An architect by profession, Sah started the Snail Mail project in 2015 when she wrote a post inviting letters through her blog. After reading the letters she creates artworks inspired by the content. The 29-year-old self-taught artist has till now received 30 handwritten letters from complete strangers from all around the world. She plans to showcase the works once she has a “good collection”. Anyone can write to her and can get an original artwork accompanied with a handwritten note in return.
Speaking to Guardian 20, Sah talks about her inspiration behind the project, its undefined nature and how it has made a difference in her painting style.
Q. How and when did the Snail Mail Project come into being?
A.The Snail Mail project had been brewing inside my head for a few years and when I moved to Mumbai to work as an architect and pursue my artist residency at IIT, I found the perfect time, place and opportunity to start it.
Q. From where do you draw your inspiration? Is there any common idea or motif behind these out-of-box illustrations of yours?
A.The letters that I receive are my sole inspirations behind Snail Mail artworks. Each letter being unique in its idea, content, feeling and form motivates me to respond in an equally distinct way.
Q. What was it like to get your first letter from a complete stranger? How has your life changed after this initiative of yours?
A.When I initially started the project I didn’t know if it would reach anyone at all. I made a simple post explaining the Snail Mail Project on my personal blog. When I received my first letter I couldn’t believe that someone, somewhere had read about my humble project and taken out time to write back to me. The feeling was magical; the first letter was from a boy in Poland.
I certainly make more visits to the post office and the neighbourhood letterbox and you will find me often waiting for the postman to arrive! The project has certainly made a difference in my painting style; I am now more experimental and confident in my work.
Q. What do you think is still relevant about a handwritten letter especially in this digital world?
A.There is something deeply humane about putting pen to paper. Letters and postcards remain to be read, appreciated and preserved years after they have been written. Electronic age may be faster but a charm of a letter in your postbox can never be compared to receiving an email.
Q.When other medias are far ahead in terms of timeliness when it comes to real-time communication, why do you think a handwritten letter is important solely in terms of expressing a particular idea?
A.A handwritten letter is immensely powerful; its value lies not only in its permanence but also in the fact that it helps us connect with our minds. Letter writing is personal and requires our undivided attention, it forces us to live in the present moment and contemplate our thoughts and ideas without other distractions.
Q. It has been just two years since you had started Snail Mail, why do you think the initiative got such a welcoming response from all around the world?
A.Its popularity lies in its fundamental idea. The idea of exchange, connect and co-create. All of us, busy bodies are looking for a way to slow down and connect with our world and ourselves. The Snail Mail project enables one to take a breath, sit down in solitude, reflect and create.
Another thing that resonates with people is its undefined nature; it is for anyone who wishes to send in a post. A post, which could contain anything, you want to send. It could be a photograph, pressed flower, broken leaf, a poem, a newspaper cutting or a few heartfelt words. It could be whatever one thinks is worth sharing with the world.
Apart from this, there is no denying that writing and receiving letters is a joy in itself.
Q. How many letters have you received so far? Any favourites? How diverse is your collection of letters now? Also what really these strangers write to you about?
A.I have received about 30 letters so far. People have written from places as far as Scotland, Poland, Turkey, Singapore, and London and of course from many parts of India as well.
Every letter is unique in its own way. People write to me about different things. Some write to me about personal stories, their aspirations and things they love to do, while others send in their poems, travel tales and illustrations. I have even received a mail with a precious recipe for a chocolate brownie inside it, which I am yet to try!
Q.Apart from this project, you are currently working on a series of paintings as well. Could you please tell us about that?
A.I am working on a series of paintings called Melancholy. which I think is particular type of sadness, which isn’t an illness; it’s part of being human. It means grasping without anger that the fact that life is inherently difficult. Melancholy makes us aware, compassionate and forgiving. Although we spend a lot of time in being happy, we must look at melancholy from time to time and accept it. Sometimes it’s okay not to be happy.
Inspiration for these artworks lies everywhere you look. such as in the common people; in our society and us.
Q. Could you talk about the future of Snail Mail. How long do you plan to continue it and what more do you want to do with it?
A.This project has no deadline, no end date. I don’t mean to stop this ever. I wish to keep receiving beautiful letters from all corners of the world and perhaps make an exhibition when I have a good collection.
Q. What are your other interests apart from architecture and art?
A.I was born and raised in Nainital and have a deep love for nature, I like to travel, I love wilderness, I like long leisurely walks, I like to bake, I like to share my home with animals and I like to do Yoga.
To participate in the Snail Mail project, you can write to Sumedha at firstname.lastname@example.org.