Artist Interview: Shivangi Ladha (Noida, India)

Tell us more about how you incorporate screenprinting into your practice and your work Self Portrait.

My approach focuses very much on the role of drawing through various print techniques. Importantly, the hand drawings are repeated through the action of screenprinting across a surface. For me, screenprinting is a technically more liberating medium as compared to etching or lithography, because it is not as restricted in terms of scale and is very independent of the press.

Self Portrait is very close to my heart, because it was made during a time when I was going through a mentally difficult phase. It made me question a lot about life, and instigated me to look inwards.

Our world as it is today continues to reflect a male-dominated society, and growing up in India is an affirmation of that notion because of how deeply ingrained it is in the mindsets of people to not see women as equals. As far as I can remember, I saw a distinct discrimination against women at all stages and platforms of life on a daily basis, where they were not treated appropriately or listened to for the simple reason of them being female.

In order to stand out in a crowd, not only did they have to prove themselves as equals to men, they had to even strive towards breaking barriers to prove their ability to perform better at the same tasks that a man would usually be in charge of. If they were “pretty” enough, they might just get the opportunity a man could easily have, until it was time for them to get married and sacrifice their dreams for the sake of accommodating and bending to societal standards and beliefs.

Listening to the experiences of many women struggling to keep up with the maltreatment from their male counterparts, my heart was filled with immense pain as I kept and bore their suffering as mine. I felt directly connected with their fears. It left me with a lasting impression, which ultimately birthed the creation of my artworks.

Concepts of identity lie at the heart of your works. Tell us how your oeuvre expands on those concepts.

Millions of people around the world are dying because of war, poverty, diseases, and divisive violence on the grounds of religion, politics, power, corruption and greed. There’s exploitation of wealth, hypocrisy of states, cookery of politics over human existence and the threat of our world being in a natural state of destruction from mother earth. These are difficult times for our species, which is in direct response to our ignorance and arrogance pertaining to our selfish desires. But, who is truly responsible for it all?

An important question, to which I believe the answer lies in us – our true selves. It rests on discovering and identifying our true behaviours and qualities. From here, we can generate self-realisations through perceiving our selves as vessels of the divine; our actions will take on purer forms and originate less from selfish thoughts, ideologies or practices that hurt others in the process.

A celestial spirit shines inside the heart of each and every being, and the strength of humanity is in this spirit, which is beyond any human measures of place, identity and body. With this realisation, one can dream and create a world that can be a better place for every living being to subsist in. A world without fears and boundaries between nations – a single, united unit that accepts every individual as who they really are.

You’re also Co-Founder of India Printmaker House and were previously Assistant Professor at Amity University. How have these experiences benefited or informed your practice?

It’s very essential to think of growth not just as an individual artist but as a collective society – with this thought in mind, we started the platform India Printmaker House (IPMH) which supports artists by providing financial grants, fully-funded residencies and sale of works through open calls. We have partnered with various organisations like artists’ co-working spaces (Artbuzz Studio), printmaking equipment suppliers and a Delhi-based NGO. IPMH allowed me to see the sheer talent that exists in India, and it also led me to introspect my own works and reconsider details as basic as framing and choice of ink colours.

IPMH also organises workshops, exhibitions and presentations, which I am able to manage because of my past experience in teaching and my understanding of how crucial it is to educate the public about printmaking.

Teaching has also helped me to learn the practical aspects of art-making. As an artist, once in a while you hit a wall or make unwise decisions in your practice, and you learn to resolve them. But when a student makes a mistake you need to help them through it instantly – that’s where the real challenge lies. When you are teaching others, you need to keep guiding them to find solutions and in the process you end up learning as well.

Could you tell us more about the printmaking scene in India, and the direction it’s taking?

In the past two years, the printmaking scene in India has blossomed dramatically. Now there are many artist-led printmaking studios in the country, which didn’t exist three years ago. This helps in building and strengthening the printmaking community. The real challenge we are still facing is with driving the sale of prints. People aren’t as aware of or familiar with the printmaking process, and how laborious it is. We need to raise further awareness about this fine art technique.

You majored in printmaking at The Royal College of Art (RCA), London. What was that experience like, and having practiced in different countries, do you sense key differences in approaches to the medium and future of printmaking?

The RCA indeed has great facilities, no doubt about it. The technical staff was kind and always present to assist you. There were regular visits from artists, who critiqued our works and carried out presentations, which were very helpful. It provided for a safe place where I could make many artistic inquiries. I also lived alone in a small studio apartment, which provided me with plenty of time to read and reconnect with myself. I had a very productive time at the RCA and was able to produce loads of works without any distractions.

I am also very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to visit various printmaking studios in distinct countries through several residencies. It was quite interesting to see how the studios had many similarities, but also had their own uniqueness. The most eye-opening experience I had was at SNAP, Canada. It was a completely nontoxic setup, and it was very well-organised. They used soy sauce to degrease the plate, vegetable oil to clean the ink, rust paint spray instead of rosin, water-based inks, acrylic-based grounds, and so on!

I have personally incorporated more sustainable methods of printmaking in my practice and want to share such ideas with as many printmakers as I can. I definitely see the future of printmaking becoming more eco-friendly than it is today.