Suji Kanneganti, one of InLiquid’s 10 Wind Fellowship Recipients, followed her heart as it moved toward art and and away from the STEM field; resulting in works that are diverse in medium and subject matter.
Doria Wohler: What made you decide to pursue art? How did you get here?
Suji Kanneganti: I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was pretty young—around 4 years old—but it wasn’t encouraged very much…so it goes, growing up first-generation. My relationship with art was pretty distant until after I finished my bachelor’s. My vague intentions were to pursue the STEM field, maybe psychiatry, but I was becoming more conscious of a deep unhappiness rooted in a life path I didn’t want. I thought about my younger self and her dreams and what used to make me feel happy and fulfilled.
Super impulsively, I shifted gears. I didn’t have a plan about how long or deep I was going to pursue art, but I knew I had to try something. I still remember the day I had a panic attack after receiving a coveted stem job, and without thinking immediately enrolled in some art courses at a local college. One thing led to another: basic art courses, scholarships, art school, a museum fellowship, and finally graduate school, where I grew a sense of personal legitimacy in my practice. I’m grateful to the connections I made along the way that helped. It’s still a little surreal now to admit I’m an artist, remembering how unsure I was about it just a few years ago.
D.W.: What drives you towards the mediums you’ve chosen for your collections of work?
S.K.: Most of my practice is really just searching for materials or processes that resonate with an internal emotion, thought, or experience, or an odd combo of the three, that is complex or hard to express in other forms. I’ll touch a material or play around with it combined with other materials until something “clicks” between what I’m feeling and what I’m seeing in front of me, and kind of go from there, following a “thread” that the materials give me. It’s a pretty organic and intuitive process with a lot of give-and-take experimentation. Sometimes it’s like a dance. Sometimes it’s like rotating the puzzle piece until you find what fits. And it’s not always how the material looks—it could be how it feels, how it sounds, how it moves, etc. These varying aspects are why my practice oscillates between painting to video to sculpture/installation, since these different modes have different capacities to capture characteristics in the materials.
D.W.: While you mention that the subjectivity of human experience is integral to viewing your art, what is your takeaway? Your own subjective experience with it?
S.K.: My takeaway is simple and similar to the takeaways experienced by musicians, poets, or dancers—there’s a cathartic release, a self-expression, from pouring yourself into a physical creative outlet. If I’m turning internal experiences into an artwork, the end product gives me something physical to converse with or reflect upon outside of myself. This is a tool to help me to understand myself, and then also greater humanity. I find it very fascinating when multiple people describe their viewing experiences with my open abstract pieces and I notice strong common threads in the feedback…like, even just me stacking and smashing a stack of plaster tiles (tenement) has elicited a common theme of home and/or impending doom in a wide range of viewers, despite not knowing prior how the video would end. And while the subjectivity differs, a lot of people feel a distant sadness during that video in the still moments, right before the hammer drops. How? Why is that? I’m really interested in dissecting these nuances within how our subjective personal experiences share commonality.
D.W.: What is the viewer’s responsibility in viewing this work?
S.K.: To take their time, to go within, to open their channels and allow themselves to be touched or stirred. That sounds hokey, but my work doesn’t offer immediate narratives, symbols, or concepts to be a purely cerebral experience. If a viewer chooses to experience the work, there’s a call to dive into themselves and bring something forward…when everyone does that, I notice the patterns, overlap, between us all. That’s kind of a beautiful, humbling wonder. I think it would do humanity a lot of good to be having a little more conversation around how we are similar, so that we can respect our differences.
D.W.: What, then, is the artist’s responsibility, and what drives the choice to lean towards using certain mediums?
S.K.: There’s the artist’s moral responsibility to make work that is authentic to their “truth”, but other than that, I’m not sure if artists hold any further responsibility. Maybe that changes if I were working with sensitive concepts, but in the context of abstract art, I don’t think there’s much accountability to be had. My choice to lean towards certain mediums is mostly self-involved: it is what I am simply drawn to in the moment for successful expression.
For more works from some of the aforementioned installations, check out Suji’s website!