Siri Devi Khandavilli is a US based artist whose practice incorporates diverse media, including painting, performance, sculptures and installations. Though rooted in traditional Indian techniques, her art transcends cultural specificity to hint at larger commentaries about the materialistic nature of the present. She is best known for her cheeky Chola-like bronze sculptures that evoke traditional idols of Hindu female deities, with a poodle’s head in place of a goddess’s. Other notable works include Eat (2010), a looped video critiquing mindless consumption, and Lucky Lakshmi Dollar Bill (2009), a conceptual work created from US currency that emphasises the multiple connotations of money across cultures and quite recently Selfie Queens (2017).
Khandavilli studied Mysore traditional painting under the tutelage of her aunt Susheela Devi at home and continued her painting education at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore. She has a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Masters’ degree in Intermedia from Arizona State University. In 2016, she earned a second MFA in Sculpture at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, and has trained under the temple sculptor, Pandiyan, from Kumbakonam.
She is represented by Art Centrix Space in India and by Lisa Sette Gallery in the US. Her works have been part of Art Centrix Space at India Art Fair, 2020 and also has been a part of “Beyond The Recurring Motif “ group show at Gallery Art Centrix Space, New Delhi 2019. Her works have been included in numerous group shows and have been collected around the world, including the Durham University, UK (2018), Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, USA (2016), ASU Art Museum, USA (2015), Queens Museum, USA (2014), ESSL Museum, Austria, and Indigo Blue Art Gallery, Singapore (both in 2010) as well as art fairs, such as Art Basel, Miami (2013, 2014, 2015).
Siri Devi Khandavilli employs traditional Indian modelling and metal-casting methods to create a series of contemporary idols worshipping at the altars of self, social media, and consumerism. Voguing coquettishly for their camera-phones, Khandavilli’s ornate goddess figures cast in bronze look just like traditional Hindu temple idols. On closer inspection, one finds these burnished deities fully outfitted with trappings of the pop culture consumer: designer heels, tight jeans, and an intense, intimate connection between face and phone. These queens are glamorous, irreverent, and unblinking, attached to a history of stories and spirituality and a present moment of self-regard and consumption-as-beauty.
Khandavilli is fascinated rather than judgemental; in fact, she sees in the rise of the selfie a poignant search for meaning. Selfie photos, remarks Khandavilli, are “in a way, strangely beautiful – people seen as they see themselves or as they want to be seen. This self-consciousness, this vulnerability, talks about the human need for love and approval…a desire to live a life worthy of documentation.”
The charming, unsettling vision of stylized religious iconography taking form in a modern-day social-media setting reveals an essential aspect of Khandavilli’s conceptual concern: the myriad expressions of human desire. In one way or another, we are all functionaries of this worldly system of yearning and reward, posing and clicking as though our existences depended on it. Says Khandavilli, “Selfies are a kind of mirror-gazing without a mirror. Maybe we all are trying to recognize ourselves.”
Her work Rorschach Inkblots series is a culmination of the artist's fascination with the materiality of mirrors, ambiguity of perception and the elusive moment of a momentary realisation.The mirrors are in Rorschach-like inkblot patterns. They are placed upon what has become a recurring motif in her practice - Padmapeeta, the lotus pedestal that is a common base for idols of worship in Indian iconography. This sculptural element is used as an iconographical tool to place or frame deified objects that are symbols of the absolute. On these padmapeetas are the inkblot patterns with kirti mukhas engraved on them, a motif commonly seen in the Indian Iconography of temple architecture. The Rorschach test is still used as a psychological test for hiring in sensitive posts to determine the mind's capacity to deal with situations. The works symbolize the elevation of mind as the seat of knowledge and thus its representation in the lotus asana or padmapeetha, the seat of gods.