Sahana Ramakrishnan’s work is a web of cultural interface. Mesmerizing mixtures of Hindu, Buddhist, and Greek visual mythologies weave together into a tapestry of pop cultural references that are upended by the artist’s exploration of identity, sexuality and gender perspectives.
Narrative journeys are central to myth, and Ramakrishnan’s own journey through culture, mythology and sexuality is echoed in the physical matter she uses to create her work. The artist embarks on Odyssean quests for her materials. These range from broken glass, to coffee shop burlap sacks, traditional gold leaf, grungy mop strings, and even her own blood, drawn by a doctor-turned-Uber driver that Ramakrishnan befriended during an everyday commute. At the heart of her practice are social relationships like this that the artist develops with both people and objects. Even the very basic, physical substances of her paintings and sculptures hold secret narratives within them. This makes her work intensely personal; yet Her use of myth provides a visual backbone for viewers to enter into the work and allows for a momentary transcendence over the intensely textured, material paintings into a realm of signification and narrative play.
The familiar visual tropes of myth are coopted and transformed by Ramakrishnan through her refusal to conform to binary gender expectations. This is visible in many of the figures present in her compositions, but is perhaps best surmised by one of the central figures: a two dicked centaur who meekly wields a sword and shield. We see this figure repeated throughout many works, his form becoming an uncanny totem describing a traditional masculine ideal, while simultaneously acknowledging the failure and impossibility of this type.
As a viewer, one cannot escape the odyssey we embark upon when looking at these works. We are asked to question not only the archetypes, their gender roles, but the history of their roles in ourselves. With the artist and her surrogate being–– the faceless female figure with whom we traverse the dark woods–– we are lead through the complexity of womanhood, feminism, and gender through multiple cultural and historical lenses.
Real and imaginary, traditional and ground breaking, Sahana Ramakrishnan’s work maintains a multilayered complexity in both subject and material. Most importantly, her work provides viewers the opportunity to reimagine familiar symbols and narratives drawn from typically masculine mythology and culture from the metamorphic perspective of a woman. Walking softly through the imagery, we are made to grapple with the very issues of gender, culture, and identity that Sahana Ramakrishnan herself explores as the story of her work unfolds.
Sahana Ramakrishnan was born in Mumbai, India and raised in Singapore. She travelled to the United States to complete her BFA in Painting at RISD, and has since been living and working in Brooklyn. Sahana’s work has been exhibited in Gateway Project Spaces, Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts, A.I.R. Gallery, Front Art Space, and more. She is currently a fellow at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking workshop and was a recipient of the Feminist-in-Residence program at Gateway Project Spaces, the Yale/Norfolk Summer program, and the Florence Lief grant from RISD.
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