Illustrator and muralist, Sadhna Prasad creates alternate worlds in which vibrant colours tell stories of hope and reimagine what it means to belong. Each of these unreal worlds draw from the real cities the artist has lived in and the people with whom she has found home over a decade of “wandering”. After a Masters’ in Illustration in the UK, a long stint in Bengaluru as the Artistic Director of the Aravani Art Project, a trans-women and cis-women led public art collective, and participating in residencies in San Francisco and Shanghai, the artist has finally returned to her home-city of Mumbai. But here too, she creates in a “floating studio”, her sketchbook and iPad Pro and Apple Pencil travelling with her to collaborators, community members and the sites of her murals and public projects. The experience of constant change, in both the artist’s external and internal worlds, has remained the propeller for her work. As she says, “in the end, it comes back to the idea of displacement. My colours, characters and story-telling are all responses to movement.”
“My process changed completely when I was in Shanghai, a city I had never expected to find myself in,” Prasad describes a turning point in her practice at the The Swatch Art Peace Hotel Residency in 2018. Having worked without a break for many years prior, the residency in an unfamiliar city allowed the artist a moment of disorientation and pause — “It was a challenge, and a time for me to question myself and really think about why I was doing what I was doing”. In the first few weeks of the residency, Prasad remembers feeling “completely out of place” and alienated from the city, and the slow and hard work of finding her footing through visiting markets, interacting with people and teaching herself Mandarin, and, as a result, finding a new way of looking at herself. “I have always created my most impactful work when I have been uncomfortable,” she explains. As her culminating project for the residency, Prasad created a series of self-portraits using a holographic fabric she found in a textile market. “The material would completely change depending on how the light fell on it,” she describes, “and that’s how I came to see myself too.”
“The material would completely change depending on how the light fell on it and that’s how I came to see myself too.”
Each of Prasad’s works begin here — with a long and slow period of research, of getting to know the place and people for whom she might be painting a mural, for example, and in the process finding a new dimension of her own identity. Trained in traditional Tanjore painting, Prasad explores these discoveries through shape and colour on Procreate on iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, marrying contemporary illustration with traditional techniques of blocking colour. The illustrations serve as the bases for public murals or make their way to Procreate Dreams, where she animates elements individually, using the medium of animation to highlight the theme of change and motion in all her work. Prasad shares, “I want my work to engage all the senses, in full saturation. This is what creates stories and drama that is accessible at every level.”
Download the artist poster by Sadhna Prasad depicting a fantastical alternate world in which humans respect all creatures and live in community with humans and non-human.
“I have spent the past 5 years working on the streets, on murals and collaborative projects, working with people and for them,” says the artist, whose work often advocates for the critical needs of communities marginalised on the basis of gender or class. “I am happy to take a backseat when it comes to political expression,” she continues, “and work harder on telling the stories of the communities on their own terms and not as an external agent.” As an example, Prasad shares her experience of creating murals for Suvidha public toilets built by Unilever in slums in Dharavi, Mumbai, where besides the painting, her emphasis lay on spending days with the community and conducting workshops with children and women, while painting the mural. She says, “it has always been about creating beautiful public spaces that the communities would come to see as their own, with dignity and pride.”
In each community-oriented project, Prasad aims to create a portal for hope. Responding to the ‘Forces of Nature’ as an India Art Fair Digital Artist in Residence, she keeps community close to her vision of a sustainable future. “I want to create a vision of an alternate future, driven by the cycles of nature and one in which humans live together with all creatures, alongside a future in which we continue as is, without the principles of harmony and community driving us.” The project is a call to action by the artist, giving us a choice and prompting us to make changes in the now to actualise an alternate and better future.
Sadhna Prasad was born in 1992 in Mumbai, India. Her work will be shown in the Digital Residency Hub at India Art Fair 2024.