Following the opening of the group show organized in collaboration with Super Super Markt and Friends of Friends, artists Laila Tara H and Anousha Payne welcomed us into Laila’s flat and studio in London. There, they cooked a delicious meal of black chickpea channa, tamarind aubergine, blood orange and lots of pickles.
Anousha and Laila’s friendship is rooted in their love for gathering and sharing. Their connection was first sparked in 2020 at an exhibition of Nourishment Projects. An itinerant supper club platform initiated by Anousha and her friend Sasha Szecka to raise funds for the Prasanth Children’s Home in Tamil Nadu, India—a home that Anousha’s grandmother was involved in creating. Shortly thereafter, both ended up working in the same studio building in London. “Our lunch breaks turned to picnics on our studio floors, and our coffees very promptly turned to wines,” they reminisce, “we came to realize that our practices have a quiet synchronicity while we both maneuver our respective lineages in our making processes.”
Laila is a “London-born, elsewhere-raised, garden-oriented artist” who draws inspiration from the tradition of Indo-Persian miniature painting. Her works feature careful compositions of suns, bodies, and plants, where the negative space becomes a poetic punctuation mark. Through her choice of symbols and paper manipulation techniques such as folds, cuts, and punctures, Laila examines the intersection between the inner life and the cultural and socio-political context from the female perspective. On the other hand, Anousha’s approach to inner life is steeped in Indian folklore and contemporary literature. She reimagines and modernizes myths to create objects and paintings that are fluid both in form and meaning. Through her visual language, Anousha looks at the boundaries between dream and reality, past and future.
The group exhibition in Berlin features works from Anousha, Laila, and Italian artist Isabella Ducrot. Through the different works, it explores notions of storytelling, heritage, and the subconscious.
Could you tell us a bit about your artistic practice?
Laila — I work outwards from the Persian and Indian Miniature painting, I have been trained in the traditional methods and materials, and translate them into my visual format. My paper is handmade by a family based in Rajasthan who has produced especially for miniature painting for generations, and my pigments are all naturally derived from stone, plants, and earth.
I’m interested in domestic dynamics, most often from the female perspective and in the context of the wider socio-political atmosphere. What impact does unrelenting access to outside news have on internal life? How do we negotiate our political affinities within our relationships? Where do we draw the line in our social transactions between acts of defiance as a people and internalized defiance as a person? What are the implications of control?
Anousha — My work explores the boundaries between personal experience, fiction, and myth. Informed by Indian folkloric stories and personal fiction, it plays on ideas of the performative powers of objects and chance; the combination of moral dilemmas and magic alongside characters with transformative qualities.
Within a body of work— for a duo show with Laila called Tangled toes, twisted ears at the Public Gallery in London— I began to reference the Irish side of my heritage by looking at iron-age Celtic sculptures Another autobiographical element to my work is the remaking of clip-on Bharatanatyam plaits. The plaits are made by pressing clay through my grandmother’s Murruku plaits. They are a way of processing inherited familial rituals through making. These autobiographical works are a way of archiving memories whilst processing identity as a hyphenated woman in London.
“Sharing food and eating together was a huge part of my childhood and continues to be a priority in my daily rituals. It’s incredible how strongly just a mouthful of familiar food can trigger a memory.”
Anousha, you often work with clay. A material that is malleable, changing, and fragile. How does the material dictate the way you work?
Anousha — It’s important for me to build up a kind of alphabet of textures for the characters I work with to become immediately recognizable in their varying forms. The textures come to fruition through experimentation with varying tools, materials, and surfaces. It also interplays with the use of glaze, in particular, I mainly use two-toned or floating glazes to accentuate them. Clay lends itself perfectly to this process.
I have noticed, Laila, that in your paintings and drawings, you seem to use negative space as a material in itself.
Laila — The symbols I use are the equivalent of words, and the paintings are sentences. Words differ in function based on their placement in relation to one another—making the empty space the punctuation.
My painting style is a product of immense control. It requires unrelenting neatness and total command of the brush. The miniature tradition is tight, steady, and time-consuming. What if the punctuation is emptiness, the control of placement and population? The negative space is the implication of movement, the letter spacing, the full stop. Place a face on the bottom right-hand corner facing in and suddenly it marches inwards—it’s invading the space. Place the same head on the bottom right-hand corner facing the edge of the page, and it’s a full stop, it’s reached the wall.
Group Exhibition at the Friends of Friends Apartments in collaboration with Super Super Markt
The show at the FF Berlin Apartments touches on storytelling and the subconscious. How often do writing and reading inspire or inform your pieces?
Anousha — The stories I feel the most connected to depict women as characters with transformative or magical powers. Their powers or generosity are often taken advantage of, so I reframe them in an empowered light—returning their autonomy to them. I came across a book called ‘Women Without Men’ by Shahrnush Parsipur when looking into stories about women turning into trees. Something Parsipur’s writing shares with folktales is the natural description of the unnatural alongside the day-to-day or mundane.
What interests me about folktales is the possibility that the narrative may have changed over time, but there isn’t a written record of such changes. We have to imagine how the stories have adapted over centuries and passed down through different communities. This also resonates with how I interpret folktales—I adopt and respond to parts of the narrative that I relate to now, reinterpreting them through a lens that suits the place we live in now. Inherited knowledge manifests in everything we do: mannerisms, tendencies towards certain imagery, tastes, objects, friendships, and our interactions.
Laila — I’d prefer to think that the painting itself is the writing, while the viewer is the reader. This allows all that informs my practice to persist beyond the pieces (objects and paintings) and continue into the viewer, and the sentiment can tumble forward…so on, and so forth.
“I’m interested in domestic dynamics, most often from the female perspective and in the context of the wider socio-political atmosphere.”
Could you tell us about the pieces you are showing in the current show in Berlin?
Anousha — There will be two rattan and walnut wood heads with ceramic flowers for the show. The character is based on both the folktale ‘A Flowering Tree’ and the character Mahdokt from Parispur’s 1990 story collection ‘Women without Men’. ‘A Flowering Tree’ is about a woman who repeatedly transforms into a tree. Always performing for others rather than herself. Her generosity is taken advantage of, and she becomes stuck—half human/half ‘thing’. The works are about returning her autonomy to her.
I will also show two paintings that are based on a character from a short story I wrote—called The Gravity of Fur. The protagonist, trapped in loneliness and the meaninglessness of life, builds her narrative by creating a love affair with an imagined creature. The paintings question whether it’s an existentialist attitude or a dissociative one. A love affair with a creature that cannot and does not exist.
Laila — I will show three pieces that are part of a larger body of work reflecting on womanhood and consequent dynamics of control (political and domestic). The two faces used in the paintings are recurring characters at the moment. The large male face is fashioned after a totalitarian, a policer. His brow is heavy, and his ears large. The small women are women in totality. The faces are all in profile to avoid any sense of individuality—they are signifiers, unrecognizable outside of their purpose. All the characters are in a state of movement, walking/marching. The frames are made of wood to acknowledge that all these observations are happening from within the home. They are adjacent to domestic objects like cupboards and tables. All three pieces are titled after bugs, Lice, Termites, and Bedbugs. They’re pestilent and unrelenting—they’re thoughts.
Anousha, you created Nourishment Projects in 2019. What sparked the idea of this supper club?
Anousha — Nourishment Projects is an itinerant exhibition and supper club platform initiated by me and my friend Sasha Szecka, to raise money for Prasanth Silluvar Illum (Prasanth Children’s Home) in Tamil Nadu. The ethos of the home is to support the children, not just until they are 18, but until they have secured a degree or a career that enables them to thrive and allows them to build a life for themselves.
In 2019, I became aware that it was my responsibility to raise funds for the home, and I realized I would never continue to fundraise unless it was focused on something I love. This involved bringing together some of my favorite artists, eating with friends, cooking, and speaking to other people who like to cook food. Nourishment is still very much at the beginning; so far we have had two shows and one fundraising event.
You are both hosting a fundraising dinner along the exhibition, what are you planning?
Anousha — For the dinner with Laila we will both be using recipes inspired by our families; turning familiar flavors into something new together.
Gathering people through food can be a very powerful ritual. Is this something you are interested in your daily life?
Anousha — Something I think about often is food’s ability to evoke memories and become a vessel for shared experiences; sharing food and eating together was a huge part of my childhood and continues to be a priority in my daily rituals. It’s incredible how strongly just a mouthful of familiar food can trigger a memory. This is also something I try to explore through Nourishment Projects.
Laila — I will cook and nourish ’til my very end.
London-based artists Anousha Payne and Laila Tara H, are part of the group show hosted in the Friends of Friends Apartments and organized in collaboration with Super Super Markt and Diptyque. The show speaks to contemporary issues such as spirituality, heritage, and storytelling. It features works by Anousha, Laila, and Italian textile artist, Isabella Ducrot.
You can visit the exhibition upon request on our Instagram account or by emailing us at [email protected], and make sure to read our past story on how Super Super Markt is changing the art ecosystem.
Interview: Maria Paris Borda
Photography: Wendy Huynh
Images: Courtesy of Super Super Markt