Settle Anywhere - A conversation with Poornima Sukumar
'Settle Anywhere' is a series dedicated to chronicling the lives of people whose idea of "home" has evolved with their various significant movements. We talk to some of these people to understand more about these movements and their influences on their work and life, and about how they manage to settle just about anywhere.
Poornima Sukumar is based in Bangalore but belongs everywhere. She is a muralist, community artist, illustrator and the founder/director of the brilliant Aravani Art Project who travels extensively for her projects. After studying painting at Chitrakala Parishat, she stumbled upon wall murals as her calling.
While she had various brief encounters that combined art and travelling, her tryst with travel fortified in November 2014 when she travelled from Hyderabad to Srinagar for almost a month in a truck that was carrying winter clothes for those affected by the floods in Kashmir. "The truck was my house and both the driver chachas were like my parents during the journey," she says. The project ‘Winter on Wheels’ saw Poornima stopping over in 14 different cities including Bhopal, Jaipur, Nagpur, Agra, and Delhi. "I was carrying all my art supplies with me, so wherever we stopped, I either spray painted a wall or a canvas."
Since then, her art supplies have travelled across various cities in India and the world where her projects often span from a couple of weeks to 2-3 months. Some of her recent projects include painting a wall on the streets of Mumbai’s Red Light district with the daughters of sex-workers, as well as mural work in Nepal where she painted a wall with the children orphaned by the 2015 earthquake.
The Ups and Downs
As someone who lives out of her suitcase for the better part of the year, Poornima looks forward to the memorable experiences these travels bring. “The best part is definitely just sharing your life and heart with so many people whom you might never meet again. That really warms my heart. There is also this sense of satisfaction because I can leave something back in the form of my art. The experiences almost feel like a dream, so the memories are what I cherish the most.”
While hitting the road offers her incredible experiences, the biggest challenge is homesickness. “I think homesickness is something we often don't talk about but it really gets to you after a certain point.” She is quick to add that she consciously tries not to focus on this negative aspect so much, otherwise she would not be able to continue doing what she does.
Talking about what helps her feel more ‘settled’ when away from home for months at end, she says, “I have come to realise that I am quite good at creating a home for me wherever I go, and that helps make the transition easier.”
Books and music help Poornima immensely in coping up with homesickness. “I also have some small things that I carry with me wherever I go, like fairy lights. Using fresh flowers and leaves also help me create a home away from home. My strength is that wherever I go, I know how to set up a place and start from scratch. Moreover, I also enjoy being extremely local while doing my work. So it's nice...I mean it's a different life.”
Over the years, it has become easier for Poornima to travel and leave artworks behind for people. Initially, she admits, she would jaunt to places and think, “If I find a wall, I will paint it.” The agenda gradually and consciously changed to travelling to specific places just for art. “Travel was always a part of my life, but when I started intertwining it with art, it became so much more meaningful.” says Poornima.
“Every single experience teaches me something or helps me learn and unlearn about myself, my work, and my perspective. We all reach a tipping point - we might be stuck creatively, oozing with self-doubt and sadistic thoughts or in need of solitude. Personally, every travel experience has affected me or taught me something. I’ve learnt to pay attention to myself while travelling. After all, it's the best way to understand and spend time with yourself,” she says.
You can read more about Poornima’s life and work here.
Text by Ayushi Shah