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May 16, 2019

Namrata Kumar Celebrates Unconventional Beauty Through Her Instagram Art

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

The artist’s series-based illustrations pay homage to the fierceness and authenticity of different women

I meet exquisitely attired maharanis from Rajasthan, free-spirited tribeswomen from Karnataka and traditionally-garbed women from Ceylon — all within a few minutes — when I scroll through Namrata Kumar’s Instagram feed. The graphic designer, artist and ceramist-in-training has a predilection for creating series-specific artworks skilfully using colour to set the mood; muted tones to evoke a feeling of calmness, rich tones to evoke a feeling of culture and festivity.

As a kid, Kumar was always neck-deep in craft projects and loved experimenting with papier mache and clay. “What appealed to me then and even now is that there are no rules in art; dinosaurs can fly in outer space, and humans can have 14 eyes,” she says. We talk technique, inspirations and influences with the artist and learn why traditional women in all their classic finery feature heavily in her artworks.

Why have you chosen women as the predominant subjects for your artworks?
The Women of Ceylon, Seated Women and Rani series are all about celebrating the beauty, strength and vulnerability of women. The paintings have a vintage quality to them because these faces belong to the women of yesteryear but somehow, also to the women of today. There’s something authentic about them and their honesty is communicated through their body language and facial expressions. They are not conventionally beautiful which is why people can relate to them.

When I started painting the Women of Ceylon series, my intention behind painting these women was not completely realised. As I delved deeper into the series, the subject matter started resonating with me more and more. While choosing faces to reference these paintings on, I hunted for a certain intensity that reeled me in. The point was not to paint just any face, it was to breathe life into a specific kind of woman who communicated certain values. Subjects in the Women of Ceylon, Rani and Seated Women series have a subtle fierceness about them. I have tried to include all body types in these illustrations, especially the Luna series, in an attempt to depict women authentically. For me, painting these enigmatic women was a way of honouring my gender. Feminism has many facets and I believe these illustrations are my way of contributing to the cause.

What is the idea behind your thematic series like Seascapes of Kutch, Fort Kochin and Women of Ceylon?
When I visit new cities, I like to observe its people, culture, art and design to understand what gives the place its unique personality. The Seascapes of Kutch are painted in a muted colour palette and have minimal compositions containing very few elements because I wanted them to portray a sense of stillness and exude an almost-meditative vibe. On the other hand, the artworks in the Welligama series have a vibrant, luminous colour palette — there is movement in the strokes that captures the youthful, laidback appeal of the Sri Lankan beachside.

The underlying commonality in a lot of my artworks is that there is something inherently desi about them. I love deriving my themes from India because our country has so much to offer in terms of its complex and layered beauty, and when that gets translated into art, the result is magical.

I also noticed that Sri Lankan locals and locales feature heavily in your art. Do you have a special connection with the country?
I fell in love with Sri Lanka’s lush greenery and cerulean skies with pristine clouds when I visited the country last year. Its citizens were happy, warm and easygoing. Welligama, a beach on the south coast of the country which is very popular for surfing, was my favourite beach amongst the ones that I visited and I decided to illustrate it in my Welligama series.

I painted Women of Ceylon series early last year before I had actually travelled to Sri Lanka. I stumbled upon vintage photographs of people from Ceylon — Sri Lanka was called Ceylon from 1815 to 1948 when it was a British colony — and felt drawn to them. There was something inherently arresting about the women in particular, and I immediately wanted to paint their faces. This exercise made me want to visit Sri Lanka even more, and after I travelled there last year, my bond with the country became much stronger. It was heartbreaking to hear about the recent bombings on Easter — such a beautiful country being devastated by cowardly acts of terrorism is extremely saddening. I hope peace returns to the country soon and its people are able to heal with time.

Tell us the process that goes into creating a single sketch from start to finish.
The first step is to select my subject which is usually inspired by the places I travel to. Often, someone else’s work will set off a spark in my brain and I channel that flame into my own style.

Once I have a subject, I try to figure out which medium I’d like to use. This usually depends on the subject and purpose of the artwork; for example, I generally like to opt for digital illustrations for commercial projects as it is a quicker process and client work is usually time-sensitive. For personal work, I usually work with acrylic paints since I’m comfortable with them and love the quality of the medium. I also like using oil pastels as I believe they lend a raw character to my artworks.

The third step is figuring out my colour palette. When certain hues are used together, they are able to evoke a special sort of mood. For example, the seated women series has a colour palette of deep shades like magenta, green, mauve, turquoise, scarlet, gold and brown which give the paintings a vivid yet old-world charm. Once I pick the colours, I create a digital sketch of the artwork. When satisfied with the composition, I fill it in either by hand or digitally.

What is one of the best compliments you’ve received regarding a specific series?
The entire Women of Ceylon series was purchased and to me, that’s the highest honour. The demand for prints is quite high and strangers have written to me saying they love the series. It’s really encouraging and I’m very grateful to people for their appreciation.

What’s in the pipeline?
I’m currently taking a class in ceramics and I look forward to devoting more time to that art form in the future. I’d love to exhibit art and ceramics together someday. I’m interested in creating prints for textiles and hope to put out a collection soon. I also want to explore abstract art and work closely with colour and forms. Furthermore, I’m working on retailing my prints out of stores in Delhi and other cities in India so that my work can reach a wider audience.

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