How Shyama Golden Made a Name for Herself

The Brooklyn-based artist had a long and winding journey to making art that was her own. Her first solo show opens today.

Meghna Rao

September 20, 2019

How Shyama Golden Made a Name for Herself
A self-portrait. (Shyama Golden)

Shyama Golden speaks to me two days before her first solo show in Brooklyn. She puts me on speakerphone as she finishes the final touches on her paintings. “I’m working right now on some cleanup stuff, a dot here or there where things are missing,” she said. “I remember once I had to cover a painting in saran wrap because it was still wet as I shipped it out.” Though she is busy, Golden is generous with her time.

Nothing Golden does is on the nose, and none of it is obviously South Asian. Yet, her unbridled exploration of her creativity adds new layers to diaspora art. She portrays yakku, demons from Sinhalese mythology who bring disease to humans and haunt them before they die, in unexpected places. They ride horses and wear stirrups against a backdrop of cacti, or charge phones from campers parked in pine tree forests. In “Road Trip,” one yakka drives a wide-trunked car with all of his belongings through the desert with the irony of a Wes Anderson still. One gets the sense that this is the eternal immigrant tale — to be a strange creature hauling suitcases through a bland landscape. 

How did Golden, who grew up in small Texas towns that she describes as “generic,” hone her stand-out style? “By making art for myself,” she said firmly.