Anna Mikaela Ekstrand in dialogue with Mumbai-based artist Akshita Gandhi
Miami Art Week is bigger than any other global fair as it attracts a wide range of audiences. Centered around Art Basel Miami, Miami Art Week is the catch-all term for the seven day art world bonanza in December packed densely with art fairs, public art, interventions, activations, pop-ups, parties – basically all forms of art shows – often sponsored by companies who capitalize on the opportunity to reach art world professionals, art lovers, celebrities, and trend-setters. You might already know this, great. What you might not have considered is what it feels like to be an artist within this bustling eco/nomy/logy.
“Now You’re Looking” presented by d’Arte Mart at Pulse in Miami presented to the work of Mumbai-based multi-media artist Akshita Gandhi. It is her second year showing during the city’s bustling art week. We took a moment to speak about her experience in the booth, how her work has changed since she started showing in the United States, feminism, how to stop time, and what it feels like when people observe her work.
AM: Congratulations on your second show in Miami during Art Week. You spent a lot of your time in d’Arte Mart’s booth where your work was on view. Do you enjoy observing people interact with your work? Did you have any unexpected meetings and If so, what were they?
AG: Thank you! If I am exhibiting and am in the same place, I make it a point to be present the whole time. It’s an important experience for me to be able to observe how people interact with my work. Irrespective of how the observer reacts, what matters is my work evoked an emotion of some sort. Being able to observe your audience copiously appreciate your work amongst them even before I introduce myself or the theme is an exceptional feeling. There was an encounter with a woman who had been through abuse as a child and shared her journey overcoming it several years later and emerging stronger. She cried when she saw my work and the lightboxes reminded her of an inward quest she had undertaken to overcome her trauma. She was such a kind resplendent soul. I’m grateful my art gives me the opportunity to meet such blessed people.
AM: You are based in Mumbai and have only recently started showing in the U.S. and earlier this year you showed in London. Now that you are becoming more international, is your artistic practice changing?
AG: Yes it has changed considerably. I am now doing sculptures and lightboxes – breaking away from the traditional canvas. Exploring magic and fantasy, in my earlier work, I wanted my audience to stop for a moment, put on their blinders and simply be happy. As I take my work international, I realize that my art needs to stir souls. My journey and travels have given me time to reflect about the themes that I feel most passionate about and the need of the hour is to start a revolution. My pieces now stop my audience in their track confronting them with issues like freedom, patriarchy, women’s safety, and empowerment through while tickling their visual senses at the same time.
AM: In interviews you have mentioned that when your sister was born your father threw a party. Which at a time when boys were more desired than girls was highly unusual. What are the problems women in Mumbai and India face today and how do you address them in your work?
AG: I am born to parents who have always been ahead of their time and encouraged us to live our dreams and break out of gender stereotypes. They support me in all my endeavors. In India, patriarchy is prevalent and gender roles are widespread albeit globalization is bringing the world closer. There needs to be a monumental change in the way people think and look at women in society. We are still far behind and I want to remind the audience we cannot become passive about this issue because we still have a lot of work to do!
AM: Are you a feminist?
AG: Yes, I am a feminist. Feminism is defined as the equal rights of both sexes in every aspect. People often misinterpret feminism as a theory that believes women are superior to men. Women’s fight for equality has been incessant and I believe for as long as one sex is deemed to be more superior to the other, feminism can never be achieved.
AM: Some of your work is very passionate and sexual. How does this sit with the public in India?
AG: I have not had the chance to exhibit in India yet however the people who I have shared the artworks with have loved it. They’ve also been able to relate to the theme since it is relevant to the young Indian today. I’m definitely excited to see how this sits with the other generations and demographics in India. There were a few people at Pulse in Miami who were taken aback at the inappropriateness of the pieces and that to me was most interesting.
AM: In Miami you were showing lightbox work. What is your technique and process to create them?
AG: All my work is created using mixed media. The process begins with taking a photograph. I then work over the photograph digitally. The piece is then superimposed over my traditional pieces, which are usually abstract artworks created with acrylic paints on canvas. Once this digital art image is superimposed over the painting, I have it printed on canvas and work over it with paint, ink, stamps and other mediums. After it’s completed, I print it on an acrylic sheet. This acrylic sheet is then mounted on a white LED frame. Depending on the artwork, I select the color of the lights and it then sits on your wall like any other artwork, this frame then needs to be plugged into a socket. Voilà! A few of the artworks however remain as is on the canvas so the buyer has an option to either purchase the piece as a lightbox or as a canvas.
AM: You collaborated with Frank Debourge on a limited edition jacket. It’s so cool. Do you think artists can elevate, develop, or up-end other sectors, and how can these collaborations be fostered?
AG: Thank you! We created and auctioned two jackets for New York Fashion Week, Fall 2019. One jacket was auctioned in New York and the proceeds were then donated to a New York based charity, Education Alliance. The second one has been framed and was exhibited as an artwork at Pulse Art Fair, Miami. The idea is to take my art outside fairs and galleries and onto different mediums, into the lives and homes of people and make my art more accessible. Yes, artists can definitely elevate, develop and up-end other sectors. Be it fashion, design, furniture or any creative space an artist will bring great aesthetics to the collaboration. Technically artists understand proportion, light, space and think outside the box making every collaboration successful and unique.
AM: Literary sources have a prominent position in your work. Which two authors dead or alive would you like to have dinner with?
AG: For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid reader and loved indulging in good reads, classics and literature. The profound concept and words of authors of different era have had a deep impact on me and influenced my art. I wanted my art to tug at the viewer’s intellect and mind and create an all rounded experience. I created a series based on Don Quixote. The photographs were mundane however the neon paint over it represented magic like Quixote brought color into banal realities. There is a piece shown in London called, “The Enchanted Realm of Roald Dahl.” A quote from Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, “eternity is a mere moment long enough for a joke” deeply inspired me in my practice for over a decade. I’d love to have dinner with Herman Hesse. The second author would be Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri wrote about culture, Indian immigrants and their struggle to fit in America. I had just been admitted to the American School of Bombay and the struggle to fit in and find myself as a young teenager between Indian traditional parents and a school that emphasizes on individualistic culture and existentialism I related to Lahiri’s stories in an uncanny way.
AM: What will be the New Year’s resolution that you most probably will not follow through on in 2020?
AG: Ahh! I set a New Year’s resolution every year and I must confess that I forget about it after about three months! This year my resolution is to be punctual and actually make it everywhere on time. Yes, I have a turbulent relationship with time, if only Dali could make real clocks melt.
Born in Mumbai, Akshita Gandhi completed her IB from the American School of Bombay. She then graduated from the Lotus Institute in Dubai with an MA in Fine Arts. Her first private art exhibition took place in Mumbai, India (2003). She displayed a varied range of landscapes done in oil on canvas and the proceeds were donated to an Old Age home (in Karjat). More recent gallery shows include Shapero Modern (London, September 2019), Amsterdam Whitney (New York, October 2019) and MyMicroGallery (Milan, October 2019).
A firm believer in giving back to society, Akshita founded the Dua Foundation, a social enterprise that aims to empower vulnerable members of society by providing them a platform, which will enable them to gain financial independence via their art and craft skills. Proceeds from her sales go towards the work of the foundation.
Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a Swedish/Guyanese independent curator based in New York City. Anna Mikaela served as co-/curator for the performance art events ‘Tales Of Tales’ (106 Rivington, 2019), ’Grebnellaw: Sperming The Planet’ (House of Yes and The Oculus, 2018), and ‘Your Decolonizing Toolkit’ (MAW, 2016). She has held curatorial positions at Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim, Bard Graduate Center, and Museum of Arts and Design. Anna Mikaela is the founding editor-in-chief of Cultbytes. Currently, Anna Mikaela serves as an advising curator for inaugural ‘The Immigrant Artist Biennial’ to be held in New York 2020, She holds dual MA degrees, in Design History, Material Culture, and Decorative Arts from Bard Graduate Center and in Art History from Stockholm University. She also studied at London School of Economics, Sorbonne-Paris IV, and Columbia University.