Kaveri Raina was born and brought up in New Delhi, India. She moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2000. In May 2011 she graduated with Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting, and Photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). In 2011 completed her internship at the Arctic Studies Center as a photographer, with the Natural Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC.
In 2010 she was a finalist for the Fulbright U.S Scholar fellowship to study Contemporary Indian artists in India. In 2011-2012 she was in India working on an art project which was funded through Kickstarter, Creating Minds: Perspectives on Contemporary Indian Artists. She worked with Gallery Threshold, under the gallery director Tunty Chauhan. She also assisted Ms. Chauhan with the 2012 India Art Fair in New Delhi. She was also actively making art work at Arpana Caur Studios, and taught young girls English. Among the art happenings, Ms. Raina also was a Visiting Art Student at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Art and Aesthetics department.
She has exhibited her work at Rochester Contemporary Art Center, NY, Ohio Art League, OH, Taubam Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, and Queens Museum of Art, NY which was featured in New York Times.
In April 2013 she completed her Artist Residency at the Vermont Studio Center. She worked as an Teacher Aid at the Dalhberg Gibson Learning Center, Association for the developmentally disabled in Columbus, OH. In 2013 she received the Professional Development and the supply grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council. In June 2014 she travelled to Dresden, Germany on an Artist Residency fellowship exchange through the Greater Columbus Arts Council. She is currently attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for her Masters of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. She is now being represented by Hammond Harkins Gallery in Bexley, OH.
My artistic practice began as a reaction to an alien environment. I was born in New Delhi, but was brought to the States for a better future. The essence of my work lies in my need to resolve the often- conflicting aspects of my hybrid identity. The way in which I navigate the social, cultural, and spiritual sphere of my life rely deeply on the need to both assert myself as an individual and as part of a community.
I use vibrant colors, decorative patterns, and designs reflected in Bandez (block printing) saris. The use of red and yellow colors is considered holy, and is symbolic of a certain time, place and action in my personal life. Repetition signifies the process of my mark making, like focusing on the meaning or sound of a mantra, rather than counting its repetitions. The combination of architectural forms and organic lines create a metaphoric, tectonic view. In conceptualizing my work I have been influenced by artists and writers like Reena Banerjee, Jessica Stockholder and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
I use variety of textiles such as cotton (Khadi), muslin, and linen. These fabrics are commonly worn by marginalized sections of society in India. The rough texture of these materials denotes the ruggedness of the common man and is akin to the surface of my paintings. I experiment with mixing layers of turmeric, red chili powder, fennel seeds, garam masalas and basmati rice. I was introduced to these ingredients through my mother’s cooking since I was little. All these materials are important in my life, and are associated with my childhood memories, thus hold great cultural importance. The bleeding through of these materials on the cloth is what I strive for, and gives it a sense of freshness, and blends of aroma. My artistic explorations exist between two and three dimensions, and it deconstructs abstraction by uncovering layers of uncertainty, may it be personal, compositional, or material.
Hi Kaveri! You just completed your first year at SAIC in Chicago. Congrats! What were some of the experiences that had the biggest influence on your work so far?
Thanks Emily! It was a very challenging year, with ups and downs. My work changed a lot, the way I explain it, and most importantly my relation to my work also changed during this time. I really understood how to portray what I wanted to, since I work a lot with memories, and specific instances, it really helped me to work through how to be more specific, and clear with my work. Seeing the work of my peers daily, and being in an art community really motivated me to create work. There are a great bunch of artists in my year, and it has been really fantastic to have a community of people I can trust and work along with. Something I really like about SAIC is the interdisciplinary approach to the program. It is great to take classes in other departments through which I got to meet other artists. Also most importantly having such strong advisors who made me think about what I was doing was very helpful.
You often choose materials that people consume or are used in cooking. What role does the ephemerality of material such as rice play in your work?
I grew up on rice! Having been born and raised in Delhi till the age of 11, rice was a staple food in our family as well as in a majority of Indian houses and I still enjoy it very much. It was something that was made every day growing up in Delhi. I have seen my grandparents, parents, and relatives really enjoy and being very satisfied with rice! We eat it with everything. I also think when we moved to the States we started to eat it more. I started to work with it in my work as part of remembering those days.
On the same note, turmeric is a very important material for you. When and why did you begin using turmeric in your work?
Yes, turmeric is very important in my work, at least currently. It holds such strong and vivid memories for me. My first encounter with turmeric was when I was still in Delhi and my mother would teach me how to cook. It is a spice she would use a lot and I just loved the color, smell, touch and the residue it would leave on her fingers. I would see my grandmother eat turmeric rice and cabbage with her hands. Her hands would have a yellow glow for days. Using turmeric was a ritual for my mother and I really miss those days. It is also a spice for healing, and she would apply it on my skin if I would get hurt, or mix it in warm milk and drink it for cramps. It has many uses and I feel that using it again, but this time in my work really helps me cope with the anger, resentment of having to move to the States. I dye fabric with turmeric over and over and there is a sense of healing that is calming for me when I repeat this action. I want to recall all the happy memories I experienced as a kid, because I would do anything to go back to those days.
You talk about the importance of repetition in your mark making. Can you give us some insight into how that functions for you?
Repetition is very important in my work. It is like chanting a mantra so many times and just having to repeat the process over and over so many times that it almost becomes mindless, but still very mindful. The act of doing over and over is also something that I enjoy and makes me really be immersed in the process. For me thorough every mark I become more confident in my mark making. Also, I enjoy the labor aspect of doing something over and over.
Your recent work includes a number of sculptures and installations, and many of your paintings have become increasingly independent of the wall. What is it about working in three dimensions that interests you?
I am very uncomfortable when I work in three dimensions. It really challenges me to think and the more uncomfortable I feel the better the results are for me. I see new things and experience new avenues. I like to take risks and I am always ready to try something new. I am never satisfied with just painting; I have noticed that I need to have an installation, or a sculpture with the painting. They need to have a dialogue. I like to make pairs and I like having conversations with pieces going on. I also look forward to the ‘making’ and ‘building’. It is something I really look forward to is getting my hands messy and really working with the material really transform it.
What are you working on in your studio right now? What is something that is resisting a resolution or is challenging you?
Currently I am working on getting back to painting. I am broadening my color palette. I missed that a lot while I was doing installations for a long time. I am finding it hard to getting back in to the realm of painting and how to approach it. I am also considering not using turmeric for a while and seeing what other materials I can transform and use in my work. I feel like it might come back naturally in my work. I also want to continue making turmeric soap sculptures, which is quite a challenging task.
Can you describe your working routine? Do you have a daily studio practice?
I do have a daily studio practice. At least I go to the studio daily, but I do not always create while I am there. A lot of my time is also spent writing down my memories, ideas, reading and looking at artists. I like reading my notes and listening to advisor recordings to help me start my day in the studio. It also helps me to have a goal for the day so I can do certain things that I plan.
Are there a few artists that you are looking at currently?
I have always been attracted to artists who do work complete opposite of me. I just saw an exhibition of Manish Nai’s work at Kavi Gupta Gallery. I really enjoyed that body of work. I am also looking at Tatiana Trouve whose work I first encountered at the Geneva Art Gallery, in Switzerland. I was also looking at Karla Black, Griffa and one of my advisors Kori Newkirk. There are new artists I discover everyday!
What do you listen to while you work? Any music or podcasts we should check out?
I listen to a lot of Indian Classical music! I just love it and it helps me stay calm and think. Also I listen The Smiths. I ask people to give me their list of music so I can expand my list I listen to The Moth podcast, which is really good, and they have true stories.
You and I met at a residency, at Vermont Studio Center two years ago. I know you are fond of residencies and what they can offer artists. What are some of advantages of attending residencies for you? How do they compare to grad school?
I am so glad that we met at VSC! It has been one of my favorite residencies so far. What I enjoy the most is the community of artists. Especially at VSC there were artists from all over the place. I really enjoy the company of others. It is a great feeling when you know there are other people who have similar goals and there are people who enjoy the same things as you. It was great having a studio 24 hours a day! Also limited technology was great at VSC where we all had to talk to each other and meet people because of the circumstances that we were put in. I have made some really good friends from residencies. I did a three-month residency in Dresden, Germany, which I really enjoyed as well. It was on a much smaller scale than VSC but the charm of Europe was something I can never forget. Experiencing a different country and environment also gives fuel to my work. In a way grad school is a residency but for two years! We have visiting artists, and great advisors and of course a great bunch of artists to work along with.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I know you are also in a grad program so I wish you good luck with your studies! Thank you so much for remembering me and being an avid supporter of my work always.
Thanks for much for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
Find out more about Kaveri and her work on the artist’s website.