By: Amanda Sandström Beijer
Illustrations: Sam Madhu
Inspired by ancient culture and futurism. Sam’s vibe is modern, dark and deep. We got intrigued, looked closely until we fell into the hole, right into the dark depth of space where you hear industrial techno like an echo. That’s where these animations are being evolved and brought to life.
Welcome to Sam’s world.
”I’m very introspective, like, I talk a lot to myself and have debates going on in my head all the time. I think that makes me learn quickly and pushes my eagerness to evolve.”
Inspired by ancient culture, Sam used to illustrate Hindu gods and mix the way they’re normally represented, with her own imagination, futurism - even kink, something that made her become a target for the right wing in India.
”I used to get a lot of threats. Actually, I still do. There’s a lot of right-wing energies that are completely against what I’ve created, and against the freedom of expression”, she says and continues.
”It’s really complicated, because that’s how I got popular. I created modern illustrations of Hindu gods and goddesses, and no one had really seen that before.”
Sam has some days woken up to over 2000 hate messages on Instagram, mostly from fascists in India.
”Every time I’m creating something that’s controversial, I’m putting myself in danger. Although, most of the haters point to an artwork that I created five years ago. It’s causing a lot of stress, because I still want to create these goddesses, but I’m telling myself that I should create it in ways they cannot understand.”
”If they don’t know what I’m talking about, they cannot touch me. It’s come to a point where I put the right of expression against my safety and try my best to reach a land in-between what I want to do and what I can get away with. Although this hinders me from being free within my imagination and creation. It’s just sad because there’s so many young people that got very inspired by what I created, and felt it was very liberating. The things I drew weren’t disrespectful, they were just new.”
Judging from her past illustrations, you can see the similarities, but also the differences with the animations she’s creating today.
”Even within these series that I’ve created for Playful, they are reinterpretations of ancient culture. My cover person is still a goddess, but it’s so layered that I don’t think people will understand how they can criticize me. She’s very inspired by my view on Berlin and has Berlin-aesthetics with her shiny black latex skin.”
”I love the idea of digital skin, as you can create leopard skin or metallic skin. It’s so cool. The chains and piercings she’s wearing are also rooted in how I feel that many trends are using metal currently, maybe especially in Berlin and in the underground scene.”
Sam comes from the south of India, moved to New York as a 17-year-old for studies in design and technology, where she lived for almost seven years. A city that also inspired her within new media art and using 3D programs. But when her illustrations got big attention, she decided to pursue the artist dream in her native country.
”My work got popular in India, so I decided to quit my job in New York to live as an artist, so I moved to Bombay.”
Besides pursuing the independent lifestyle of an artist, Sam discovered the underground scene of the city and fell in love with it.
”I used to hate techno. I thought it was stupid and was really into hip-hop, but in Bombay everyone is listening to techno and going to raves, and finally I got into it. The first real big love I had was when DJ Volvox was playing. It was my awakening”, she laughs.
”When I was getting into techno, and started to listen aggressively to it, I was in a place in my life where I was going really fast and doing everything at a high speed without rest. I needed to get and feel everything at once and the techno I started consuming also shifted and got harder and more industrial to follow my life pace. It also inspires my visuals a great deal since I always listen to something while I’m creating.”
Sam was not only being inspired by black and silver chains when it came to her art, but also by the way she dressed herself.
”Walking around like that in India you just look insane, as everyone wears a lot of colors. My mom always questioned me and why I was so extra. Growing up I felt very different from everyone around me, but I found more similar minds online, and that’s why I used to hang out there. I made friends with a lot of artists there and started creating art myself when I was 12. Since then, I’ve always been very interested in creating things with technology.
Sam moved to Berlin amid the pandemic. and got intrigued by the city through many of the techno streams she used to follow during the lockdown.
”I enjoy going back to the darkness within, as I’m a pretty dark person and fuel that by digging my own hole of energy. Music makes me see movement – if I’m creating a building, I can see it rise through music. The dream is to bring my vision into reality, that’s what I want to do.”
Besides the music, Berlin is attracting her in various other ways, and maybe also somehow the city even called her in
”There were so many signs for me to move here. I wouldn’t say I’m very religious, although I definitely believe in the universe and signs. I think there’s a force looking out for us, but in order to access that power you must ask – and then in a way, also believe. Ask for answers, ask for signs and have a conversation with yourself. But I’m not religious, even though I grew up in a very religious country. I just don’t believe in religion as an organized practice. To me, it’s all about the inner conversations and the power that withholds, and that’s what I believe also brought me to this city at this time.”
”I had an idea when I moved here, I thought I would love the city for it’s darkness and the techno, but the reason why I love it today, and the reason why I stay is because it’s letting me be exactly whoever I want to be. Your identity in Berlin is not about what you do for work - it’s about how you play.”
Having experienced Bombay, New York and now Berlin as an artist, it’s clear to her that her art changes depending on the surroundings.
”I am inspired by cities and the ones that influenced me the most in the past are obviously New York and Bombay. Now I’m in Berlin – this box of a city with buildings, buildings, buildings, which I love – abandoned buildings, but also the industrial huge spaces. Places like Kraftwerk, and Berghain for example. But also, the galleries. When I visit galleries here, it’s just so much space, and when you have space – there’s room for you to visualize so much clearer. I guess I’m obsessed by expansion in other words. Either I expand spaces myself through animation and that can seem similar to space, or I get inspired by spaces, and that can be anything; a gallery, a city, a factory, a club, even nature”, she says and continues;
”I like brutalism. But I’m also inspired by trends. When BladeRunner had just come out, I got very much into cyberpunk for example. Now I’m more into alien forms, metallic, body armor. People who create all kinds of things with metal can really inspire me, that’s how I got into floating piercings and all that. The kink scene inspires me – basically anything that has a clear aesthetic. I love black and I love silver, and kink very much embodies that. Latex, leather and heavy silver chains”, she dreams out loud.
”I love making people feel as if they’re inside of the artwork. I wanna create giant worlds, and have people experience those worlds. Spaces that can’t exist in reality –.”
Comparing the three cities and how they influenced her work – it’s obvious to her that she needed all of them to capture the creations she crafts today.
”New York is the city that made me who I am. It taught me everything. It’s like a frying pan; sometimes you must get out because otherwise you’ll get burnt. It’s always going, and you’re making use of every second of every hour. 8 million people, all trying to make their dreams come true in a city where you have endless options when it comes to anything. But it doesn’t really give you space to take a breather and contemplate, something that I was missing. It doesn’t have space physically nor emotionally as everyone is competing.” ”Bombay is very similar to New York. It’s 20 million people, so more than twice as big and even more intense, but in a different way. It’s intense because people must fight for their life, meanwhile in New York people are fighting for their career. In my opinion Bombay is the best city in India. I have some amazing memories from there, very high-octane, like a cyberpunk Indian movie and that was cool. If you go to an underground club there, they don’t speak English.”
”Living as an artist in Bombay is a big privilege. The idea of the underground is very fragmented there - you’re dealing with a country that doesn’t have much access to the rest of the world. People don’t have money. And the people who do have money didn’t see the bigger picture I perceived. That’s also why I had to leave.”
Sam declares that she needed to go back to India to get in touch with that part of herself to get more clarity on what her art involves, and what she creates. Something that may not have been as clear, had she moved straight to Berlin from New York. It’s clear though that living in Berlin, at this time, allows for an expansion that she needs.
”It’s funny with Berlin. You can be whoever you want to be; if you wanna be a person who’s’ chasing money, you can, if you want to be an artist and having all the freedom in the world, you can – and that’s what I love.”
”The one thing Berlin doesn’t have is big buildings. I love skyscrapers and all that, but it’s okay. It has so much space for me to make the best out of my imagination. I think I’m reaching my best artistic potential in Berlin.”
Reflecting on the cities impacts upon her work, Sam means that she tried to break free and stand out in New York in a way where she ultimately lost the sense of what it meant to her.
”I tried to get attention and wanted to be seen. Therefore, my work was the most controversial when I was living there. In Bombay I had finally become a bit known, so I had a lot of opportunities, offers and freedom. So, there I was – experimenting a lot. I did music videos, installations and all kinds of things. I had time to do all the things I wanted to do.”
”In Berlin my work is more about staying true to my vision. I’ve tried everything, and now it’s time for me to focus on how I can tell my story in the best way and come home to my own reflections with a bit more peace and quiet.”