In conversation with Indian Artist, Designer and Curator of the Collaborative Space Biennale, Malavika Mandal Andrew
Evanescence 4, 7" x 2.5” x 7", Mix media with 3D engraving on crystal, acrylic, metallic Yarn
With its rich history and dynamic, multi-faceted culture, India, today, boasts an exceedingly vibrant and developed art scene. From the Kochi-Muziris Biennale held in the south, to the annual India Art Fair held in the nation’s capital there are several world-class programs, events, foundations, gallery spaces and opportunities that foster the creative endeavor. Even so, given the sheer size and dynamism of the populous and the, largely stable, yet, tumultuous zeitgeist that ebbs and flows every which way, there’s even more that can and should be done to encourage creatives, as well as take art and art education to the masses — especially in the areas of visual literacy, art history, fine art awareness and art enjoyment. And anyone who subscribes to the idea that “art matters” and that “art can make a difference”, will see this it as imperative that more can and should be done in this regard.
Enter Malavika Mandal Andrew.
Malavika is an artist and curator from the city of Mumbai, and is one such person who, along with her compatriots, make it their objective to do just that, by taking action.
I first connected with Malavika several months ago and met with her a bunch of times on video conference to discuss our progress on the project for the second Collaborative Space Biennale, in Pondicherry, and which is currently in progress (Oct 14 to Nov 10th – details below). Given her active involvement, not only as an artist and curator, but in other areas as well, I reached out to her and shot her some questions to learn more about her work and occupations. What follows is a snippet from that interaction.
Evanescence 3, 5.50 x 4.20 x 5.70”, Mix media with 3D engraving on crystal and engraving and cutting on Acrylic
Malcolm: Hi Malavika, can you tell us about your background?
Malavika: I am a textile designer and an artist. I completed my B.F.A and M.F.A from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, in the state of West Bengal, India. My practice includes mix media, digital art, tapestry and fiber art. In 1992 I was awarded the National Scholarship by the Govt. of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development and consequently trained under Riten Mozumdar. In 2012 I was awarded ‘The Pollock Krasner Foundation’ grant. In 2023 I have received a Senior Fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Govt of India, for research work on Paithani Textiles. In 2021, I became the first Indian artist to be listed in the Techspressionist Artist Index.
Inspired by Davonte Bradley, in August 2021, I founded the Collaborative Art Space, an international art organization that conducts art programs that foster artistic collaboration. I also team up with Kirti Chandak, who is an artist and founder of the TASMAI Art Gallery, to hold the International Collaborative Art project. It’s a project where groups of artists work across borders to create art — both physical and digital. And I work with Meghna Pal, who also designed my website, in installing exhibits.
Malcolm: …and this is aside from some of the public art programs, talks and workshops that I know you also do; tell me — curator or artist — how would you describe yourself? Any preferences?
Malavika: I am primarily an artist. I see curating projects and conducting collaborative programs also as a part of a creative process and as an effort of bring a creative vision into fruition. In the International Collaborative Art Space Biennale, we have groups of three artists from vastly different backgrounds who come together in the spirit of creative collaboration to create three artworks. In many ways I see myself as the fourth participant in each of these groups, working with them to bring to life the art, in their respective formats. This year was the second for the Biennale. I am happy that we’ve had as much international and national participation as we have. We’ve had many artists participating in both physical media and digital media. It’s great because you come in contact with so many new artists and interact with them and in the process learn many things. This time, I also got a chance to work with video for the first time — with Anurag Paul and yourself, of course, which we also showed at MOCA L.I.gits, in Long Island.
Malcolm: Oh, yes! That project was a lot of fun. What have been the biggest challenges working on the Biennale?
Malavika: Co-ordinating with people and getting them to work together takes focused effort. One challenge we faced is trying to group together artists who are able to work together to produce something beautiful. After the groups are formed, we’d see a delay and sometimes a drop in communication between artists, for whatever reason. In those situations, deadline and target prompts, reminders and instruction emails need to be sent to the participants. And you know that artists already have a busy schedule and managing a program like this can be challenging — it’s not only creating the artwork but also involves all the logistics around coordinating — packing, sending, receiving and then completing all three collaborative pieces.
As a program, we also realised it was important to build awareness and get more artists onboard, and this year we worked hard to achieve that.
Connecting 35, 15" X 8.5", Archival print on paper and canvas
Connecting 37 - Connecting & Binding Together the Known and Unknown,
4.5” x13.5”, Pen & Ink on Handmade paper and board
Malcolm: In your Connecting series of works, you, very interestingly, play around with shadows, transparency and light thereby creating depth on a flat surface. Can you tell us about works like Connecting 37 and others in this series?
Malavika: I'm inspired by people and the elements of life — how we are all linked, dependent on each other as well as the technology that connects us. In 2015, I started working on a small art book. On each page of the book I made a drawing that connected to the next page to form this continuous, yet, disconnected piece — just like in life. The layering of links which sometimes come from known and unknown sources blend to becomes one and, yet, whose source is difficult to trace or understand. I express these ideas through various mediums in my work and this led to the Connecting works. This series captures the movement of life through its different ups and downs, its gentle & jagged paths. ‘Connecting 37’ was created during the pandemic. Procuring art materials was a problem at that time. So, I used three different leftover pieces of paper and board — which suddenly became very valuable at that time. I just felt a connection with my past and present family – my father, mother, husband, son, and with myself. We are separate individuals but we are connected to each other. We are emotionally attached and even locked in to each other. And during the pandemic we were physically also locked in, in a cube. At the same time each one needed their individual space, identity, importance, and I found that this experience had a lot of hidden layers too, that I try to capture. I don’t always plan a work in advance; and I love to move around and live with my work. Sometime these thought processes are extracted and meld into the work automatically and you realise their presence only after you put the work away and look at it at a later time. I hoped to extract these hidden layers in this series.
Malcolm: You work with a variety of physical and digital mediums and includes woven works, textiles, and other materials. What is your thought process or approach to creating these works?
Malavika: I enjoy working with different mediums. Being a textile designer, I have an immense love for weaving, working with natural and metallic fibers and yarns. I relate the natural fiber with the five elements of life and metallic yarn with progress. Weaving and binding all these together we live our life ahead. When I want to see and play with the transparency and hidden layers, I also use the digital medium. My process generally combines layers of photography, scanned drawings, and computer editing. I attempt to capture conscious, unconscious and subconscious thoughts and transforming them into art, in this series.
The artist's studio. image courtesy-the artist
Malcolm: You’ve been listed on the Techspressionist artist index, and have been involved in building awareness around it, conducting related events and educating people about the movement — Can you talk to us about that?
Malavika: Techspressionism has given a new identity to digital fine art. Different terminologies have developed over a period of time for assigning an identity to digital fine art but somehow Techspressionism struck a chord with me. Colin Goldberg, who coined the term Techspressionism, in 2011, used it to describe ‘an artistic approach in which technology is utilized as a means to express emotional experience.’ Since then, it has evolved into an international movement, with periodic online meetups in which artists from all over the world join and share their works and personal creative philosophies.
I am trying to build awareness of Techspressionism in India and incorporate it into the art programs we conduct for kids, adults and professionals. Every new movement in art has its pros and cons. In today’s life, I feel digital art is the best medium for expressing emotions, developing creativity, has an advantage over physical work as far as storage and maintenance is concerned, and can easily reach any part of the world and be displayed or seen anywhere in the world. Due to its “non-physical nature” it is also easy to create and, in that sense, can be used by people anywhere who want to explore using art as way to get creative, reduce stress and improve health of mind and ability.
Connecting 40, 15" X 8.5", Archival print on paper or canvas
Malcolm: How would you describe the current state of the art world in India?
Malavika: I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. Technology and connectivity have been one of the main drivers of change — and we, of course, use the benefits they bring to bring our programs together. There is definitely an increase in awareness about art, in general, too. People today try to engage a lot more and don’t mind getting into the details of a work and the concept behind it.
Malcolm: How would you define art?
Malavika: For me, art is an expression of emotions and involves the enjoyment of the process and outcome; and the medium could be anything. I love art — art makes me feel refreshed, energised and powerful.
Unlimited Progress 17, 23.5" x 35.5", Digital collage printed on Hahnemuhle photo rag paper
Malcolm: As a curator what do you look for in a work/ artist?
Malavika: I look for a willingness to collaborate with others, an open mind for accepting what other artists will do with or on their artwork, an understanding of what the collaborative process requires, and the ability to adjust and change with the situation. Artists also need to be involved in the process and always need to create with emotion.
Malcolm: What’s been the easiest as well as hardest when putting together the Collaborative Space Biennale this year?
Malavika: A program like the Biennale requires continuous contact and following up with all the artists involved. That means I am always aware of what the groups are doing and the different stages of progress the physical and digital works have reached. I also tend to get emotionally attached to the groups and works. The way in which we have organised ourselves means that Kirti, heading TASMAI, and Meghna, at CAS Virtual Art Gallery, handle the display and exhibition — so that helps. The most challenging part is maintaining project data and ensuring the artworks are sent and received in proper order. Managing delays and last minute transfer and transit of the works to ensure they are ready for the exhibition is challenging as well.
Evanescence 1, 24" X 36", Mix media on digital collage printed on Hahnemuhle Monet canvas with cotton, lurex yarn, tracing paper
Malcolm: What other programs are you involved in?
Malavika: Our International Collaborative Art Biennale is currently in progress and on view at TASMAI, Pondicherry a.k.a Puducherry, India. The exhibition will be till 10th Nov 23. The online exhibit showing digital collaborations will go live, soon, as well. We also conduct different programs and workshops throughout the year. Each program has its own theme and some of them have cash awards given out as well:
Jugalbandi – This is a national collaborative art project where two artists work together to create a work of art. This program is on till the 23rd of November. (The Hindi word jugalbandi or jugalbandhi means a performance, in Hindustani and Carnatic music, that features a duet of two solo musicians. The word literally means, ‘entwined twins’.)
Community Art Project – this is a program where individuals living, studying or working in a community collaborate with each other to create an environmentally friendly art piece that must incorporate the process of upcycling of materials.
Emotions - The project involved two people who share a close relationship (friends, family etc.) with each other working together to create two pieces. Each work is started by one artist and finished by the other in the pair and aimed at exploring emotions.
Malavika Mandal Andrew (b.1971) is an artist whose practice includes mix media, digital collage and digital art, tapestry and other fiber art. She received her Bachelor of Fine Art in Textile Designing in 1993 and her Master of Fine Art in Textile and Tapestry 1995 from Kala Bhavana, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. During her time at Kala Bhavana she was awarded the National Scholarship by the Govt. of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development and did her training under Riten Mozumdar. In 2012 the artist was awarded “The Pollock Krasner Foundation” grant under which she worked with Warli artists from Talasari, Maharashtra to create mix media paintings. In 2021, Malavika became the first Indian artist to be listed in the Techspressionist Artist Index. In August 2021, she founded Collaborative Art Space, an international art organization that conducts collaborative art projects wherein groups of artists work together to collaboratively create art. She has participated in numerous solo & group, national & international shows. She also conducts offline & online workshops.
Born and brought up in the lush valley of Haridwar, the artist now makes the crawling metropolis of Mumbai her home.
Links and Footnotes:
Find out about the Collaborative Art Space Biennale, exhibition dates and times: https://collaborativeartspace.com/
TASMAI a Center of Art and Culture: https://www.tasmaipondy.com/
Artist's website: https://www.malavikamandalandrew.com/
More information about Projects Malavika is involved in: https://collaborativeartspace.com/projects/
Find out about the Techspressionism movement:
All pictures used by permission from the artist. All blog content is copyright Malcolm Fernandes 2023-24