Indian artist Sareena Khemka is pushing the boundaries of new media

The upcoming visual artist collaborates with micro-biologists to work with bacteria, extending her practice with bio-culture as a media, an untapped niche in the world of art.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Jan 09, 2020

What is new media? As a movement which is continuously developing, the definition of the genre is in continuous flux. ‘New media art’ is a term coined to refer to art which breaks free of the traditional reins of visual media.

Sareena Khemka, an upcoming visual artist based in India, explores the blurred lines between new and old media in artworks which combine found objects, traditional media, technology and bio art. Khemka grew up, lived, studied and worked in large metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chicago, so it’s no surprise that she finds immense inspiration in the cityscape and the teeming life that bubbles underneath the surface of it.

Mixed media on paper, Mapping the Terrain, a map of Mumbai by Sareena Khemka | Sareena Khemka | STIRworld
Mixed media on paper, Mapping the Terrain, a map of Mumbai by Sareena Khemka Image Credit: Courtesy of Sareena Khemka

Khemka explores a range of interrelated dichotomous themes like construction and destruction, preservation and regeneration, man-made and organic environments and expresses that in the materiality of her work. As an artist, she works mainly with 2D drawing and sculpture. Her series of maps plays with perspective, exploring notions of space and place in a city like Mumbai in a blend of organic and geometric forms, which lead the eye across the canvas with its remarkable detail. Khemka uses mixed media on canvas and papers as base for her abstractionist cartography style. Recently, she has begun to expand these visuals into 3-dimensional sculptural forms.

Khemka’s crystal work in her studio | Sareena Khemka | STIRworld
Khemka’s crystal work in her studio Image Credit: Courtesy of Sareena Khemka

Fascinated equally by decay and preservation, Khemka uses materials from construction sites - stones and architectural capitals in combination with resin to encase these objects in a seemingly permanent frozen state. While living in Mumbai, she came across rock crystals being sold cheaply on street corners. She likens its form to the clusters of urban environments we live within and sees them as microcosmic representations of perpetually evolving landscapes. A visit to her studio in Benson Town, Bengaluru, is a visual treat with her petri-dish homegrown crystals and bacterial cultures encased in resin. Khemka says, “Having collected and studied them over time and used them in drawings and paintings as source of inspiration, growing them in the studio came as a natural progression and started to become a part of a narrative for sculptural objects. Preserving these fragile environments that would evolve and transform came with its own challenges and questioned the temporal and fragile nature of urban spaces and the living organisms within it that have the ability to evolve as microorganisms and change things at the macro level”.

In a venture to explore bacterial cultures, she collaborated with a microbiologist to create samples as tests. Bacteria may be millions of years old, but bio art is an untapped niche in the world of new media with potential yet to be realised. Khemka experiments with the material itself in order to understand its very nature in a step towards creating a layered and immersive experience alluding to ideas of history, heritage and decay.

  • A found-object sculptural artwork by Sareena Khemka | Sareena Khemka | STIRworld
    A found-object sculptural artwork by Sareena Khemka Image Credit: Courtesy of Sareena Khemka
  • Micro bacteria grown in Khemka’s studio and preserved in resin | Sareena Khemka | STIRworld
    Micro bacteria grown in Khemka’s studio and preserved in resin Image Credit: Courtesy of Sareena Khemka

Her shows include Future Foundations at Walkin Studios, Bangalore, 2019; Build & Grow, sculptural installations and experiments in art and science exhibit at the Bangalore Design Week, 2018; Once upon a time in Black & White at Art Centrix Space in New Delhi, 2017; Introspective Revelations at Gallery Veda in Chennai, 2016; Scape & Scope at Tao Art Gallery in Mumbai, 2016; Mapping Detours at Chitrakoot Art Gallery, Kolkata, 2014; Deep Skin: Skin Deep at Art Chennai, curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul in 2014; Allegories at Art Konsult in New Delhi in 2012 and United Art Fair, New Delhi, 2012.

Sareena has been a resident artist at Space 118, Mumbai, multiple times from 2010 to 2013 and The Piramal Art Foundation, Mumbai in 2016. She was also one of the two artists representing India in the SAARC Art Camp for 'Climate Change' in Bhutan in 2010.

Another micro bacteria culture grown and preserved in resin by Khemka | Sareena Khemka | STIRworld
Another micro bacteria culture grown and preserved in resin by Khemka Image Credit: Courtesy of Sareena Khemka

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About Author

Shraddha Nair

Shraddha Nair

Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India. Her curatorial practice is a method by which she negotiates with and navigates the complexities of human behaviour, an interest which flows into her writing as well. She believes that art and collective experience hold immense capacity in the cultivation and development of action and emotion.

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