Hi Sneha! How are you feeling this evening? If you could use five words to describe the way your spirit feels, what would they be?
I am doing well this evening. Gosh, 5 words I think would be overwhelmed, loved, self-assured, excited, and creative!! How about you?
Hmm.. this morning I am writing to you from my mother’s bed. My spirit is feeling, quiet, slow, reflective, comforted and calm. I really love that you said you’re feeling both overwhelmed and self-assured. Good overwhelmed, I hope, but even if not, thank you for sharing the often contradictory feelings that arise when we prod at the spirit.
I’m so happy and grateful to be with you here this morning. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation from the moment I discovered you and your work. I want to start by asking, how did you arrive at the intersection of mycology and art?
Thank you, Prinita for being here with me this morning, even though I know you must be feeling low energy. You will soon find out that I am a super slow writer, always looking for the right words to reflect how I feel. I think one good reason why I became a visual artist 🙂
Thanks for the question. I have identified as an artist for as long as I can remember. It is the only thing I am sure of for myself. I discovered the power of mushrooms sometime in high school. Learned that they were decomposers of the natural world. Inspired by them, I made my first mushroom artwork at 17. Then 10 years later, burnt out from living in NYC, I retreated into the forest and spent a lot of time alone. I did however join the New Jersey and New York Mycological Societies at this time. And at the New Jersey Mycological Society’s Annual Fungus Fest, I learned that you can make paper from mushrooms and it blew my mind! That started my exploration and speciality into mushrooms for pigments and materials.
Wow. How has your process with the mushrooms evolved over time and can you share any deeper lessons fungus has taught you along the way? I am particularly interested in hearing about how being in practice with fungi may have shaped your relationship with death and decay, as decomposers of the natural world.
My practice evolves slowly. Every year, even every day, I learn something new about mushrooms. Their world is SO vast and there is so much to learn. But I think my favorite part is foraging for wild mushrooms. I learn so much by observing their formal qualities, their unique functions and properties, their environmental needs, their symbiotic relationships to other organisms in the ecosystem. There are so many variables that need to align for a mushroom to fruit that the moment feels intimate and special.
I learn so much from them, but your question reminds me of two things… First, did you know that mushrooms are our closest relatives on the tree of life! When I see their supple skin, their phallic shape, their flowing gills, they feel very human to me. Of course, they are our ancestors!
They also signify to me that there is life after death. Physical proof that reincarnation exists! It gives me peace to know that on an elemental level, we decompose, and recycle back into the earth, and are born again!
What a sacred process. And what a great teacher. When I began looking into different mycology societies and foraging communities, one thing that stood out to me was the overwhelming whiteness of these spaces. Discovering your work, as a fellow South Asian, was so affirming. Even down to your IG handle (kali mushrooms), I think seeing representations of identities other than whiteness is so transformative in thinking about how mycology allows for vastly different and interconnected spiritualities and ways of being. As a founding member of the POC Fungi Community how has mycology allowed you to further explore your own identity?
It is true, many mycology spaces are still predominantly white, but that does not stop me from expressing myself and culture. Still the mushroom community gives me a lot of hope. Most mycophiles are very intelligent, weird, fringe, and morbid in the best way. It is also a space where amateurs are welcome, and their contributions are valued by the larger community unlike some other scientific disciplines. Due to the lack of BIPOC representation, I am even more motivated to take up space! I feel a lot of agency and responsibility in participating and helping shape this community and our collective mushroom culture. But it is always exciting to connect with other POC interested in mushrooms. I met Mario at the New Moon Mycology Summit four years ago, and being the few POC at the event, we decided that we needed to create a space for BIPOC where they can feel supported in their mushroom-related interests and endeavors.
I have never thought about how mycology allows me to explore my own identity. To me mycology is a medium, a language, and an aesthetic through which I can create and have found a way of life and practice which seems holistic and sustainable. It took me a long time to find but it is largely the reason why my art looks the way it does. Something I am really excited about in my art practice is silk dyeing and painting with mushroom pigments. It reminds me of the beautiful saris produced in India, and learning these techniques helps me connect with my cultural heritage, mixing the old with the new.
Thank you, Sneha. I’m so appreciative of your offerings and your forging of new pathways through mycology. I look forward to seeing how your practice continues to evolve and hearing about the continued lessons you are learning with fungi.
To end, can you share three things that you have been coming back to as grounding rituals? And maybe, if you have any rituals around your practice with mushrooms?
I love this question!
I have developed a weekly ritual, where I carve out some space to microdose and go to the museum. I look deeply at the works of art and look for patterns and connections across cultures and narratives. I bring a sketchbook, where I write and draw and take notes, and play around with concepts I might be working with in the studio.
I also like to go out looking for mushrooms regularly. I anticipate the weather forecast, and go out to the local park following the rain, and start scanning the ground and trees, slowly, looking for mushrooms. I like to take pictures, to log what I have found, both for technical, educational, and artistic purposes. When I come home, I identify what I have found and learn about the individual species. I learn whether they are edible, poisonous, medicinal, good for materials or pigments.
Lastly, I take what I have learned and I try to apply it by creating something. Sometimes it transpires into a work of art or even medicine-making. I learn to make extracts for dyeing, paintmaking, and medicinal infusions such as tinctures, using honey, alcohol, glycerin, water, and other vinegars and acids. I use them for myself, and am starting to make small batch products to share with others. I am super excited since I am preparing for my first market next week!!