From the Classroom

Sarvani Kolachana: unveiling the artist behind the art

USC Roski student opens up about the meaning behind their work leading up to her first art exhibition on Thursday.

Sarvani Kolachana sits in front of her artwork that will be showcased at the art exhibition on March 23rd, 2023, IFT Roski Studios, Los Angeles, California, Sunday, February 26, 2023

From the delicate and purposeful stroke of a wooden paintbrush to the threads of yarn that bind her clothes, student artist, Sarvani Kolachana, expresses her creative mind through different mediums which draw influence from their life.

“I’ve been feeling very blue lately,” said Kolachana, who uses she/they pronouns, as she stood in an ensemble boasting shades of blue. The colors and textures of her exterior hinted at a creative interior. The crocheted items were even made by her own artistic hands.

Kolachana is set to have their first group exhibition this month at the IFT Roski Studios Building, titled “Meet Me Where the Sun Sets East.” The opening ceremony will take place Thursday evening and will be open to the public for the following two weeks.

Their passion for the arts dates back to her early childhood, according to Kolachana’s mother, Sujatha Kolachana.

She recalls asking Sarvani’s preschool teacher their best subject in school to which the teacher replied Sarvani was a great artist. The teacher shared that Sarvani could draw perfect circles and shapes, which her mother passed as something humorous and endearing.

“I was laughing at that then, but now if I look back, I was like oh she’s right,” Mrs. Kolachana said.

Kolachana’s parents are supportive of her artistic career which allowed her to explore their creativity freely. Her parents view education as an opportunity to study a passion rather than for its financial benefits.

However, Kolachana attended a STEM-oriented high school where she felt many people didn’t appreciate art and had closed-minded views on it, which drove them to go against the norm of her environment and pursue art as a career.

Today she spends most of their time working in a studio surrounded by easels and painting supplies. Her paintings hang on the white studio walls, and one of them displays a woman standing in a kitchen, staring at a child with fabric across her face.

The painting reimagines the scene of Kolachana’s mother and grandmother in Mrs. Kolachana’s childhood, where the grandma would often await her return from the bus stop. At the time, the grandmother was frail and could only watch from her kitchen window.

In this interpretation, the grandmother’s role is replaced by the present version of Kolachana’s mother who is watching the younger version of herself come home.

“I feel like it’s kind of a gaze of love. Right now I’m trying to synthesize through these layers of memory and family,” Kolachana explained.

The finished paintings will display images of influential feminine figures in Kolachana’s life whose work is often overlooked by society. Kolachana also explores their Indian heritage and elements of Hinduism through their art.

Kolachana says that, conceptually, she wants to explore her mother’s side of the family in her work. However, rather than convey them in their darker moments, she desires to shift the narrative to “...move them from the shadows into the light in some way.”

The artist shares their experience as an Indian American through art, combining the memories and stories of growing up in an Indian household. For example, their painting includes a kitchen table, designs on the walls and blue curtains, providing images of her environment growing up.

The artist’s blue crocheted gloves represent much more than they appear. Each thread represents tradition and the generations of women in the Kolachana family who taught each other how to  crochet.

Kolachana physically includes kalamkari fabric in their art, which acts as a metaphor for the textile performing as a vivid part of the Indian cultural fabric. Kalamkari fabric adorns the bottom of the mother’s dress meanwhile pieces of the textile spread across the child’s face in the painting.

Stepping into art spaces as a person of color, Kolachana didn’t see themself in the art displayed in many art exhibitions. The lack of representation acted as a driving factor to paint images of her own culture and experience.

“[I’m] trying to get my foot through that door and widening the crack a bit…[By] having that imagery that I saw growing up kind of flow into my images and inundate the worlds that I’m creating, that was a big thing for me,” Kolachana said.

Kolachana’s mother shares similar sentiments that art spaces don’t typically highlight Indian culture, therefore hopes Sarvani will be the change to inspire others.

“I want people to know different cultures have different ways of expressing their art and that art can be expressed in many ways,” said Kolachana’s mother.

Brett Park double majors in art and communications at USC and will be sharing the art exhibition space with Kolachana. There are themes of culture and identity playing a pivotal role in his art, where he will explore sexual and gender identity as it interacts with and contradicts his Korean-American background.

“I find that the masculine ideals that were imposed on me when I was younger — were very constraining,” Park explained. “This particular exhibition is about how I handled that growing up and what that meant for me also expressing my culture at the same time.”

His paintings display nudity and striking art such as a tiger with a penis. Park hopes people understand the deeper meaning of conformity and being forced to follow oppressive ideals behind his art, rather than be distracted by the shocking images and dismiss its significance.

Jayna Dias, a Roski art student and peer mentor of Kolachana, showcased their exhibition in February titled, “The Black Experience,” where she created a safe space for people to experience Black art created by Black artists.

“The fact that I did get an opportunity to showcase my artwork, it felt like really vital to make it something that is important to me, that’s something that I stand for and something that I don’t see in the community very often,” Dias said.

The limited opportunities for exposure push students such as Kolachana, Park and Dias to highlight their identities and backgrounds through their art at the Roski exhibitions. As the showcase quickly approaches, Kolachana will finally share her culturally rich and feminist art with the rest of the world, one brush stroke at a time.

“I just think she is so talented. She’s so creative when it comes to just her brushwork, her choices in palettes, her subject matter. There’s always something so stably Sarvani about what she does,” Dias said.