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Posted On: 13 November 2019 02:19 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:05 pm

Qommunity Voices: Swapna Namboodiri uses art to spread the sustainability message

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Swapna Namboodiri is a software engineer by qualification and artist by passion and profession. She was born and brought up in Kerala, India. After her graduation, she worked for Infosys Technologies, as a software engineer for five years and decided to take a break from corporate life once her daughter turned one. That step became the turning point in her life and her hobby as an artist became her passion. She tried out many styles of artwork on glass/perspex and canvas, based on different subjects and themes.

Swapna, in her own words is a plastic sculptor whose mission is to create repurposed sculptural artworks using discarded plastics so she can help raise awareness of the impact plastics and other non-biodegradable waste has in the world we live in. She chose plastics for her art because of its negative effects on surroundings and the world we live in and her art centres around marine life because that's where plastics have caused the most damage.

ILQ was able to get an insight on Swapna's art and her dedication to sustainability, plastic pollution and how she spreads awareness through her art which has been showcased in a number of local and international exhibitions. This is what she had to say:

1. Tell us about your journey as an artist, especially one that recycles plastic as art?

    Swapna: Starting from my early days of art journey I had been working with different ‘found materials’, especial plastic bottles. Back in 2013 I used to make unique accessories from recycled plastic bottles. Later I had to slow it down during our move to new country. And then I restarted once I began my art practice in Qatar.

    During my early days, there were always a phase of self-doubt, especially because I was not a trained artist. I was even hesitant to call myself an artist. Online galleries played a major role in polishing my artworks and me as an artists. When each of my artworks went to a private collection, it gave a huge boost of confidence and motivation. My sculptural artworks are now my signature works. I am glad to know that people are willing to admire and collect and invest in unconventional artworks as well!

    I try to bring a unique style in each of my work, with different techniques, using pourable fluid oil paints and acrylics. Giving freedom to the colors, I have worked on a range of subjects, like nature and outerspace, people and culture, social awareness etc. I would call my works as ‘sculptural artworks’, as this involves a lot of sculpting and painting in each of the works. My currents works are an outcome of many experiments, and has evolved gradually from day one. I follow and admire a lot of artists especially sculptors or those who work with textures. I am always mesmerised by the glass sculptures by the great artist Chihuly and has inspired me a lot! Since my style of works create art from trash, it is still a new concept for people and I’m thrilled to get the great support and encouragement for this cause!

    2. What prompted this initiative? How did you venture into something like this?

      Swapna: It all started with a mere curiosity to replace glass surface with plastic bottles. I started experimenting the glass painting techniques on plastic bottles. But then, I slowly began to learn more about the adverse effects of plastics in our lives. That triggered me to take a detour and to take up art journey seriously, to spread awareness regarding plastic pollution.

      3. What kind of plastics do you use and why?

        Swapna: I basically work with all types of plastics. Since PET bottles are discarded everywhere, my raw material became more of that. I also use LDPE and PP (Polypropylene). But as I mentioned earlier, I love experiment with any of the found plastic objects rather than leaving it as landfill.

        4. What’s your favourite art medium?

          Swapna: Art on glass was always my favorite medium. But ever since I started making these sculptural artworks, I’m passionate about this flexible experimental medium. I get to work on a glass like surface which is not fragile, but very flexible. Also I can include many of my glass painting techniques here as well. I was always fond of heavy texture in my artworks, and usage of plastics is also a way to get that 3D perspectives.

          5. Does your art have a message?

            Swapna Yes my artworks are mostly conceptive and decorative at the same time. And I make sure that my artworks should be able to spread a message to its audience. So I usually work on series with various themes. My sculptural artworks revolve around the theme 'Ocean life' since they are majorly affected by plastic pollution. I consider this as my opportunity to spread awareness on plastic pollution and the importance of recycle/reduce /and reuse plastics. Nature being my favorite subject, I like to create unique texture and visual treat using plastic scraps. With the inspiration, imagination, and emotions, I usually delves deeply into the soul of the work to portray it in its best.Usage of bright and bold colors, gives a warm and vibrant aura for all my artworks.

            My latest on- going series of artworks are based on the phenomenon ‘Coral Florescence’. Due to global warming and temperature rise of ocean water, the algae which feed the coral reefs cannot survive. This in turn makes the coral reefs starve. At this final stage, coral reefs starts shining in 3 different fluorescent shades, which is basically the call for action for humans. And without getting any help, it finally bleaches out. My artworks try to portray this phenomenon and reflects the need to reduce plastic usage.

            6. When did you know you wanted to take up this line of work?

              Swapna: It was a gradual transition. I started working with plastic bottles, back in 2012. But had to pause it for a while, when I started doubting myself. But then I could find myself collecting plastic bottles instead of throwing it away. And for me the only way to use it is through my artworks. These artworks are hence a result of many research and experiments. Constant practice of these self-taught techniques has helped me create this range of signature artworks.

              7. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

                Swapna: Nature is always my biggest source of inspiration. It can be a color, pattern, texture anything. I get inspired by anything around me and so its easy to keep myself inspired. For my latest series of sculptures and paintings, coral reefs and Great barrier reefs are the source of inspiration. The largest living structure in nature- coral reefs are facing the threat of extinction and I do a lot of research regarding these topics which keep me more connected to my artworks.

                Textures and colours also inspire me. And the lives of coral reefs has motivated me to speak for them. Now my artworks are spreading word for this largest living structure which is home to 100s of marine species.

                8. Why do you love what you do?

                  Swapna: I’m so passionate about my art practice and I tend to practice it daily. Its like a meditation for me. And when it comes to my sculptural artworks, just the feeling that my artworks will speak a 100 words for me, motivates me !

                  9. How has the experience been in Qatar?

                    Swapna: Soon after we arrived at Qatar, I joined a small handmade community ‘QatART’ which literally changed my life. The art/craft fairs organized by QatART at Katara art studios, helped me to interact with many expats and natives to explain about my works. My other range of artworks include skyline paintings, and artworks on Qatari culture and landscapes- all these painted on glass/perspex were hugely loved and appreciated by expats. And, that is how I kick started my art journey in Qatar. I got to interact with many makers through this platform and was hugely inspired. Gradually, Katara became my second home.

                    10. What do you feel makes your work unique and truly your own?

                      Swapna: My art is for a cause- and that makes it unique. Not only are my works conceptual, the contemporary touch in most of the works make it a collectible decorative art. The story connected to my works, colors, texture, techniques, and all these factors makes it ‘one of a kind’ artwork.

                      11. What is your biggest achievement so far in terms of art and in terms of recycled plastic art?

                        Swapna: Being able to represent both Qatar and India at two international art fairs are the biggest achievements for me in my art career so far. Five years back while moving to Qatar, it was not even there in my wildest dreams that I would be able to create an identity as an artist and travel to different places to exhibit my works. But Qatar was welcoming to my ideas and thoughts and, infact, molded me as an artist!

                        12. What’s the response in Qatar for your recycled art?

                          Swapna: When I started making sculptural artworks, I was a bit hesitant to exhibit that here, since its very unconventional art technique. I was exhibiting it through online galleries like Saatchi Art, Artfinder, etc. Those platforms gave me the exposure to many art collectors mainly in the UK and the US. More than 50 of my sculptural artworks have now found new homes and are included in various private collections. And, once I reached back from Tokyo International Art Fair, my friends and family insisted to do the exhibition here. And I was amazed to see the support I received from people here in Qatar. Since then I get help in various ways from people, by collecting bottles for me, transporting it to my place, sharing ideas, spreading awareness and what not.

                          13. You’ve been in some international exhibitions? How was that?

                            Swapna: Yes, Last year I exhibited a series of artworks at Tokyo International art fair 2018. After that, in October 2018, I did a Solo exhibition at Katara Art Centre. And this year August, I got selected to exhibit at Amsterdam International art fair. All these 3 events were definitely a huge milestones in my art career. Tokyo International art fair and Amsterdam International art fair are juried contemporary art fairs happening in Tokyo and Amsterdam, every year showcasing around 150 selected artists from around the world practicing unique styles and techniques. It is a platform for both artists and art collector to interact and to buy unique artworks directly from the maker. This event was well attended by many art lovers too.

                            And, I feel honoured to be a woman artist representing both Qatar and India at both the shows! The whole experience of preparing and attending an international art fair itself was amazing. And the learning experience will always be something to cherish. People were so welcoming to this unconventional idea. And they were very much curious to know about my story behind those artworks, and how I use plastic trash as an art material. Not only did I sold my artworks, I even got a huge exposure at those international platforms alongside many great artists from around the world. It indeed has helped me to understand and expand my art knowledge to another level.

                            On the other side, I was moved to see messages from few people who I met during these events, saying how they have made small changes in their lives to reduce plastic usage. Those are the moments when my works become more meaningful.

                            14. What do you think of the sustainability drive in Qatar? Do you think enough is being done?

                              Swapna: Even a long race begins with the first step. I’m glad that Qatar has already taken the initial steps and is so willing to support people and organisations working for a sustainable lifestyle. It’s never enough, since we are dealing with something huge. As scientists mention, we are facing signs of the 6th mass extinction. So its high time we take huge practical steps to reduce actions like plastic consumption, deforestation, mining, carbon emission etc. So for that, Sustainability should become a lifestyle for each person.

                              15. What’s next for you?

                                Swapna: My projects are always evolving and next I would love to explore the possibilities in creating public sculptural installations using plastic trash. I feel those interactive installations will be a great way to connect and create an awareness among the audience!

                                16. Do you have any message for the people of Qatar?

                                  Swapna: In the past couple of years, I see a lot of ‘Go-Green’ initiatives in Qatar. And that gives a hope that, we still can take collective actions for a better planet. The mindset change should happen in each individual and it’s high time we stop our thoughts like ‘It won’t make any difference if just me stop using plastics, or I change’. In fact, it does! Each person can contribute by identifying their ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Also we need to understand the power of spreading the awareness to our younger generation as well! As a wise person recently quoted – ‘People must stop calling things as ‘waste’, instead address it as ‘raw material’!! This thought can make a huge difference I feel, and at the same time it opens a door for endless possibilities!

                                  Isn't Swapna's art inspiring? Have you been to any of her exhibitions? What are you doing to stop plastic pollution. Do let us know your thoughts in our Comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!

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