A conversation with Sultana Savvi

Irini Miga interviews Sultana Savvi


Sultana Savvi is a painter based in Zurich, Switzerland. With her works she explores what abstraction means to her in today’s world. Savvi’s practice is inextricably tied to process and manages to reveal something almost primordial. There, layers of paint build over time, leaving the works with the sense of constant evolution and reform. Speaking to the expansive nature of universe, ethereal forces capture emotions making her painting works whimsical. 

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 25 cm

                                       

Irini Miga

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you started painting?


Sultana Savvi 

I come from a small village in Florina, Sklithro. My parents were farmers, simple everyday people, who had nothing to do with art. While my mother saw my calling to painting, she did not know how she could possibly help me with my love for art, as she told me later on at an old age. When I was 11 years old we settled in Zurich, Switzerland. Initially, for livelihood reasons, I graduated from trade school. So I worked for about 15 years as a bank clerk. At the same time, I attended courses at the School of Fine Arts in Zurich. During this time, while I was still attending art classes, I got married and my two children were born. There was always a desire to attend the Zurich School of Fine Arts. After finishing art high school, which is a prerequisite for admission to the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), at the age of 47, my dream became a reality. All this time I was actively painting. My first exhibition took place in 2003 and since then I have been exhibiting either individually or collectively.



Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 25 cm


IM

You have a very peculiar painting lexicon, with a process-based practice. Can you expand on the ways in which this language of yours has evolved over the years?

 

SS

The language that you refer to as a painting vocabulary has really developed or evolved along the way and continues to do so. It's an ongoing process. I'm just a curious person. I would say that I am in constant search of styles, materials, tools, combinations of colors, shapes and ideas. I think that as an artist you are first and foremost a researcher and consequently, the results of your research are externalized in the work you produce. The search and curiosity is a permanent condition and one technique leads to the next. This is how the various techniques were developed that now find their application on canvas. I have three main techniques that I use. Painting alone - often on large surfaces. Painting in combination with rigid paint leftovers from my color palette - these pieces are integrated in collage form into the surface of my works. And digitally manipulated photographs of my works and also from my personal archive which I print on acrylic. All this sums up my painting vocabulary.


Sultana Savvi, No Title, 15 x 21 cm, acrylic on canvas, 2020
Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2020, Acrylic and Collage on paper, 15 x 21 cm

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2020, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 15 x 21 cm

IM

Your works feel like studies of atmosphere and vastness, like the point where dreamy landscapes of interiority meet with the exterior world. Do you ever have as a starting point a real landscape?


SS

Almost never. And if I ever start from a real landscape, on the way it's no longer recognizable. They're really dreamlike, internal landscapes that are externalized. 



IM

What about titles?


SS

I very rarely give titles. Titles limit the imagination, they bind us. When I sometimes give titles, I consciously intend this reference, this bond. This can happen with certain works that have a clear reference to a place a city or a specific architecture.



Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 25 cm

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 25 cm



IM

In your most recent works I feel that the immensity of the world is essentially summed up in the smallest, most intimate surfaces of canvas. What led you to this decision, to use such a small scale?


SS

I've been working almost exclusively on small surfaces lately, that's true. I'm fascinated by the idea (and your description fits perfectly) that I'm trying to summarize the essence of a work on small surfaces. It's a challenge that fascinates me. That doesn't mean that I'm going to stick to small works in the long run, but for now I'm attracted to the idea of creating small imaginary worlds on small surfaces.


Sultana Savvi, 2022, Untitled, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 25 cm

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 25 cm


IM

What projects are you currently working on? Let's talk about the works you'll be showing at the Group Exhibition “Women and FLINT in Art” in Schaffhausen.


SS

I am participating in a group exhibition at The Femme Artist Table art Fair from 9.9. - 11.9. 2022 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. "Women and FLINT in Art " is a curated exhibition with international artists and is taking place for the fifth time. I am very excited to be participating and I will be exhibiting eight small works. The Femme Artist Table is a non-profit cultural association supported by many foundations, including the City of Zurich, Pro Helvetia, Visarte, etc.


Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2020, Acrylic on Paper 15 x 21 cm

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2021, Acrylic on Paper, 15 x 21 cm


IM

I know that you will be speaking on a panel discussion during that show. Can you tell us the details?


SS

Yes, on Saturday 10 of September, 2022 at 17:00 I will participate in a panel discussion at the Femme Artist Table art Fair called “Opportunities of migrant biographies.” I am particularly pleased about the invitation to take part in that discussion. It will be a  conversation that aims to show what opportunities and possibilities can lie in migrant biographies and their perspectives on society, especially with regard to art making. For this panel, I will be discussing my personal experiences with Indrani Das Schmid (journalist and founder GFGZ), and Mark Damon Harvey (artist and expert intersectionality).

IM

Thank you very much, Sultana. Wishing you all the very best!


SS

Thank you very much, dear Irini. Likewise.


Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2020, Acrylic on Paper, 15 x 21 cm

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2019, Acrylic on Paper, 15 x 21 cm

Sultana Savvi, Untitled, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 15 x 21 cm

To learn more about Sultana Savvi's work please visit: sultana-savvi.ch/en


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