Artist Rithika Merchant discusses her win at the Sovereign Asia Art Prize for her work titled Saudade, part of her solo exhibition Birth of a New World earlier this year with TARQ
Saudade, 2020. Pic Courtesy/TARQ
It’s easy to view Birth of a New World through the lens of Covid-19, though Merchant began work on this series in October 2019. Themes like nostalgia and hope for the future crossover from the show’s topic of climate change to the ongoing pandemic.
Merchant references mythology from across cultures and depicts them in pictorial form, which can be deciphered by anyone. For the artist, who shuttles between Mumbai and Barcelona, blurring a feeling of belongingness to one place and culture, this is important. Edited excerpts from an interview.
What does it mean to win the Hong Kong Women’s Art Prize part of the Sovereign Asia Art Prize?
I’m really happy about it. Asia Pacific is a popular region; so much art comes from here. With art being predominantly focussed on the West, it’s great being a winner of an art prize from this region. It’s a first for me where my art is opened to a new audience in Hong Kong. And I think anytime your work is recognised, it opens new doors for more people to learn about it.
How did Saudade take shape?
The inspiration for the piece was the Portuguese word ‘saudade’ which means bittersweet. This work evokes that bittersweet feeling when we think about the past and future. I tried to portray this generation standing at a crossroads of two very different futures. One is coming back from the future with a warning of the doom if we don’t change our ways. And the other one is looking at a more hopeful future. I wanted to keep ‘hope’ in the piece because I think it’s important to be hopeful.
What message do you want your art to share?
The message would be to be aware of what’s going on around you. I’m not an activist. These are the things that I’m dealing with and thinking about. And I hope that by viewing this series of work, people will be aware about such issues too.
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