Storyteller: Gunga_Ma

Art, Creatives+ Creative Entrepreneurs / Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

My goal for Collectivitea is to widen the focus to the people behind a brand, studio or organization- their journey, why they do what they do- essentially, their story. I have also come to believe that to explore creativity at any level is to come face to face with divinity. Bringing the two together- stories of the creative process- is what I love doing. I find it both inspiring, and an honor to share the myriad different journeys we are all on.  Today, I want to share with you the story and work of  Swasthik Iyengar, an artist based in Brisbane, Australia. I was introduced to her work via Instagram (you can find her @Gunga_Ma). The subjects of her work are usually from Hindu mythology and Indian folk art, and what drew me to them was Swasthik’s bold, decisive style of drawing and the evocative photography that accompanies them. Read the story of how Swasthik’s childhood experiences helped shape her education and work, and her creative journey so far.

Gunga_Ma /Collectivitea

CTEA: Welcome to Collectivitea! Tell us a little about yourself, what part of the world you are located in and what you do. 

SI: “So, I am Swasthik. I was born and raised in Chennai, India until I was two years old. We then then moved to Varanasi and lived there, and I was home schooled till I was 5. At 5 years old, my family and I moved to Brisbane in Australia for my father’s job. As a kid, I remember having such a magical life, surrounded by the most interesting and weird family. I lived in a village and we were not a family that came from money. So all I knew where the Hindu folk stories that my great grandfather, my great grand mother, my grandfather and grand mother told me. About the mythical Hindu gods and the stories which took me to another world, a place so different from the real world. I was always so intrigued by these stories. I remember my grandmother’s shrine in her small dark cow dung kitchen. I would often go there and sit in front of the gods and admire the folk paintings and small statues that my grandmother had. These were Iyengar tribe family heirlooms that had been passed down for many generations. I was friends with a lot of the elders and children in my village and found myself running amok, amongst the cows or jumping off temple tops into the cold water when there were intense heat waves. My family, being Iyengar, were really spiritual and I remember being on the road a far bit, travelling to temples, sacred ancestor grounds and speaking to elders from different tribes, and listening to dream time stories that weren’t written in books. So my fascination for folk stories and the divine beings in these stories made me study Indian mythology, and complete my Ph.D. in  Hindu mythology and folklore. But because I was so intrigued in these stories, I started to get covered in Hindu gods and goddesses as tattoos from the time I was 20. I spent most of my twenties travelling around Europe, meeting some amazing people and getting tattoos from some incredible artists and soulful beings.”


CTEA: Are you a professional artist? When did you get started? What most inspires your art?

SI: Honestly, I have doodled and drawn all my life. My granddad used to read me little comic books with Hindu stories in it, and those pictures fascinated me. So I used to draw those pictures all the time. I have only just restarted drawing since finishing my Ph.D., hoping to embark on a new journey, doing what I always wanted to do – tattooing. In general, I love, and am inspired by, Indian folk art.  I draw other things but I am into all kinds of folk and tribal art, and pattern work. I grew up with a lot of the ladies in my family doing embroidery patterns on saris, so I loved seeing them use colours and embroidering amazing patterns and shapes on silks and tapestry


CTEA: How would you describe your work? 

SI: “I think my work is very traditional Indian folk art, at times comical, but I’d like to think it is more towards folk art/indigenous Indian art with the way I use colours, shading and dots or lines.”

Gunga_Ma/CollectiviteaCTEA: Would you consider yourself a creative entrepreneur? If yes, tell us some of the triumphs and challenges of that path. 

SI: “I would like to consider myself as someone just finally embarking on a creative journey that I have always wanted to do. I think that art is medicine, and it is meditative. Creating and painting again is such a spiritual journey, something I think you can’t really understand, unless you embark on this journey. I just really like painting and studying folk imagery from the 16th century onwards especially because I know all the stories. I think some of the triumphs I have encountered is being able to have wonderful soulful friends and family cross my path and help me on this journey. I am blessed to know some amazing artist/friends who have not only marked me for life, but helped me each step of the way in being a better artist and better person. After having my world turned upside down earlier this year, I never thought that 6 months ago, I would have made some of the best mates/brothers that I have done now at the tattoo shop I apprentice at (True Love Tatoo Brisbane). I am forever grateful for being welcomed into that little family and won’t ever forget any of my brothers. I am lucky that I am in a shop working with humble lads teaching me the right way to enjoy my experience learning how to paint and hopefully tattoo.”

image5-copyCTEAWhat advice would you give someone that is starting out as an artist?

SI: “To be honest, I really don’t know as I am just starting out too. I think it is important to immerse yourself in it and be surrounded by a beautiful environment where you find inspiration everyday and beautiful like-minded people interested in creating/painting. I feel like I am living it, breathing it every day and the more I paint, the more I want to learn and grow…I think it is important to be in a place where you can be able to do that.



You can visit Swasthik at her Instagram account here. Thank you for sharing your story!- Priya

All images are courtesy of Swasthik Iyengar. Image photography credits: Emma Attard.

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