

JC: How have you evolved as an artist over the years?

SJ: As an artist, I should say that my evolution was not an extreme one! I began with a philosophical perception of glass works, my first experiments with art. I realised that glass originates in sand and that man after death turns to sand, and it helped me come out with many pieces. Later, I became fascinated with the human state of mind. My own emotions became the source of inspiration. In due course of time, my works became my catharsis; they helped me overcome my own personal battles with domestic violence and a long legal battle against an abusive marriage. I was inspired to turn my works towards activism. I felt as if my art was speaking on behalf of all women fighting for justice. When I realised that my work was making a strong impact on society, I turned towards a very positive note. I compare women and their energies to the goddess Kali—my work expresses the strength that a woman has, just waiting to explode!

JC: What other forms of art have influenced your work? Any favourite writer, musician, dancer?

SJ: Well, I was first introduced to the world of art through glass arts. I had my roots in glass arts, be it stained glass, glass blowing, sculpting. The vivid colours of molten glass being manipulated still runs in my head and to a great extent still influences my style of painting. I thrive on music to create. Like I said, emotions make me create, and when I start painting, I need myself to remain in the same state of mind, and to achieve that I listen to music. I would say the choice or influence of music always depends on what emotion I am expressing.


Nava Rasa Series 2, Sravanthi Juluri

JC: What are the difficulties that you face as an artist (social, cultural, emotional, psychological)?

SJ: An artist's life is a roller coaster ride! I should say being from a family with a creative background, I was blessed with the understanding and a need to always express. But I would constantly get asked questions on my choice of career—"why an artist?", "why not an actress like your mom?"—which was quite difficult to answer when I started my career at twenty-one. I feel there is a wider scope and acceptance for an artist today than compared to when I started. But I still feel it comes with some small stereotypical notions of the mind of an artist at times. Psychologically and emotionally, it does get challenging when people tend to judge you and throw questions on the need to express as an artist. And my recent show is an answer to all the questions directed at me by people who look at art through a keyhole. 

JC: Besides the romantic dimension, art has a commercial function. Could you let us know about the present market demand for art by Indian artists?

SJ: Today, there is a bigger platform for Indian artists on the global front, and it is not limited to the artists who work with a particular genre that, for example, showcases Indian deities or rustic Indian scenarios anymore. We are gaining appreciation and market for works that are different and expresses something unique.

JC: As an artist, what kind of exhibitions do you prefer? How have exhibitions helped you in promoting your work?

SJ: I love to express, not just through my paintings. I have a constant need to communicate. When I do a show, I like to take my work one step further. I love narrating—each show has an incredible story to convey. I use other forms to create a deeper impact on the audience. I prefer to add an installation or a performance. For me, it is more important to be able to leave a strong and positive impact on my audience. I sometimes have the audience involved in some form or other.

JC: Is there any difference in the way your works have been displayed and received in the West and the East? 

SJ: I think there is a definite change in the way people react to my works in both the West and the East. Most of the people in the East think of my work as a feminist statement. But in the West, the audience is far more open to finding their own interpretations. But, then again, in the East, I find more and more women trying to find a closer connection with my paintings.

JC: You have based your work on Bharata Muni's Navarasa. Which one of the rasas [emotions] was the most difficult to realise on the canvas?

I felt that each rasa had its own significance and challenge. As in my performance, each rasa had a narration from the ancient Hindu scriptures, and, at the same time, connecting its significance to the present day incidences was a challenge to create—it also required me to put myself in that space to be able to pour down my emotion in creating a painting that depicts these dialogues and emotions. Disgust was an emotion that was particularly challenging, as we spoke to Lord Shiva and about the aftermath of death, decomposing bodies and self-realisation and about how death is evident in natural calamities and war. And for me, being a deeply spiritual person, death is viewed through a very different perceptive.

JC: Art for art's sake or art for society's sake?

SJ: Art for the sake of connecting within!

JC: Which is more influential in your work: emotions or technique?

SJ: Emotions play the highest role. But my technique is the test! Manipulating litres of paint requires lot of skill.

JC: Any suggestion to budding women artists?

SJ: Follow your heart and gut instinct! I believed in myself, my creations, and stood firmly by my faith. I never gave in to the words of people that I needed to change my genre. Dare yourself!

JC: What are your future art goals?

SJ: Honestly? Paint till the world runs out of colour! But on a serious note, I am working on expressing strong spirituality based on ancient Indian texts that people can connect with in simple forms through my work.


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