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Through Tenderness: An Interview with Roshan Ganu by Tiffany Lange

The spaces we inhabit are often an integral part of constructing the world around us. In our recent exhibition, Perceiving Places: Through Our Tenderness curated by Esther Callahan, Roshan Ganu explores the question of “Who are you?” in the context of our fast paced world and the human condition. Through travel and living in different spaces throughout her life, Roshan fabricates miniatures that evoke specific memories of places that she has been and the people she has encountered, touching base with past experiences and memory.

As the exhibition closed earlier than expected due to COVID-19, we took some time to discuss her life as a MFA MCAD candidate, the importance of utilizing all her senses, and the how this fast changing world seems to be spinning even faster in the last few weeks. Interview by Tiffany Lange.

Tiffany: Tell us a little about yourself.

Roshan: I'm a storyteller, visual artist and writer from Goa which is on the west coast of India. Which means that I absolutely love seafood and the ocean and any water body for that matter. I did journalism in my undergrad and French linguistics in a previous Masters and they tremendously contribute to my visual arts practice. I love traveling and moving from place to place because it keeps me updated about what human beings are up to. Oh and I love people. Human beings crack me up.

T: What brought you to Minneapolis?

R: I came here for my MFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It has been nothing less than amazing being here. Before I came here, everyone wondered why Minneapolis and not the East or West coast (which is where many fellow indians end up for work or other things) I think I know the answer now, here people are of the soil and community, so this is where I was supposed to be. Minneapolis has taught me a community state of mind. Such a wonderful thing to learn early in a career.

T: As an artist, what are your creative routines? Are there specific things that you do to get into that making mindset?

R: Yes! I am usually inundated with ideas in my brain so I scribble them down anywhere, on paper, on a post it, my hand, on my phone. They don't necessarily have to become anything but they are such amusing reads on a rainy day. Oh also, on a good day I write and publicly share an idea or a personal or professional achievement, which is accompanied by a highly motivational piece of advice. On a bad day, I go back to it and follow that advice. It's like talking to myself but through time-travel.

T: What keeps you motivated as an artist?

R: Walking, moving on my two feet around the neighbourhood and saying at least a few hellos on the way. Also, keeping things in perspective. I constantly remind myself that being an artist means having the privilege of a voice and I MUST use it to actively contribute to a public discourse. It is such a great tool to have, I feel obligated to use it to the best of my ability, and that motivates the hell out of me!

T: Any influential artists that are important to you right now?

R: Right now just the way artists and galleries are responding to these isolatory times is mind-blowing to me. Without a flinch, everyone just got to work, helping and providing the art community with solutions. It is heartening to see. Other than that, one artist I am currently looking at is Lydia Ricci, her scrap miniatures speak to memory and other themes I am working with. Also, local artist Mara Duvra and the myriad ways she uses her writing on the wall. Elisabeth Workman, love love her being and her openness to experimentation within the writing realm. Also, all stand up comedians. Miss Shannan Paul is a local stand up comedian, I love her outlook towards the world. And many other indian stand ups comedians like Kannan Gill, Biswa Kalyan Rath, among others.

T: Favorite books that have been of influence to your work?

R: It's funny that with all the passion for writing, reading comes quite later on my list. I love reading economic news and international political journals (I know!). Indian writer Sudha Murthy is an inspiration to me. She added the everyday and "simple" language to the "intellectual's" library. I love Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's work as well. His inquisitive eye towards mundane lives of simple people inspired me to embrace this genre.

T: If you were given a chance to create and show a dream project what would it be?

R: Wow what a stimulating question! So much to type but in very short, I have been developing the idea of immersive storytelling (hope you can see my thesis some day) and my dream would be to make it a public art project. Where I make a large scale set and simply perform a story to many people in that large scale miniature.

T: What are the importance of miniatures to you?

R: While TA'ing for printmaker and now dear friend Natasha Pestich, she mentioned in one class a seemingly simple thought: "Small is Big". That stuck with me and when I was trying to make sense of my miniature practice, those three words came screeching at me. Also, miniatures speak directly to scale, which plays the role of evoking a sense of wonder, something that is closely related to storytelling. It makes you work your imagination while giving you a visual anchor in space. Miniatures are an interesting tool under the larger umbrella of storytelling for me.

T: Why do you like incorporating all the senses?

The human condition is very important to my brain. I want to address our condition that lives beyond our skin colour, geographies, political affiliations, etc. I found our senses to be that pathway into the human being. There is a lot of work and experimentation left to be done but the senses make you feel something, and feelings are universal.

T: Any additional thoughts on your show at SooVAC, being an MFA student or the world right now?

R: I want to deeply thank SooVAC for being such a supportive gallery and an accessible art space. Met so many great artists at the opening, hope to continue working with you and others in some way or the other. Thank you to the MFA program as well, especially Ellen Mueller who is our source of energy and inspiration. About the world, it is so hard to not talk about the corona virus after what it has done to everyone. But I think the world right now is more unified than ever before and probably the most it will ever be! Also, I had a realisation. After all that we have achieved, a microscopic organism just took over the world ! Like... Just... Wow.

Roshan Ganu is a storyteller who chooses 2D and 3D illustration to address the mundane lives we lead. She is an MFA candidate at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (expected 2020) where she was awarded the MFA Trustees Scholarship. Prior to her MFA, Roshan was awarded her MA in French where her thesis investigated contemporary French comics for pre-adolescent children as a way of understanding French contemporary society. She has also published a paper on the same topic. Roshan has worked and traveled within France as a teaching assistant and holds a BA in Journalism and Communication. With her background in writing, Roshan works within the fields of illustration, sculpture and text in an interdisciplinary manner. She recently returned from a residency in Park Rapids in rural Minnesota, where she documented the idea of “extreme winter” through contemplative texts based on sounds, smells and on-site illustrations. She has exhibited her illustration work at Solid State records and at the Women Who Influence Conference in Minneapolis.

Esther Callahan is a Curatorial Affairs Fellow at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). In her work at Mia she demonstrates measurable impact on the development of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) work affecting professional exchanges internally and externally. She is contributing to the museum field through gender and racial equity research around inclusive and thoughtful data collection. She is co-curator of the 2019 Mapping Black Identities and Mapping Black Identities: 3 Films exhibitions and co-founder of the Curatorial Advisory Committee at Mia. She was an Assistant Editor for a 2019 anthology titled: Out of the Shadows: Power, Pride, and Perseverance at a Northern Community College. She took an nontraditional path to museum work and holds a BA in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies with a minor in Social Justice Leadership from the University of Minnesota, which helps her bring a different, yet dynamic and essential perspective on museum work.

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