Deepti Sunder is an illustrator and teaching artist at CMA. Recently, Sunder lead a Fine Arts Outpost, a free art making opportunity open to the public that encourages community through art making. Families and children enjoyed a respite from the city on historic Governors Island with a collaborative paper-mâché sculpture. The outposts culminated in a colorful display of plants and animals inspired by the artist’s illustrations.
Tell me about your artistic practice and how working with children inspires you?
I would describe myself primarily as an illustrator & maker. In my artistic practice, I create traditional and digital illustration, some animation, and also make sculptures which I then photograph to create 3D illustrations. I love dreaming up imaginary worlds and bringing them to life, and am fascinated by text and handwritten type, food, animals and beautiful objects. I like telling stories through my art, but I also just find joy in the process of creating.
I’ve always found working with children interesting because they are so much freer with their creativity. They have less inhibitions, and make art purely for the joy of making it, and that’s really what we’re all trying to get at in the creative process, isn’t it? That uninhibited sense of wonder and curiosity?
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
I could either be found creating stuff or with my head in a book when I was a child – it was one or the other. Some memories that come to mind include making a whole set of fabric dolls of Harry Potter characters with two of my close friends, making birthday and anniversary cards for basically everyone I knew, and making little sculpted tea sets from these colorful kids’ soap bars that I was for some reason fascinated with.
What parts of your own practice were you most excited to share with visitors on Governor’s Island?
I find it very valuable to be able to enable others, both children and adults, to experience the joy of making something with their own hands.
I almost found it more rewarding to get adults to take part in the project rather than children. Children, as you would expect, were more than happy to get their hands dirty and papier-mache with me, but most adults were initially hesitant, even though I would constantly hear the refrain,”Oh, the last time I did papier-mache was back in school/when I was 11!” said in a more-often-than-not nostalgic tone of voice. I would always encourage them to take part and say that the activity was open to everyone, not just children, but most would refuse. Eventually though, they would start doing papier-mache along with their kids, and almost always get more involved than their kids did. And that was my tiny moment of gratification each time – that I’d helped another adult rediscover how it felt to make something with their hands.
What was it like working on Governor’s Island? Did being outside affect the nature of your residency?
Yes I think it absolutely did! Just being outside and taking in the trees and green grass was a very refreshing feeling. I’d usually grab food on my breaks and spend some time by myself sitting on the grass. It was the simplest thing, but so rejuvenating!
Do you have a favorite moment of the residency?
The day we made the papier-mache hummingbird, I think, might easily be my favorite! The two kids you see with me in the picture where I’m holding the hummingbird as they taped the beak, were wonderfully enthusiastic and so much fun to work with. They built the hummingbird armature all by themselves with very minimal instruction from me, and then were so determined to finish papier-macheing it that they stayed all afternoon and wouldn’t leave till they’d covered every square inch of the bird!
Did you learn anything new about working with young artists or the public through this residency?
I found it extremely fulfilling to be able to realize my vision for this project, which was to create a fantastical papier-mache garden with the help of the young artists and the public who joined me at Governor’s Island. Instead of just being the teacher, I had to play the roles of both teacher and art director. Within these limits, however, I wanted to provide some creative freedom to all my collaborators, because it wasn’t just my project, it was theirs too. If they were going to come along for the ride and create the garden with me, they deserved to have some say in how it turned out.
This became a constant question for me throughout the residency – where and how would I set limits so as to achieve the end goal while still enabling children to feel that they had brought these pieces to life. If anything, this residency was an exercise in humility and surrendering of creative control. I’ve always been excited by collaboration in art, but known it’s challenging in practice. Going forward, I hope to have more opportunities to explore this space of artistic collaboration.