Multidisciplinary artist and educator Prinita Thevarajah started Kapu as a meditation on the beauty and complexity of the Tamil language. Her glass works see the bends and curves of the Tamil alphabet taking on a new delicacy and softness.
The New York-based artist spoke to Kajal about glass-making, her creative process, and affordability.
Kajal: What sparked your interest in glass-making?
Thevarajah: When I began the class at Urban Glass I was at the tail end of completing my Master’s degree in Art, Education & Community Practice. The program was theory heavy and I got to a point where I absolutely needed to make something with my hands and release all this creative tension. I’ve always been interested in neon, as someone obsessed with nostalgic experiences and recreating beautiful spaces and moments. So, I started the neon class purely to decompress. One day in the studio I was in a deeeeep trance, bending, splicing, curving the tubes for hours, realizing I was more in love with the tube itself than the neon: Kapu was born.
When looking at your work, and the importance of Tamilness in the making of your art, I wondered if you spoke much Tamil in New York? And also, whether there’s an element of melancholia in the making of these glass objects? On looking at them, I felt some feeling of longing in the stretching arms of the recycled glass.
Since moving to New York I’ve not spoken as much Tamil as I wish I would, but not speaking Tamil has not diminished my ever-evolving identity. While I haven’t been as immersed in the language, I’m still learning a lot about what it means to be a queer, Tamil -Australian woman, located in New York. I think that really does reflect in my work, my constant navigation through the many worlds and experiences that make up my identity.
What are your favorite words, sounds or letters in Tamil and why?
Aasai (to desire) I like the elongated aaaa sound. Desire is something I am navigating, what it means to be desired, what it means to give up desire.
Manjal (yellow) my favorite color
Pulari (dawn) my favorite time of day
Saranam (refuge) growing up in a Tamil/Christian family, this word is often used to describe taking refuge in one’s faith. Today, this word for me epitomizes the refuge I’ve found in my community.
I’ve checked out your Instagram and found beautiful glass bangles that you made. And Kapu means ‘bangle’ in English. Do you still make bangles?
I make bangles occasionally. I prefer to gift bangles because they were the first concept I worked with & feel really special and personal to me.
Besides bangles and vases, what other kinds of objects do you want to branch out into making?
I’m really interested in creating more larger, sculptural pieces. I want my work to be bigger, physically. Currently I’m working on an alphabet collection which is made up of vases that resemble Tamil vowels.
What has been your favorite piece to make thus far, and why?
I just finished working on a commission piece for an artist I’ve been following for a while. They gave me a really simple idea and it’s been really fun seeing how that initial spark has evolved into something really spectacular and unusual. It’s a vase that is more of a sculpture.
Could you tell us more about “being open for trade,” and why you prioritize affordability of your pieces?
I want to be able to buy my own work! I want art to be affordable and accessible for all. In my ideal world, we would live solely off trading goods and services from others in our community. So I really want that to be an option for me and those who engage with my work. If anything, it’s just a reminder that revolution is possible and starts small.
What lessons do you think the glass has taught you so far on your journey?
I’m really not a ‘business’ person but I’m constantly doubting myself as an ‘artist’. The most important thing I’ve learnt with Kapu is to bet on myself, always.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity