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Vasundhara Sellamuthu – Stellar International Rising Star 2022 talks about her work exploring Chennai as the Detroit of India, signage and multi-coloured homes …

Vasundhara Sellamuthu – Stellar International Rising Star 2022 talks about her work exploring Chennai as the Detroit of India, signage and multi-coloured homes …

Young artist works with miniatures and is inspired by traditional Indian art practices…

By Mamie Colfox

FINE ARTIST Vasundhara Sellamuthu is Stellar International’s rising star after she was named their emerging artist 2022, this spring.

The foundation marked this achievement by hosting an artist talk called ‘On Being from the Detroit of India’, in line with International Women’s Day, in London.

Venice \ Alappuzha, Paris \ Pondicherry, Scotland \ Coorg, Detroit \ Chennai‘ from the series ‘Ah Sign-painter!

Sellamuthu’s original work explores various ranges of media and themes, such as East/West, architecture/vernacular and foreign/home, and she has an MA in Fine Art from City & Guilds London Art School (2021).

Stellar International Art Foundation was established by Anita Choudhrie in 2008 and is based on her family’s 800 work private collection, with art dating from the 19th century up until the present day. Since 2018, the foundation has looked to promote emerging female artists and those from minority backgrounds. Previous Stellar International Art Rising Stars include Chila Burman, Faiza Butt and Adia Wahid.

Vasundhara Sellamuthu © Gurudev Singh

Choudrie had a few words to say about the award and Sellamuthu: “It’s an exciting moment to be hosting our first speaker event in two years and Vasundhara’s work is truly inspiring. “

Sellamuthu told about her childhood, when she used to play outside construction sites, and where she takes inspiration from.

“I would spend a lot of time playing on sand mountains outside construction sites.

“I was seeing stuff being built and being made. It was actually quite inspiring talking to people or watching processes that we take for granted”.

Originally from Chennai, Sellamuthu married and moved back to London to set up a studio practice.

“I graduated with my Master’s in Fine Art in October last year. When Stellar got in touch in December it was great, because I didn’t have a gallery yet, and it was perfect timing to actually talk about my work and have a bit of publicity.”

Sellamuthu focuses much of her work on her Indian influences.

Her set of prints ‘Ah! Sign-painter’ are cleverly inverted transport signs which come from her love for language and nicknames.

One in particular, ‘Detroit/Chennai’ depicts a signpost with the words ‘Welcome to Detroit, the Chennai of USA’. This is an inversion of her hometown Chennai – nicknamed the Detroit of India- where she has swapped Chennai with the USA.

Detroit \ Chennai‘, from the series Ah Sign-painter! ©Martina O’Shea

After studying architecture at the Architectural Association in the UK between 2009 and 2011, Sellamuthu realised she was pursuing the wrong career. She briefly switched to visual cultures at Goldsmiths before realising she wanted to be an artist after working at a gallery.

“I worked for a gallery and I was working with artists and realised I wanted to be making stuff, at least working with my hands.”

Questioned about the transition from architecture, Sellamuthu recounted: “I realised that I was reading and writing more than I was drawing at that stage… And I felt that as amazing as the architecture school was – I felt like it was very light touch when it came to referencing concepts and philosophies”.

During the pandemic, she spent her time leading community workshops in and around Walthamstow, east London, both in person and over Zoom, and the work that resulted from these workshops inspired her to create a story box, ‘The Useful and Beautifu Project (2021).

The Useful and Beautiful Project’ ©Ronan Haughton

“It’s like a portable shrine and that’s what they would have been back in the day.

“I had creative writing prompts that people responded to and I selected a few of them to make a community story box.

“One of the prompts was ‘everything you have placed on your table over the last 24 hours’. I was thinking about how our homes have changed during Lockdown.”

The delicately designed box was exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in 2021 in Walthamstow, London, as part of ‘The Useful and Beautiful Project’.

“It was about Morris and South Asia,” Sellamuthu explained.

“Morris learnt a lot from Indian block printing and techniques. I was one of the artist interventions in the space, and they had this on display in Room 1.”

A self-built home in India ©VasundharaSellamuthu

Her architectural roots have influenced another series ‘Some Different Child’ (2021) and are a very different collection of house paintings, made from photographs of colourful self-built homes in India and painted on to blocks of plywood.

“They are very closely colour matched with my source images. They will either be from a real estate website, or I actually organise huge research trips where I will be on the road for a week, photographing houses from the car.”

When asked what she plans to do next, sourcing the best materials for her house paintings was important.

“I’m wondering whether the material should be plywood, or a different material. But also maybe commissioning someone back home (in India) who will essentially give me the design and then I’m more of a facilitator.”

Sellamuthu will appear as part of a group show with peers from City & Guilds of London Art School later this year, followed by her debut solo show next year. Dates are yet to be confirmed.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture