The power of imagination in Sameer Tawde’s research

Class 1987, Sameer Tawde is an Indian Mumbai-based contemporary artist standing out for his multi-disciplinary research combining Photography, Video, Sculpture, and Installation.

His lens captures a reality that is brilliantly contextualised into oneiric scenarios.

What is behind his camera follows creative paths with roots that go back to a primordial concept of imagination.

To dive into Sameer’s universe, I asked him to go through his work and tell us more about his bound with imagination, how far his research embraces fiction and how it relates to reality.

DG: Looking to Dialogues of an Introvert and Holy Boulevard, your latest series, we approach dreamlike scenarios that somehow preserve real elements inside. What is the connection between imaginary and real in your work? ST: My perception of the real and the imaginary is pretty philosophical.

I draw these two contrasting entities following the concept of dualism, where two dissimilar and opposing forces which co-exist can be interrelated and even set up together to reflect new ways of communicating. The relationship between the real and the imaginary in my works is about interpreting the visible and invisible aspects of our lives, existence, and nature. DG: What marks your work is a construction process behind. The creation of your scenarios follows a narrative structure that you originally imagine in your mind. We can say that imagination is the backbone of your latest research. When did you start to 'imagine' your works? ST: Yes, I do imagine every picture before making it. The process involves building sculptures, miniature sets, and then setting them up on planned locations. The procedure consumes quite a bit of time, research, and effort for every photograph that I create. I started imagining my works while in the process of being a documentary photographer. I used to see a particular situation and imagine how I could give a new meaning to it by including elements, objects, or entities in the scenario. So, I tried out one idea and I was incredibly happy with the result. That is the precise moment when I thought I should give importance and priority to the images which develop in my mind.

Interestingly, even though imagination comes to us from an unknown source of our subconscious mind, for my works I think it comes from my past experiences, struggles and observations. So, personally, the real and the imaginary relate to an intimate dimension. When I dig into myself, I feel that it is probably influenced by years of education in design. Thus, the design process is a key step in the creation of my photographs.

Fig. 1. Sameer Tawde, Holy Boulevard #02, 2017-2018.

Fig. 2. Sameer Tawde, Holy Boulevard #10, 2017-2018.

DG: You are basically the architect of your works. The shot is the ultimate part of a long and complex creative process. How does it develop in your mind, evolving from a pure idea to a concrete constructed set?

ST: I did graduate in Architecture. Then, I moved to NID (National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India.) to pursue an MA in Communication Design. At that time, my interests got inclined towards Visual Arts; this determined my change of direction. This is the reason why the design process is the most important part of my image-making. We were always taught that design is a result of intention and action. So, when I think of an idea, I sketch it out on a paper like a visual storyboard and I pin it on a wall. Then, I start visualising and working on the best ways to make this idea possible in real. In terms of production, this is how the construction aspect and planning develop. Creating illusions, playing with the scale by making miniature sets, sculptures, etc. and finally communicating all of this with a gist of humour is all part of the whole process. DG: As you mentioned, your life experience plays a role in the idea development. How relevant is the narrative in your works? ST: As I said, my imagination and inspiration come from my past experiences, struggles, and observations in my real life. As design has a purpose to serve its audiences in a creative way, I want my images to communicate to my viewer and make them reflect, connect, and interpret to their own lives in an interesting way.

DG: Although your shots keep their characteristic surreal and peaceful atmosphere, they are able to touch the viewer and instil emotions. How do you feel the relationship between dreamy spaces and real feelings? ST: I think we dream of things which we cannot experience in real life. When analysing my growth years in a city like Mumbai in a middle-class family and neighbourhood, I realised that I have always craved for space. To do any kind of activity, we had always limited or restricted spaces. Maybe this is the reason why I am constantly exploring spaces in a dream-like surreal world to achieve my own subconscious desires. Simultaneously, I want my works to comment on the events happening around me and in this world. Thus, the connection of dreamy spaces and real feelings derives from my upbringing in an overcrowded metropolis like Mumbai and it is surely embedded into my subconscious and logical mind.

Fig. 3. Sameer Tawde, Dialogues of an Introvert #16, 2016-2019.

DG: In Dialogues of an Introvert, art and science, nature and technology come together. Their combination is harmoniously contrasting. Where does your desire of connecting such different elements come from? ST: As I said, my desires come from my growth experience in Mumbai. While exploring these spaces in the real and the imaginary world, I have the opportunity to talk about various interrelated and contrasting things in life and imagination. Most of these subjects could be from my present and past intimacy as well as from my own battles and reflections. DG: The link between humanity and environment is a key concept of your research. Does this connection play a political and social commentary role? ST: Yes, it does, and I am not shy of expressing myself about these issues. Being an introvert, I feel more confident commenting about it through my work. I do believe that reflecting on the current times and creatively communicating the ideas to the masses is the artist’s primary duty. DG: The last question is a little more personal. Did 2020 affect somehow your relationship with imagination? Do you feel the global situation due to the spread of Covid-19 will change your approach to imaginary scenarios? ST: It affected me significantly, but only in terms of practically producing the works. The first stages of lockdown were full of uncertainty. The overall discouraging environment affected me emotionally because I was not able to focus on my work for a couple of weeks. Later on, I moved on and I started doing several other house and family things, apart from my own work. I also taught design to students online for some time. Since making and producing any work was not possible, I spent time in developing new ideas and projects for the future. I used to sit and work for a couple of hours every day and this gave me enough time and space to maintain a slow and steady pace and balance in my work.

Fig. 4. Sameer Tawde, Dialogues of an Introvert #02, 2016-2019.

Therefore, it can be affirmed that to fully understand Tawde's work, we need to start from the image that inhabits his mind. As a result of his personal imaginative activity, the image foreordains scenarios which are intended to be captured by his camera.

Attempting to create a fantasy world originating from his deepest intimacy, Sameer suggests new ways to connect to the environment and give new meanings to its structures.

Author, Delfina Grassi - Instagram; LinkedIn

Photographers featured in this Article

Sameer Tawde - Personal Website