London Art Spot: Mythili Thevendrampillai

Mythili’s Tamil background and the religion in which she was raised form a strong foundation for her impressive body of work. Many of her paintings merge the gods and goddesses of Hinduism with modern day celebrities to create an open-minded vision of the role that traditional beliefs play in our lives today. With a solo show on now and her work being displayed alongside Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili from May 3 in the Elephant Parade, she is certainly one to watch.

Mythili has put down her paints and brushes for a few minutes this week to talk to us about the meaning behind her work, how living in London gives her creative freedom and what to expect from her current show.

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
MT:
 I feel unrestricted in London and can go where I want, make what I like and say what I feel. There is access to a wide variety of creative stimulus and social interaction with a large multicultural community.

As an artist having this personal and public freedom means that there is little pressure to censor anything that is produced.

LLO: How would you describe your style and technique?
MT:
I studied print-making, so techniques learnt in this process cross over when I paint. I still use a variety of objects to create stencils. Cooking ingredients are also used as stencils; kidney beans, chick peas and lentils create a pixel effect and the images can have a graphic look to them. A blue print skeleton is created through collage and drawing then silk screened onto the canvas. Layers are built onto the image with acrylic, oil and spray paint. 

LLO: Much of your work blends Eastern and Western culture which is interesting considering the generations of Londoners born to parents who come from Eastern cultures. What messages do you hope to communicate through your art?
MT:
The images that I have been working with recently are an attempt to bridge traditional tales and ideas with a contemporary understanding.  I want stories from different cultures to be accessible to anyone who is interested in them. I am keen for images to create curiosity so that people investigate cultural concepts on a deeper level.

LLO: What can we expect from a visit to your solo show “Desi Gods and Goddesses of the 21st Century” on now in Westbourne Park?
MT:
The paintings are about the ideas of God being a combination of different forces. I went to a Catholic convent and have family members who are Evangelical christian. As I was bought up as a hindu there were  contradictions in my understanding of God. It interests me why someone would or wouldn’t believe in God and how this entity can bear the brunt of glory and condemnation. I like looking at characters real and of mythology that people consider positive and negative. The paintings are a process of creating visual ideas of these forces.

My understanding of the gods and goddesses are that they are energies that have the potential to manifest in all of us. Different gods and goddesses have a variety of characteristics and qualities that can be expressed. I have incorporated well known and people I know within the images of the gods and goddesses to symbolize the notion of divinity living in us and us living in divinity. 

LLO: Your work is set to feature alongside Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili this summer as part of London’s Elephant Parade. Can you give us an idea of what we can look forward to when the elephants hit the streets?
MT:
The elephant parade will be a outdoor UK exhibition presenting 250 elephant sculptures uniquely painted and then auctioned of to raise money for the conservation of endangered elephants. It’s a wonderful project that I’m thrilled to be a part of. Lots of information can be found at www.elephantparade .org

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of and why?
MT:
It’s a painting in the show: Kali. It’s a self portrait. The original blueprint that I sketched was fairly timid with a playful facial expression and garlands of flowers around my neck. Kali is often depicted in pictures and statues in this passive representation, my mother supports this by her belief that “Kali has a sweet face”.  Kali is a force with conviction that eliminates the undesirable in a fairly extreme and aggressive way. My mouth is stitched up and razor blades replace roses. Shutting up and getting rid of things is the preferred option though the tendency can be to rant relentlessly and accumulate. I’m proud of this painting because a part of me thought it egotistical to make myself Kali and then I remembered that the incentive of the collection was to encourage people to accept their divinity.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your experience bringing creativity to the girls in Uttar Pradesh, India.
MT:
The girls at Udayan care were amazing, happy and incredibly motivated artists. We produced large scale mandalas that contained various geometrical shapes combined with text. The girls loved introducing vibrant colour to the designs that decorated statements about their strengths and ambitions.

LLO: Favourite London exhibition space/gallery?
MT:
I’m very fond of the Hayward. Although I went to the Wapping Project a few nights ago and loved the gallery space there. It has a haunting atmosphere and makes you feel quite sensual.

LLO:  Do you have any other shows later this year?
MT:
I am showing work in Bangalore and Delhi later this year.

Thanks Mythili!

Note: All of the above paintings are 30 x 40 inches, acrylic, oil and spraypaint on canvas.

For more of Mythili’s work, check out her website: www.mythiliart.co.uk/

See her solo show, Desi Gods and Goddesses of the 21st Century, now:
Venue: London Print Studios
Address: 426 Harrow Road, W10 4RE
Dates: Now – 13 March (Tuesday – Saturday)
Time: 10:30am – 6pm
Admission: Free 

 For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.
 

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Londonstani, innit.

I’m always attracted to books set in London (White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Geoff Ryman’s 253, etc). London is a familiar place but because of the incredible diversity, there are still many unfamiliar aspects. I’m also very interested in British Asian culture, so when I came across Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, I knew it would either love it or hate it. I loved it. Seeing as this blog is about anything London, thought I’d share.
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Gautam is a journalist for the Financial Times (one of those lucky ones who stuck his foot in their door as a graduate trainee and weaselled his way to full time staff status ever since). Londonstani is his first novel (published 3-4 years ago now), and quite an accomplishment at that because it leaves your mind churning at the end with a sly little twist that changes the way you think about the entire story. (No worries – I won’t give that away!)
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It’s set in Hounslow and follows the Brit-Asian rudeboy scene through the eyes of the slightly-awkward Jas who tries to fit in with the hardcore bad boys but doesn’t quite cut it. The entire book is written in rudeboy slang – not an easy task, but it certainly sets it apart. Gautam even wrote a style guide to keep it straight while he was writing.
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He explains the title on his website: “’Londonstani’ was a self-referential term that basically meant I’m proud to be a Londoner because it’s a place where I can be both British and Asian and still feel 100 per cent like I belong – like I’m a native. It’s like desi slang for the word “Londoner”; it means the same thing.”
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Overall, it’s a brilliant exploration of identity, primarily, also religion, cross-cultural relationships, subcultures, family life, machismo and the pressure to either fit in or rebel against mainstream society. It hits a lot of discussion-worthy points – What is mainstream culture anyway? What does it mean to be a second or third generation Asian in London? What happens when you mix cultures to create new relationships or a new identity?
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Gautam wrote Londonstani after researching the subject of Brit-Asian culture for his university dissertation and found himself with a lot more material and interest than he originally expected. He said it began with thinking “about the Brit-Asian rudeboy scene and the rejection of our parents’ efforts to integrate with mainstream Britain – leading to the development of our own brand of Britishness.”
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It’s a look at one way to define “Britishness” and more proof that the definition is constantly evolving and expanding.

www.gautammalkani.com

If you have any other recommendations for London-based fiction, pass em on in the comments…