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Uma Rani Iyli : Artist You Should Know

Updated: Jun 12, 2023 09:58
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The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights local artists before they exhibit their work somewhere awesome, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place.  Meet artist Uma Rani Iyli, and see her work at the stARTup Art Fair opening April 28th at the Hotel Del Sol in San Francisco.

Artist: Uma IyliPhotographer: John Janca

Artist: Uma IyliPhotographer: John Janca

Name: Uma Rani Iyli

Medium(s): Process inspires my choice of material. I use various tools sourced from everyday life to create my paintings as well as my installations and photographs. My current work relies on Q-tips as a brush and physical material for my 3D work as well as thread and wire. Retaining the gold and colorful paint from my painting process, these cotton swabs have evolved from a chance discovery on my studio floor into metaphorical organic forms. Capturing them as they lay, my photography serves to document elements of chance. My sculptural work with the Q-tips is an intentional and methodical weaving of these everyday tools into a precious object.

What was your first job in San Francisco?

Ever since I came to San Francisco, I have been focused on my being an artist either as a student or out in the real world. I have not had another job outside my studio practice, but I am active in the city supporting organizations like ArtSpan with installation.

I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!

I began my studies in Bangalore, India at the College of Fine Arts and continued my arts education focusing on an Associate Degree in Art and digital arts out west at Mission College before entering California College of Arts. In 2003, I graduated with a BFA in sculpture from CCA where I had two solo exhibitions of my installation works entitled “Sacred Space” in 2001 “Rice Lore” in 2002.

rice lore installation 2003

Rice Lore Installation 2003.

What still inspires you about San Francisco?

As I have lived in the east bay or peninsula, the city of San Francisco has continued to inspire me with its energy, diversity, colorfulness and amazing food. Today, I can sense the vibrant arts scene more than ever. When I drive into the city to be at my studio or go to openings or dinner in the evenings, I always feel connected to a place that I have called home for so many years in spirit, even though my actually home is beyond the city limits.

Let’s talk politics, are you a liberal or a super duper liberal?


Qtip connection

Qtip connection in gold and purple

What was your last great night out in San Francisco?

Art events along with my own studio are what motivate me to drive from my Peninsula home frequently into the city. Most recently, the multi-faceted exhibition “Luminary: Art/Tech/Music” at The Midway was very energizing. I love this space and was able to display a series of my photographs and “Q-tip Garland” installation there in 2016 through an exhibition entitled “Wallpaper: Mirrored Identities”.


LUMINARY art, tech, music at Midway SF

How has the city changed?

Since I have moved to the Bay Area in 1996, I have seen tremendous change and urban development for better or worse. Being an active member in ArtSpan, a long standing non-profit for artists for 41+ years now, I have also seen new opportunities arise for artists, while also seeing painful shifts. My studio is in the heart of the city at Market and Van Ness at the Journal Building. It is the fortune of one developer that resulted in this space for many artist’s through ArtSpan’s residency program, and I am one of the lucky ones to be in this below market rate space for over a year now. From my perspective, it is pro-active nature of one individual with fortune that can make a difference for many in San Francisco.  I am seeing that as a city, we all keep pushing forward amongst the changes and finding new ways. As an artist, and part of a community of artists, I see how great our city is and have no plans of leaving.

What are you trying to communicate through your art lately?

Examining ancient cultures with a focus on traditional notions of women’s work, my art is about linking those practices with our contemporary landscape through an abstract approach. Each series give me the chance to embrace my worlds as well as an avenue for others to merge culture and time in their own way.

Artist: Uma IyliPhotographer: John Janca

Q-Tip Garland. Artist: Uma Iyli Photographer: John Janca

My “Q-Tip Connections” photography series and “Q-Tip Garland” Installation series are visual examples of connections with which our tangible and intangible experiences are constructed. Both series resulted from what could have been discarded material from my painting practice. The garlands are hand tied in the way traditional flower garlands are created. This series connects me with memories of my childhood days when I made jasmine flower garlands with my mother. It is the same cotton thread of Q-tips that’s traditionally used to make flower garlands; it is called “pooja thread”. In studio, I found that I could not resist the urge to pick these ordinary objects up and start tying them the way I enjoyed doing growing up with my family back home. We would pick jasmine flowers in the evening, and just hand tied garlands, or for festivals there would be a big group of people tying together and decorating, and always side by side my mother who would wear the jasmine in her hair. There could not be a more important time to celebrate the roots our own rituals as woman and communicate with strength our stories in a new way.

What does it take to make it as an artist in SF these days?

Being gritty, resilient and keep making your thing!! Have a social media presence; stay connected with the art community, art organizations, and other artist friends… they can be your best supporters and promoters.

Brocades Installation

Brocades Installation

Any SF artist you think are outstanding right now?

Hard to pick… I love the intricate paper and metal installations works by Kirk Maxson.

Favorite Museum right now?


Favorite Gallery right now?

I love visiting Minnesota Street Project Galleries, especially Eleanor Harwood Gallery, Jack Fischer Gallery and Rena Bransten Gallery as well as others in the DoReMi district such as Hosfelt Gallery and Catharine Clark Gallery.

bird song

“Birdsong” Mural by Josh Coffy and friends

Favorite Street art right now?

I love the “Bird Song Mural” by Joshua Coffy. It’s on the wall of ArtSpan Journal Building Studios, 1540 Market Street. I see it often, every time I enter my Journal Building Studio. It will sure stay in my memories forever when the building is taken down and it is no longer there.

What’s coming up for you?

“stARTup Art Fair” opens April 28th at the Hotel Del Sol in San Francisco and is on exhibition through April 30th, 2017. In Room # 323, I will be installing my most evolved version of my “Q-tips Garland” series. Garlands will be hung suspended from over the bed and the audience can sit on the bed and experience this installation. I will also be displaying paintings from my “Brocades Series” and photographs from my “Q-tip Connection Series”.

startup art fair

Past coverage of stARTup Art Fair

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor and co-owner of this little expiriment. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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