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Meet Saumya Deva of Art by Saum in West L.A.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Saumya Deva.

Saumya, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am the first daughter to Indian immigrant parents; born and raised in Los Angeles. Growing up in L.A. amidst so much diversity and creativity truly shaped my passion for art and understanding other cultures.

You could always find me painting- I was never athletic and I loved that art gave me a quiet space to create something by myself. Art is in my roots- my grandmother was a classical Indian singer and loved classical Indian art so much that she founded a school dedicated to teaching and preserving it. She lived above that school. All my summers visiting her I took every art class possible. My aunt was also a painter teaching in my grandmother’s school. She taught me all the painting techniques I still practice today.

Returning back to the states was always hard. Growing up first-generation American always confused me. As the first girl in my family, I came across the obstacle of being told “no” to wanting to do what I wanted because of the social constructs of what an Indian girl ought to do. I also found as a girl, my family had extremely low expectations for what my future would hold, compared to my brother, who everyone naturally believed would go very far in life. I didn’t get a sense of who I was and what I wanted my art to be until I was in college. I knew I didn’t want to only pursue art, but I knew I couldn’t live without it. After a very traumatizing childhood that included running away from home at the age of 16, my way out was my education. I was awarded a Posse scholarship (under LA’s very own Posse Foundation) for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, I was first exposed to not only art but art as a tool for social justice. I discovered screen printing- an art form that allowed me to truly express my vision in ways painting did not.

As I became more aware of social issues around me, as well as truly realizing oppressive patriarchy of my upbringing, I saw my art as a tool for social justice awareness and a unique way to engage audiences. At the same time, I discovered feminism and gender equality. My passion for international women’s rights inspired my global work experiences across Latin America and West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, where I shifted men’s attitudes about gender equality. Organizing my Peace Corps village to advocate for youth leadership and arts entrepreneurship led me to realize the influence the U.S. government holds in the world. I decided to become more active in diplomacy so I could build bridges that allowed women and girls justice while using art as activism.

Upon being awarded the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship in 2016, I entered the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service as a diplomat. I aim to push the government’s diversity boundaries to include more first-generation American identities. This starts with my first posting in Port au Prince, Haiti. I want to continue graphic designing and silk screen printing to advocate for marginalized identities and keep growing as a socially aware artist to represent women’s struggles. My art business is never driven by revenue, but rather the connection my audiences make to people’s stories that would be otherwise forgotten.

Has it been a smooth road?
The greatest struggle has been discovering that art is a part of who I am. That some people are able to express themselves simply by using their words, but for me there’s no better feeling than to be able to lift my silkscreen off of my paper and find the exact message I was longing to express was communicated through my colors and patterns. It took me the longest time to realize that expression is worth fighting for and that it doesn’t matter what others do to express, I myself couldn’t live properly without my artwork.

Please tell us about your art. 
My business, “Art by Saum” is my own personal art business dedicated to providing others the stories of those I strive to depict in my art. I specialize in silkscreen printing- a technique similar to stenciling that pushes inks through an intricate image on a screen, to create my work. I am known for art that combines my Indian cultural roots but that also aims to connect with others who understand the 1st generation American struggle and experience. I am most proud of the fact that I am a woman of color representing other women who, because of the patriarchal world we live in, don’t have the same opportunities of expression.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
As a U.S. diplomat, I hope to constantly create art wherever I am stationed around the world. Whether I sell it or not is less important- it’s all about learning the stories of those less heard and understanding the political contexts influencing their experiences. Then creating art that shares that with the rest of the world. It’s kinda like a new level of diplomacy we haven’t seen yet. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of the government spaces I work in and push myself to speak up so art is always recognized as a tool for advocacy and social change.

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Image Credit:
Profile photo: Nittin Magima

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