This year, Yvonne Billimore and Jussi Koitela, curators of the Pavilion, have chosen the theme ‘The Pleasures We Choose’ as its central curatorial framework.
This year, Yvonne Billimore and Jussi Koitela, curators of the Pavilion, have chosen the theme ‘The Pleasures We Choose’ as its central curatorial framework.Photos | Vidha Saumya and Frame Contemporary Art, Finland

The seriousness of pleasure

Vidha Saumya’s irreverent art finds a perfect home at this year’s Venice Art Biennale

Rush hour during the 60th Venice Art Biennale’s opening frenzy can evoke memories of the vibrant chaos of Mumbai’s weekend fish market. While seasoned art-mongers navigate labyrinthine exhibition halls, others are simply here to seize their moment. Vidha Saumya falls into the latter category. As an Indian artist representing the Pavilion of Finland, the 40-year-old is undoubtedly living a dream. Her playfully titled artwork To All the Barricades… the Rumour Got You immediately grabs the attention of visitors on entering the Pavilion of Finland at Giardini, which, along with the former shipyard of Arsenale, forms the beating heart of the biennale.

This year, Yvonne Billimore and Jussi Koitela, curators of the Pavilion, have chosen the theme ‘The Pleasures We Choose’ as its central curatorial framework. The show is a multifaceted collaboration between three artists, Pia Lindman, Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen and of course, Saumya—the only Indian—whose bricolage of three distinct bodies of work consisting of drawing, sculpture and cross-stitched textile are displayed across three different planes of the exhibition space. While emphasising the inherent connections between art and life, To All the Barricades… also celebrates the political, social and personal dimensions of pleasure.

Speaking during the vernissage held on a chilly morning in Venice, Saumya acknowledges that pleasure comes with pain. “It is serious work,” she laughs, elaborating, “Pleasure is fundamental to one’s constitution and mental makeup, allowing the capacity to recognise one’s political, intellectual and ethical dedications. Since we are bound to come across others on a similar journey, whether they call it pleasure or not, and our voices resonate, it compels us to probe, question and create mischief. And that facilitates a reimagining of the world as we know it.”

Vidha Saumya
Vidha Saumya

Saumya conjured To All the Barricades… after visiting the site in Giardini in March last year. “It took me a year to work at this scale and the experience has enhanced my artistic fluency. Creating work for a larger and longer audience footfall required me to consider how my ideas would translate and resonate, given the space and period. It was like stepping outside my comfort zone,” says the Patna-born artist, who now lives in Helsinki, Finland.

Human bodies, especially those of women, have always been the fulcrum of Saumya’s practice. “My interest in drawings of the human body stems from a deep fascination with their complexity,” she explains, adding, “In a society that heavily dictates gender roles, I witnessed how women (and anyone outside the heterosexual male norm) faced constant pressure and judgment. This societal tension became a compelling theme in my work.” Women, she believes, navigate these constraints with grace and flexibility, almost like shapeshifters. “Initially, I focused on drawing the female body partly due to my art school training, which emphasised idealised Greco-Roman sculptures,” reveals Saumya, who received her BFA in drawing and painting from Mumbai’s Sir JJ School of Art in 2005.

Since her college years, her figurative works have evolved to become more complex, fully-formed human entities with minds of their own, who both embrace their fluidity and challenge social and gender hierarchies. In her strikingly feminist world, the human figures are not simply passive subjects. “They embody the ‘messy, untidy story’. They create trouble and own their agency. This messy complexity is what I find compelling,” she says.

This year’s Venice Art Biennale, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, breaks new ground by celebrating the often-overlooked works of LGBTQ, indigenous, Black, and other marginalised artists. The exhibition defies easy categorisation, aiming for an all-encompassing diversity and a wide spectrum of seemingly unattainable ambition. Saumya’s radical art finds a perfect home here where voices from the remotest corners of the globe are being heard and honoured. Her work also deeply connects to the biennale’s theme of ‘Foreigners Everywhere’.

Saumya often describes herself as a poet-artist. “My drawings, embroidery, and sculptures are like poems. They use a combination of elements to create an experience open to interpretation,” says the co-founder and co-editor of NO NIIN, a Helsinki-based online art monthly. She believes self-publishing can be empowering. “For me, self-publishing isn’t just about making something public. I see it as exploring commitment, matter, things, their embodiment, and active living. In that sense, self-publishing is about unrestricted exploration—similar to a marine walk at a Mumbai beach. It’s open, accessible, and allows for discovery. This spirit of exploration is key to both my poetry and visual art,” she says with finality.

The New Indian Express