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Framed
April 30, 2019

Simmi Patel’s Illustrations Combine Desi Tropes With Western Pop Culture

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

Creating artworks heavy with word-play, this San Francisco artist with an Indian upbringing is tapping into a humour that appeals to the ‘Indo-Western-influenced Shahrukh-Kanye soul’

My colleague and I chuckle as we scroll through my phone during what we have come to call our designated Instagram breaks. I’ve stumbled upon Simmi Patel’s Instagram account — she goes by @papersamosa — and an illustration has caught my eye; it features a hijabi-version of the Evil Queen from Snow White peering into the Magic Mirror and demanding to know whose biryani is the best of all. The mirror curtly responds with ‘your devrani.’

A quick Google search informs me that Patel was born in London, raised in America, and currently lives in San Francisco and I’m momentarily surprised at how a young woman who has never been to her homeland, can be so much in sync with the culture of her country. The California-based millennial succeeds in reeling in her target audience, consisting mostly of NRIs, by injecting her art with a quality that is highly coveted in these times — relatability. It’s hard to not immediately want to share an illustration titled Yoda Akbar.

Patel, who has worked as a copywriter for various brands, said that Paper Samosa was born out of a need to express herself as an artist instead of conforming to the professional guidelines that came with her job description. Upon discovering that she had a flair for puns and word-play, she quickly channelled her talents into creating clever drawings for people like her — the in-betweeners who grew up in Indian households with a fair amount of sanskaar but also jammed to Drake and Tupac with their firangi pals. Representation, she says, was the whole idea behind doing what she does. However, she takes utmost care to not exclude her non-Indian friends, a fact that is supported by the insertion of a cheat sheet at the bottom of each illustration, only so that they know deewaana translates into crazy in Hindi.

The first-ever illustration on Paper Samosa’s Instagram account — a simple word bubble containing a four-word self-encouraging phrase, chal let’s do this, colloquially used amongst friends in India — received 147 likes and 8 comments. Her latest post of a bottle of Sriracha sauce with a garland around its neck accompanied by the caption Jai Sriracha garnered 8,210 likes and 206 comments. It would be safe to say that Patel has come a long way since her days as a novice illustrator; she has even made a neat little business out of her artworks by having them digitally printed onto t-shirts, cups, pillowcases and posters which you can check out here.

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