CMA Stories

“Art, like food, is an experience that bonds us on a very human level” — 5 Minutes With Teaching Artist Deepti Sunder

In advance of the Indian Cultural Festival on Sunday, March 8, CMA caught up with Fine Arts Teaching Artist Deepti Sunder to learn about her art practice, growing up in Saudi Arabia and India, and how the concept of home influences her work. Learn more about the festival’s programming here and purchase tickets in advance to skip the line!

During the festival, CMA visitors will be creating clay creatures inspired by your work at the Clay Bar! Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

Of course! I’m primarily an illustrator and work across a range of media in my art practice. This ranges from traditional and digital drawing and painting to making three-dimensional clay and papier-mache sculptures. I have a knack for storytelling and world-building, so that quite naturally is a great fit for children’s illustration, which I would say has been the large part of my work as a freelance illustrator. I also love drawing characters, animals, food, hand lettering and everyday objects, and have a fascination for random facts and knowledge. Those interests come together to form another stream of my work, which is to research interesting stories or facts and illustrate them using a combination of hand lettered type and drawings. You can find my work at, by the way!

In terms of working with children, I’m very inspired by their ideas, and the freedom with which they make art. There are of course exceptions with some kids, but the general child is so much better at being an artist than so many of us ‘grown-ups’.

You grew up in Mumbai, India, and wrote a lot of the programming for our Indian Cultural Festival. What excites you about a day of programming at CMA inspired by Indian artists?

I actually grew up partly in Saudi Arabia (we moved when I was in kindergarten and then moved back to Mumbai when I was in the 9th grade), but I always thought of India as another home because we would visit very frequently during those years.

I’m really excited and looking forward to seeing the workshops executed for the Indian Cultural Festival. Most of all, it’s just wonderful to bring a little bit of home to CMA. When I was coming up with ideas for programming, I think the connecting thread was that I was trying to bring over some of India’s visual culture. It’s entirely too pluralistic and there’s no chance I could represent everything that makes up India in just a few workshops, but I hope that some of it comes through.

CMA is known for its community programs that bring art-making to children and families in New York City. How does art have the power to connect and support communities bonds? Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

One of my enduring beliefs as a teacher and artist is that everyone should get to experience making art, regardless of who you are or where you come from. That might innately come from wanting to share an experience that brings me so much joy, but it’s more than that too. I think art, like food, is an experience that bonds us on a very human level. It’s meditative, allows us to express ourselves, and is universal — all things that we need as human beings, and all the more reason why it should be accessible to everyone.

What is your favorite piece in our current exhibition Home Sweet Home: Is a Home a Sanctuary?

I love many of the pieces in the exhibition, but I’d have to say that the Ann Toebbe pieces are my absolute favorites. I love that there’s just so much going on in each artwork, and that you can keep discovering new facets of the spaces the artist has created. I can get very detail-oriented in my own artwork, so it’s always exciting seeing other artwork that is equally or more so detailed. Thinking about how much work must have gone into making those pieces always blows my mind. I also love how the artist sort of lays flat the whole house, in an attempt to showcase more of the house and its intricacies, and by doing that, creates her own style of depicting spaces.

In your own words, what does “home” mean to you?

I’ve lived in many different places throughout my life, so that has made me see home as more of a floating concept. Home to me is many different places and people, a lot of varied memories, different types of food, architecture, streets, and objects, and a myriad collection of experiences. I have houses I’ve lived in that I associate with the concept just as much as houses of close family and friends that I’ve visited often. Eventually, I suppose it’s a sense of belonging that I associate the concept of “home” to the most.

Can you share a work or artist that inspires you to make art?

There are so many! Recently though, I’m massively inspired by the artists Emma Carlisle, Emily Powell, Lisa Congdon, and Lauren Hom. I love the fluidity of their art process and the generosity with which they share their art and knowledge.

View more of Deepti’s art at

This program is supported, in part, by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. This program is in partnership with Happy Family, an organization that celebrates the Asian diaspora through food, art, and education to present interactive workshops.

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