Illustrator Osheen Siva presents her debut solo exhibition at Method, Mumbai

Multidisciplinary artist Osheen Siva describes the influence of her Tamil and Dalit heritage, which shapes and fuels her future-fiction-feminist universe.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Oct 23, 2021

Mumbai city’s arguably edgiest and most experimental art gallery called Method, located in the metropolitan’s cultural hub Kala Ghoda, recently presented an exhibition titled Inflorescence, featuring the vibrant works of Osheen Siva. Siva is primarily an illustrator who is currently based in Goa. Her work is representative of visceral issues in the social structure, such as hegemony, feminism, technology and diaspora. She is inspired by mythological reinterpretation, Afro-futurism, histories of women warriors and subconscious worlds. Siva uses speculative fiction to depict her imagined universe, rendering images of powerful, mutant female humans. Her lived experiences as a woman of Tamil and Dalit heritage are revealed in her artworks. The artist joined us at STIR for a conversation about herself, her work and her exhibition at Method.

Siva’s imagined world is filled with vibrant colours | Inflorescence | Method Gallery India | STIRworld
Siva’s imagined world is filled with vibrant hues Image: Courtesy of Method and Osheen Siva

Siva takes us through her youth, discussing the interactions which shaped her as a person, and subsequently influenced her artistic practice. She says, “My childhood was a bit complex and convoluted actually. I did my kindergarten and early childhood in Taiwan where my family was at that time, then studied in residential schools all over South India, then moved back to China to finish my high-school years. Funnily enough the only constant was the sense of being the ‘outsider’, for the lack of not having spent enough time in one place to be able to build my roots. However, it's this exact sense of ‘not fitting in’ that was the stepping stone for me to have the urge to learn more about my background, my community and roots - that is the foundation for my practice today. The work that I do now is a self-reflective conversation that shapes my voice, stance and being”.

Vannakam on view at Method Gallery in Mumbai | Inflorescence | Method Gallery India | STIRworld
Vannakam on view at Method gallery in Mumbai Image: Courtesy of Method and Osheen Siva

Siva’s art is unapologetically dedicated to women centric futures, as much of her work is presented as portraiture of women in demigod avatars. This is visibly derived from her own personal experiences. She elaborates by saying, “My grandmother was an incredible woman! She was the first one in our family to have had a ‘formal’ education and she went on to become the one of the first female headmasters in our local school in the village. Her mannerisms, clothing, and especially jewellery, plays a major role in influencing Inflorescence. My grandmother and the places that I grew up around (Tiruvannamalai and Vellore in Tamil Nadu) definitely reflect in my practice as well. My colour palette for instance is directly formed from the vibrant neon neighbourhoods of Vellore and Thiru and their beautifully geometric and dynamic architecture.” 

Inflorescence is a portal into Siva’s home dimension, an intimate introduction into characters and landscape from her internal imagined universe. For the viewer, the close-up portraits created by the artist are personal introductions to her superhuman friends. The curation of the exhibition creates an immersive space which offers a window into the artist’s mind - a woven tapestry with a weft of fictional narratives crossed with a waft of her own identity. She tells us about the body of work on display saying, “Inflorescence is a collection of work that is very close to my heart and something that I have been meaning to create for a long time now. Since it’s my first solo show, I wanted to explore the roots / bedrock of my practice which essentially whittles down to the idea of hope and representation. The word inflorescence signifies the process of flowering, in which a group or cluster of flowers stem from one stem. I see this as a metaphor for how we all come from the same human and alien roots, but support and flourish together. The world building started from my love for comic books and science fiction and in tandem with my Tamil and Dalit heritage that resulted in my exploration with speculative fiction. I am interested in weaving the fabric of past and present, heritage and futurity, of solidarity and sisterhood and worlds of resilience and hope.” 

Viewers pass through the colourful world of Osheen Siva | Inflorescence | Method Gallery India | STIRworld
Viewers pass through the colourful world of Osheen Siva Image: Courtesy of Method and Osheen Siva

India, although an ancient civilisation, is also a newborn democracy. It is a developing nation in both social and economic ways. Its caste-based system is an expired structure, which has left toxic remnants in the country’s social scape. Siva comes from a sect of this system which continues to face unwarranted discrimination. Her experience of this structure is a significant influence for her art, inspiring and motivating her fictional narratives. “For my practice, it's been a tricky journey in terms of having conversations with family members that might be uncomfortable sometimes, rummaging through scarce family photos and stories and experiences passed through generations solely through word of mouth - this is of course due to the fact that stories and histories of marginalised communities rarely get explored and recorded in popular culture. On the other hand, it's also tricky in that when there are any Dalit stories that do get published - they are often exclusively through the lens of pity and violence. It is important to be able to look at news and stories from a holistic point of view and recognise the interconnectedness and intersections with issues that have been prevailing in our society,” she concludes. 

Siva’s work is a meld of futurism and current social context | Inflorescence | Method Gallery India | STIRworld
Siva’s work is a meld of futurism and current social context Image: Courtesy of Method and Osheen Siva

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