Street: How did you get interested in art?

Riya Chandiramani: I think it’s something that started [when I was] very young. Both of my parents love collecting art and so there was a lot of art in the house, everywhere. I think that influenced me subconsciously, though I didn’t realize it at the time. But art has always been at the top of my passions.

Street: What kind of topics do you base your art on?

RC: Communism vs. Capitalism was always a topic that interested me. I’m very “East meets West”—I have all of this Chinese influence living in Hong Kong, plus I have this Indian influence, plus a lot of Western influence from my parents being educated in America, plus going to an international school...there are a lot of mixed influences. I do a lot of work that tries to combine the two, Communism and Capitalism, or show their differences. A lot of things happen when western brands move east. For instance, China becomes the second largest market for Starbucks, McDonalds, all of these companies. And so this changes both China and the companies...holding a Starbucks cup has now become a status symbol—the price is three times more there than it is here for the same drink.

Street: What other things do you use when creating your pieces? 

RC: I like to play around with propaganda images and put them in with current ad campaigns. I do a lot of ironic stuff and try to make fun of it. This is the style that I do a lot with, and it takes a lot of research. The classes I take here help a lot. Last semester I was in “China Today” which is a communications class [COMM203], and this semester, I’m in another Chinese class. I can’t keep creating pieces like this without keeping up with my research. In the beginning of the summer I was reading about 20 articles about China a day and it got to be a lot. But I’m not going to create pieces without being fully aware. I don’t want to create ignorant pieces that would offend people or seem like I don’t know what I’m trying to explain.

Street: What else have you studied here that has affected your art? 

RC: A lot of the courses I’ve taken have to do with the move from offline to online, digital platforms and convergence, or about how social media becomes us and our online identity almost becomes more important, or how [the manner in which] we portray ourselves online becomes who we are, and how this affects the way we communicate with people.

Street: So what about your line drawings? 

RC: I don’t really have a name for it, a lot of people think it’s something called “ Zentangle.” It’s a new word to me because I really didn’t know about it until someone pointed it out to me.What I was inspired by was Indian Mehndi that I saw at my cousin’s wedding. A big custom in mehndi is to hide the bride and groom’s names in the pattern. I like that whole concept of looking for things. I feel like with my Pop Art, that’s something where I can create a bunch of them and sell them or exhibit them, but with these line drawings, I create them for a purpose, either for a person or in the case of Symbiosis, a magazine. For the piece that I did for Symbiosis, I collaborated with a writer who actually lived in the same hall as me a year earlier. The piece was all about fusion, and so that’s why I have the quad in the middle. I tried to hide things from both of our identities on both sides of the piece. You could also see the hands in the piece, which is just about both of us reaching into Penn, and how we got there not just physically like by plane, but also with art in my case and with writing for my collaborator. I’ve hidden things like names, birthdays and other things in the piece. When you look at the piece, you don’t see all of those things immediately.

Street: What are your plans for the future? 

RC: I’m pretty open; we’ll see where life takes me. A lot of the work I’ve done has an eastern or western influence and I would love to do some paintings that have more of an Indian influence. There’s a lot of social commentary about India that I’d like to do, especially around girls. 


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