Sahana Ramakrishnan paintings

Fridman Gallery (169 Bowery NYC 10002) presents “An Ocean of Time,” Sahana Ramakrishnan’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, which explores the concepts of time and interconnectedness of living beings.

Ancient myths from different parts of the world envision massive floods transitioning the world between ages dominated by different species. The ocean carries genealogical and archeological memories of all these time periods, like a collective genome of all life on Earth. Mirroring this process of accumulation, Ramakrshnan builds up her paintings slowly, in layers – embedding circular handwritten mantras in translucent acrylic, and lushly painting the figures with impasto oils, gold leaf and rhinestones. It is a process of creation by encapsulation, reinterpreting classical mythology and revealing fundamental elements and frequencies of life.

Ramakrishnan’s symbolism – double snakes and circles representing movement, wholeness and transition, single-cell organisms dividing and multiplying, learning to swim and learning to fly – suggests the potential within all living beings to become one with the vastness of time, space and change represented by the Ocean, the potential to transform and navigate new surroundings like a seedling, a pioneer, a transplant.

In Ramakrishnan’s worldview, traditional hierarchies are dismantled – predators coexist with prey as equals, men are in the service of women, and humans look to animals for guidance to navigate new environments. Based in part on the artist’s research into Hindu and Norse myths, the paintings depict giant otters, bears, coyotes as larger-than-life sentient beings offering us information on hunting and weather patterns.

As in a Buddhist chant, Ramakrishnan relies on words and repetition to sculpt space. The written, embedded text charges the space of a painting in a certain direction, giving it energy, velocity, rhythm, rather than a specific narrative. Each phrase is a circle, progressing into other circles. To become one with our environment, to survive under ever-changing conditions, we must suspend judgment, clear our mind and surrender to the sound of the chant. The embedded text sets physical parameters for the outer layers.

In the ocean of time we can touch the past, because it is no longer behind us but spirals up to us from the deep, curls back on itself from within a terrifying empty blue. We carry the memories that have shaped us and keep them alive by continuing to be. They calcify and they are eroded by the processes of life. They become shell-like. The ocean has once risen and taken nearly away everything from us, as suggested in both the mythological and archaeological records (i.e. memories contained in collective dreaming and memories contained in matter). It has swallowed our pasts, given us amnesia. And yet it is in the ocean through which we remember our connection to living beings – and our connection to the cosmos to which our beloved, watery rock belongs. After all, water, the seed of life, traveled here from unknown places.

When the sun grows larger and turns red, consuming the planets, when the seas rise and swallow land, sea flowers and anemones become the landscape, how shall we adapt, what creatures shall we emulate? Will we see that waves – ocean waves and sound waves – are the universal connective tissue, timeless, weightless, all-encompassing, omnipresent, and always changing?

About Sahana Ramakrishnan

Sahana Ramakrishnan was born in Mumbai, India and raised in Singapore. She traveled to the United States to complete her BFA in Painting at Rhode Island School of Design, and has participated in residencies and fellowships at Yaddo, Gateway Project Spaces, the Robert Blackburn Workshop, the Yale/Norfolk Summer program.

Ramakrishnan currently lives and works in Jersey City, NJ.

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