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Framed
October 03, 2018

5 Artists Destroying The Archaic ‘Sanskaari Bride’ Trope

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

As the wedding season begins, have you already had enough of imagery depicting layers of make-up, an accommodating smile and eyes permanently fixed to the floor? These artists’ badass desi dulhans are challenging the norm….

Anu Chouhan

While watching Mother India (1957), Anu Chouhan came across a scene in the film where Nargis’ character pulled a veil over her face when a man started talking to her. The Vancouver-based artist was irked to see this portrayal of forced modesty and helplessness and so she channelled her sentiments into this artwork. “I don’t care what you think,” she says. “I’m gonna do me.”

On the theme of her artworks… “I focus on a lot of feminist themes through the lens of fantasy, sci-fi and humour. I mainly draw South Asian women because growing up, I longed to see more cartoons and comic characters that looked like me.”

On the kind of bride she’d be… “Marriage isn’t on my radar yet, but if I do get married, I’d want to do something unique and true to myself. I envision a destination wedding — preferably at Disneyland — and an edgy Vivienne Westwood accessory worked into a traditional desi wedding look.”

On the artists she looks up to… “Ai Yazawa (creator of Nana) and Naoko Takeuchi (creator of Sailor Moon) are two Japanese manga artists who have inspired me tremendously. I’m also a huge fan of Katsuya Terada’s illustrations, as well as Jin Kim, an animation artist at Disney who sketches extraordinarily expressive characters. I’m also inspired by my fellow South Asian artists on a daily basis via social media. ”

Follow her work on Instagram at @anumation

Neha Kapil

As a creative soul who grew up far away from her roots, this Minnesota-based artist’s work is a study in feminism through the ages. Presenting juxtaposing characters that are a far cry from their original avatars, Kapil uses mythological characters to bring her ideas to life. For example, her final piece in a series titled Desi Remix which shows a formidable goddess Indrani saving her husband Indra by leading the battle — a true reversal of the typical ‘damsel in distress’ scenario. The divine couple represents a feminist uprising during that era with Indra deriving his name from his wife instead of the other way round. Designing the artwork was Kapil’s way of inviting Indian brides to embrace the power of their own femininity instead of bending at the will of her husband (and in-laws).

On the theme of her artworks… “My work is an exploration of feminism in Indian culture. It’s about seeing how far back in history we can go and still find examples of powerful, strong women. There are so many fierce women in our culture whose accomplishments have often been swept under the rug by patriarchy, so I use art to bring their stories to life. I think it’s important to use visuals as a form of education, so I like to challenge the viewer by giving them more than just something to look at.”

On the kind of bride she’d be… “I don’t think I ever want to get married, but at the same time, you can never say never. If one day I do happen to become a bride, my aesthetic would definitely be unconventional yet traditional — one-of-a-kind and out of the box, but still true to my culture and traditions.”

On the artists she looks up to… “My art is heavily influenced by traditional styles like classical realism and the art nouveau movement. I was always fascinated by realism and portraying the human form, so I grew up studying renaissance artists and pre-modern paintings. I love Sandro Botticelli because Birth of Venus is my favourite painting. I admire Alphonse Mucha for his intricate details, John Williams Waterhouse for his portrayal of women in mythology and Raja Ravi Varma because I always wanted to be the modern-day version of him.”

On being a part of the Indian diaspora… “Growing up in the diaspora definitely created an interesting sense of identity because we were brought up between two worlds.  Being an Indian American, there’s a complex set of emotions that comes with being “too brown” for white people but not “brown enough” for Indian people. In a way, this idea of not perfectly fitting in influenced me to create art that bridges the gap. As an artist, I feel that I have a responsibility to fight for South Asian representation in the U.S., given that our culture is one of the most appropriated yet least represented.”

Follow her work on Instagram at @itsnehalicious

Hiba Khan

This Calgary-based artist grew up in a very conservative household in Pakistan where she was expected to behave a certain way based on her (assumed) gender. From a young age she often felt that everyone around her only viewed her through the lens of being ‘rishta-ready’. Khan used her art to express her frustration at being reduced to a possession to be given away in due time and drew this sneering bride.

On theme of her artworks… “I do a lot of portraits and I always end up illustrating femme characters. Most of my art has South Asian elements, but I’m moving towards exploring more subjects beyond my identity as a Pakistani immigrant.”

On the kind of bride she was… “I was a bride that did not really want a wedding but got one anyway because desi people will never turn down an opportunity to have a big party. I didn’t like being the center of attention. Rukhsati (giving away of the bride) was hard for me because I didn’t cry, while everyone else did. I couldn’t cry because I was ecstatic about finally getting out of that stifling environment. Aunties and uncles were interrogating me about my partner’s education level, job and religion. My partner’s sister showed up and tried to create a scene because she didn’t approve of me. I hadn’t slept the night before so to sum it up, I was a sleepy and uncomfortable bride who just wanted to go home.”

On the artists she looks up to… “I love Alok V. Menon. They are a gender non-conforming performance artist, fashion icon and writer. Alok has the best outfits, and seeing their beautiful pictures on Instagram always makes my day. Their poetry is moving and touches on topics that mean a lot to me.”

Follow her work on Instagram at @hibakhanart

Nimisha Bhanot

As a fervent believer of fair representation, this Canada-based artist’s Instagram feed is filled with creations that reimagine iconic imagery like the Gap ad from the 90s, this time with South Asian women. Bhanot regularly promotes the work of fellow Indian diaspora artists in a bid to catapult them into the limelight with their white peers. This particular illustration of the badass desi bride made it to her canvas because it chipped away at the picture-perfect perception of how Indian brides are supposed to put on a demure performance when they get married. It allowed her to present a humorous take on the ‘No Boxed Gifts’ custom on the bottom of all desi wedding invitations.

On the theme of her artworks… “My works attempt to highlight the intricacies of the female gaze and the dichotomy of being a first-generation South Asian in North America. The subjects talk back and challenge the societal norm for women of our community and the subject matter usually plays into the duality of belonging neither here nor there.”

On the kind of bride she’d be… “I don’t know if I’ll ever get married but if I do, I’d definitely need a planner to maintain my inner peace through it all since I am such a perfectionist.”

On the artists she looks up to… “I love the works of Divya Mehra, Sara Maple, Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley because they are all producing phenomenal art and are speaking out about issues like identity, racism, homophobia and sexism that plague our society. They are creating a space for conversations which shouldn’t be tough to have but still are.”

Follow her work on Instagram at @nimishabhanot

Sam Madhu

The illustration of an Indian bride with pink hair wearing a fitted bustier and a G-string and holding a cigarette between her fingers was one of the first images that this Indian artist created when she began exploring her identity and questioning the boundaries of her cultural exposure. She accepts that she had always been a wild child and a rebel, doing all the things that a ‘good Indian girl’ was not supposed to do. At the same time, she was quintessentially Indian in the sense that she was very close to her family. Feeling like she never really fit in anywhere, she realised that she wanted to explore art that placed the Indian woman in the middle ground between being liberated and traditional.

On the kind of bride she’d be… “I can’t see myself getting married because I’m so immature, but I do hope it happens someday. As a bride, I’d like to be understated, elegant and elevated. I don’t believe in over-embellished, gaudy bridal wear. I’d like to represent a thoughtful, powerful and modern Indian woman who is marrying a worthy and respectful partner.”

On the artists she looks up to… “I’m into a wide variety of art and artists. Recently I’ve been extremely inspired by the works of Nick Knight and SHOWstudio. I think fashion photography and film can bring dreams to life and I hope to do the same with my art.”

On how being Indian affects her art… “My nationality pretty much sets the basis for my experiences — it’s very important to know your past if you want to go forward. India is a bubbling cauldron filled with ideas ready to explode. Directors like Anurag Kashyap — who used my art for his film Manmarizyaan (2018) — have a way of introducing modern/alternate Indian narratives into mainstream culture. Being able to collaborate with such individuals only makes me stronger as a creative and I’m very happy to be part of this cultural revolution.”

Follow her work on Instagram at @sam_madhu

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