In Kalga, the picturesque Himalayan town of Himachal, an experimental artist residency program encourages its selected participants to “explore the relationship between travel, living, culture, art and expression.” Lucky for us we connected with the young and talented Sumaiya Sayed, a participant in the 2015 and 2016 residencies hosted by KYTA (Karma, Yatri, Travel and Art). Sumaiya first went to Kalga as a visiting artist in 2015, and in 2016, she returned as a resident artist for the 3rd Annual Session of KYTA. This was the year she decided to turn her lens to her peers, capturing their personal space as artists. The program hosts 10 artists, five from India and five from abroad, spanning a variety of preferred mediums, which ensures the group is a surefire smorgasbord of skill.
KYTA’s wooden and stone residency lodge is tucked away in a hillside sprawl of towering Himalayan Cedars and Silver Firs, their long branches shading the spider web of forest footpaths the residency’s artists often frequent. The art created at this offbeat locale is usually exhibited in India’s larger cities, as well as abroad, but few get the chance to see, let alone preserve, a glimpse of these impressive creators basking in the presence of the fruits of their labour.
Sumaiya wanted to work outside of her comfort zone during the 2016 residency and developed the keen idea to not only document the creations of her contemporaries, but to also show the artists naturally interacting with the space in which their creations were conceived. To pursue this concept she had to make the artists feel comfortable around her. In a secluded village with several rusticated artists deeply contemplating their work, a-regular-old-slap-on-the-back doesn’t exactly inspire a feeling of ease. Sumaiya spent time with them, shared stories and learnt about their art, slowly bringing about a sense of comfort that usually does not make an appearance when a camera is being brandished in one’s face. As she explains, “I wanted to spend time with them, getting to know them and their work better before I started shooting the series. Most of them were very shy so it made it much easier for them to open up to me and be themselves as they would when the camera wasn’t around.”
Her next step was to study the artists’ working environments so when the time came to click her shot her sense of space would be precise. “I spent a lot of time observing the space and the light patterns, this helped me plan my shots and schedule them with the artists without asking them for too much of their time. I make sure I always tell the person there’s no need to tidy up since it’s their space and it should be as it was and not prepared for anyone else.” The natural vibe of Sumaiya’s photos is a definite strength, however, her use of space and manipulation of light really stand out in her portraits. The lodge in particular was a great prop for the series. The stained wood supporting the structure beautifully absorbed the pools of light flowing in from the rows of the many-paned windows circling the lodge.
For the next round of residents participating in KYTA’s 4th Edition of the residency, taking place on the 1st of September 2017, Sumaiya offers a snippet of advice to the future residents, urging them to “ take advantage of the diversity and collective knowledge by collaborating”. She remembers the constant flow of ideas being “ very challenging, with so many creative minds that come from such diverse backgrounds working together to create something from scratch,’ but is quick to add, ‘when the ideas combine and materialize into the final product it’s quite magical.”
And now it is time to enjoy the magic of Sumaiya’s portraits.
Check out the rest of Sumaiya’s “in their space” series as well as her other stellar work on Behance and Instagram.