Many young Indian artists are seriously engaging with topics like gender, sexuality, consent and other social issues that have gripped India.
A futuristic landscape titled ‘Pollution Punk’ depicts Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum. Another called ‘Naga district’ is a gigantic piece of 3-D art that has a giant serpent hovering above skyscrapers, with Indian script, on top of buildings. Digital artist Sam Madhu’s wild coloured pop art in shades of fuchsia pink and purple, have Goddess Kali in a T-shirt, and new-age Indian women talking about taboo topics from sexuality, to body shaming.
Art is activism and can be immensely effective in opening up conversations and dealing with oppression and gender-based violence. In recent times, many young Indian women artists have seriously engaged with topics like gender, inclusivity, sexuality, consent and patriarchy through their art.
Sam Madhu, 26, ( with 50.7 K followers on Instagram) started drawing and painting when she was in school in Chennai, finding her lessons boring and often filling her school notebooks with drawings. She attended the prestigious Parsons School of Design and worked as an Art Director, with social media campaigns, and found her mojo in digital art.
“I am now focussing on 3D, crypto and digital art, and moving away from controversial topics that I used to depict when I was younger and rebellious," says the young artist who is currently in Berlin on an art grant.
"I felt at that point like depicting the contrast between Indian women worshipped as goddesses and their treatment in contemporary Indian society.”
Her art now has dystopian high rise cities and cyberpunk culture, futuristic but with strong Indian elements- from faces of gods and goddesses to Indian language script.
A handsome prince dressed in finery says “Feelings don’t have a gender”. Another one of a man and a woman in traditional garb holding a lantern says “ Your light does not dim my shine.”
Aastha Sahdev's artwork always comes with a contemporary social message from wearing a mask, to feminism, gender, mental health and toxic masculinity. Her art ( with a following of 46.1 K followers on Instagram) is a mix of pop culture and mixed media art. She draws from Indian culture, traditions and art. She is a self-taught artist, who has a degree in Graphic design.
“My illustrations are basically my response to what's happening around me. They are sarcastic and reflect a strong feminist identity and recently they have been about how we are coping up with this pandemic every day, as it is taking a toll on our mental health,” says Sahdev.
“I would describe my style as a variant of pop culture art inspired by references from traditional paintings. I am inspired by Mughal miniatures and the Rajasthani school of art. The details, patterns and culture have so much history and stories to tell.”
“The themes and ideas in my art are inspired from real women and conversations around me, and the artwork I create is usually my reaction to them. My art is about change. learning and unlearning. It is feminist and promotes freedom of thought.”
The vast majority of Kaviya Ilango's illustrations have brown-skinned women, with hairy legs and arms, as the protagonist. With 14.7 K followers on Instagram, her art explores a gamut of topics from bottling up grief, to conformity, to why men don’t cry.
“I draw the world, my world, at this moment in history, as I see it. I draw myself, as clichéd as it sounds, to know myself. I seek to understand life and myself. I mostly draw to question the status quo and our hypocrisies - as a society, as a generation, as an individual. The art is broadly satire, alternating between the dark, confrontational, and whimsical”, says Ilango.
She has done two long-drawn projects so far. #100daysofdirtylaundry which attempts to go beyond the perfectly-curated rose-tinted online social media selves, to delve into dirty laundries/ taboos- be it materialism, periods, social media validation games, grief, addictions, etc. Her second project is #thisisapandemicmind where she has been documenting her pandemic days this year.
“My art, in most parts, draws from my messy life. Some themes I subconsciously find myself returning to are feminism, body politics & beauty standards, tech anxiety and paranoia in a generation that primarily lives online, conformity and its outliers, loneliness, living with a different mind and challenges with mental health,” says the artist.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete,” says one illustration of a girl. Another talks about misogyny and patriarchal habits in Indian homes.
Pranita Kocharekar, has 54.5 K followers on her Insta account Pranitaart. The 29-year-old Mumbai based artist, tackles mental and physical health, feminism, patriarchy, ableism. She talks about panic attacks and anxiety and even simple things like self-love and self-care.
“A lot of my work stems from my daily experiences, professional experiences and mental health journey. I want people to know that they are not alone in experiencing what they do, through my illustrations.”
Goddess Kali wears a pink graphic T-shirt and is a badass brown girl with a nose piercing, Another shows a pair of hairy legs and asks “why is this not socially acceptable?"
Priyanka Paul, 21, a Mumbai based artist with her handle called @artwhoring takes on the aesthetic of goddesses from around the world and reimagines them as spunky, modern-day feminist women. Paul’s creations are accompanied by either poetry or prose.
Paul attacks patriarchy and misogyny through her art. She talks about the objectification of women and the lack of sex education in the country. She takes on mental health, body positivism and caste. She wants people to reflect on the social conditioning and oppression across different sections of society. She also talks about the derogatory words used to describe women. The artist has been criticised and even received threats for her controversial work.
“My art is a very strong part of me and my self-expression, and I make it a point that my art is not merely eye candy, it doesn’t just exist for the sake of #aesthetic. My strongest hope from my art is to inform and educate and if it can-to empowers. These are the things that I, as a person, too stand for,” she says on her website.