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Anjana Kothamachu: Art Doesn’t Have To Be Pretty

The mind of a young artist

Anjana Kothamachu speaks about her art, and about the available support systems for artists in India, from Khoj to Cona


The nicest part of working at My Big Red Bag is getting the chance to meet so many really interesting and talented women. When Anjana first wrote to us with an invite for her art show, we were stumped. Her work is not immediately accessible but we couldn’t help looking at it again and again. It is interesting, and there’s a point of view there that’s undeniable. When we started conversing, we realized that we share quite a few creative favourites – chief among them being Prabha Mallya and Anjum Hasan - and we had to know more.

One of the top items on our agenda as we planned our Colours issue was to showcase a young artist and to understand the social structures available for the artist community in India. A conversation with Anjana taught us so much both about both her process, and the latter. Here’s what she said:

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, when you chose to become a full time artist, and the entire thought process behind it?

I never thought I would be a practising artist. When younger, my dreams were to be a psychologist who dabbled in art. But life had different plans, and at this moment, I couldn’t be happier with where I am!

The first thing I noticed about your work is how you don’t make any efforts to turn your art into something ‘pretty’ or easy to consume. Is that a conscious decision on your part?

My intention first and foremost is to express an idea. Also as a visual artist I want to create an image that is visually compelling,  neither easy to consume nor visually jarring-  but one that is in sync with the thought I am trying to express. I feel this is  best illustrated in my work ‘Anima Animus’ in the image of the peacock feathers juxtaposed with that of a heart and an ant.

We’ve noticed that you use a lot of mixed media work in your installations? What are some of your favourite techniques and mediums to work with?

I don’t have have any one preferred medium or technique to work on. However, what is absolutely indispensable to my process is drawing. Every single piece – installations or  video – begins as ink marks on paper usually accompanied with small notes describing the work, and what I am trying to express with it.

We’d love for you to take us along the process of creating two of your very different works – Sleep and The Phantasmagoric Menagerie II. Tell us a little bit about how you conceptualised them , what they represents to you, and how long it took to get it ready from beginning to end.

The Phantasmagoric Menagerie II was one of the videos that I made during the Art and Fashion Residency in Khoj. Phantasmagoria could be described as  a set of illusions or a sequence of illusions, like a dream. The term by itself has been used in various contexts . Walter Benjamin first used it when discussing economy, fashion and how markets work.  It is also the name of a poem by Lewis Carroll where two characters (one from the human world and one from the spirit world) are discussing the parallels of their existence.

Phantasmagoria was also the technique  Georges Melies used  in his stop motion films. It has an essential role in the Disney canon and contemporary writers like David Foster Wallace uses it describe their experiences of today’s world.  In a sense  the term is so loaded with a wide range of meanings that representing it visually was a challenge.

I constructed a video comprising of mobile/animated mirrors in the sterile made up environment of water,  strange moving circular shapes and tubes.

Each mirror seems to be opening up to a different landscape or setting, and there is an overall kaleidoscopic effect of multiple images overlaying each other.  The word ‘Menagerie’ connotes an exhibition of exotic animals of things. For the show at Khoj, we effectively used the studios we lived and worked in to set up this installation and video, thus conveying the impression of us being both the artists and the object viewed. The installation effectively covered the entire room, and I had set up an elongated box at the end of which the video played- which added to the overall effect.


SleepAs for Sleep, it  is a drawing made using the humble  ball- point pen. The attempt was to create a dreamlike image, hence this creature that looks like a cross between a mosquito and flea sucking on to something,  with a sleeping human head and swan in the base upon which this whole image is constructed.

We are very excited about the new project you are doing around the Bangalore Metro. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

The aim is to construct a narrative of the city using spoken words and sounds played out in the context of  Bangalore  or ‘Bengaluru’. The Metro is just one of the sights we will cover. It is still early days  and the project is evolving even as we speak.

Anjana, what is life like for a new independent artist in India? Are there any specific grants and programs that one can apply for, or does one have to be largely self-funded? Also, how have you noticed the response to your work been so far?

In this case I can only speak for myself. I feel that for someone who is starting out, there are a lot of art residencies and communities such as  1 Shanthi Road run by Suresh Jayram in Bangalore, Khoj in Delhi, and Cona in Mumbai by Shreyas Karel and Hemali Butha. All of  these communities engage with the artists – they not only provide physical spaces but also feedback about your work and techniques  from your peers. There are also a small but growing number of scholarships such as the Inlaks Awards which have helped me continue to work and discover my voice as an artist.


As far as responses or reactions go, it has been varied.  With something like the cement sculpture Agalma – almost everyone who interacted with it kept touching it, the kids tries to climb it or sit on its base, or crawl in and out of it. That brought the sculpture to life almost, and was very exciting.

And for the work ‘ The Phantasmagoric Menagerie’  made at Khoj, people were most excited about looking deep into the box at the video installation, in a sense allowing themselves to be enveloped by the work in a crowded room.

What are the other mediums you’d like to dabble in some day? For instance, do you see yourself make a documentary one day, or get into some kind of commercial graphic design?

I would probably like to work on an illustrated book for children some day, and I may be working with someone else on a documentary film somewhere in my future. Fingers crossed!

Lastly, if you had a chance, who would you go back in time and have a dinner with? And, of course, what would be on the menu?

This is a tough one… :D

Currently I am reading  Pynchon and John Cheever, so these are the two people I would like to go have dinner with, but there’s also Balasarswati, RL  Burnside,Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Avtar Singh Pash, Carl Jung, Lacan , Freud, Luis Bunuel, Jiří Trnka,Yuri Norstein,Jan Svankmajer,Lewis Caroll, …. that’s a lot of dinners!

As for food, it would be what they want. I am flexible that way!

To find out more about Anjana’s work, or to contact her, do check out more images here!

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Colours Issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!

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