Strange, surreal, sublime or downright scary — Chennai-based architect Swetha Kanithi illustrates dreams for strangers and makes art of them. She tells Kareena Gianani why her project, Dream Ink, is a way of connecting with people through their most intimate experiences
I am sitting in my bathroom on the toilet seat with my head bent down. Suddenly, I see a black liquid flowing down from my hair, going down the drain. It is the colour of my hair… as the black drains, my hair turns whiter and whiter."
On any other day, if somebody told Swetha Kanithi this strange story about themselves, she might hold out her hand and say the right things to the narrator. But Kanithi read this on her computer, and soon picked up her paintbrushes and drew the image (see pic), the stranger's recurring dream. Because that's exactly what the girl wanted her to do.
Kanithi, a 22-year-old Chennai-based architect, illustrates dreams strangers write to her about, as part of her project, Dream Ink, which she started in September 2014. It all began when her friend began telling her about this recurring dream she had, and without further thought, Kanithi put it down on paper.
Over time, she found the process intimate and transformative. "Some dreams people send me are rich and descriptive, but some are just one-liners and vague – they start and end nowhere – and that's where my biggest challenge lies."
Muthulakshmi Pillai's recurring dream, as illustrated by Swetha Kanithi
Now, it is not just about the art, the thrill of seeing your dream on paper, or the 'Likes' you get on it – people are connecting to it on a deeper level. That's what keeps me going; it is like knowing someone's deepest secret," says Kanithi over the telephone from Chennai.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. A recurring dream you have:
A. I enjoy a mostly dreamless sleep. But I did have this recurring dream where I'm falling off a roof, diving endlessly into a black hole. It's a little like one of Eminem's music videos, 'The Way I Am'.
Zinia Bhattacharya's dream is about finding her grandfather at a party full of strangers. She is terrified of a mouse he gifts her, which looks liked a polar bear — until it clings to a rope-like swing
Q. The strangest dream you have illustrated/plan to illustrate soon:
A. The most haunting I've drawn is by Muthulakshmi Pillai (see pic). It was melancholy, with the mysterious girl playing the violin in an old blue-grey house. It took me quite a while to get over that one.
Q. You read Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams – what have you gleaned from it?
A. Reading the book only got me more interested in the unconscious mind, the science behind dreams and myths around them. I believe studying your dreams could lead to a deeper understanding of your inner thoughts, fears and desires. It catapults my mind into that of the dreamer and helps me create a world that I mould into a final illustration.
In this dream, Muthulakshmi Pillai sees herself walking down a quiet old house through blue-greyish corridors whose walls are peeling off, sad music on loop. She reaches a room and sees a girl who haunted her dreams since years: short, black hair, clad in a white dress, and without a face
Q. What do dreams, in general, mean for you?
A. Dreams intrigued me, but didn't mean much until a couple of years ago. Now, I see dreams as a way to understanding people in general. And, for the lack of a less clichéd phrase, I believe DreamInk has helped me 'find myself' in a lot of ways. I intend to delve deeper into the science of dreaming and maybe even do research in the future.
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