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Framed
December 24, 2018

How Anshika Khullar Uses Art To Empower The LGBTQIA+ Community

Text by Ojas Kolvankar. Illustration by Anshika Khullar

The 24-year-old England-based illustrator, talks to Verve about the process of creating an inclusive imagery of the LGBTQIA+ community and pushing for adequate representation for South Asian queer groups on a global scale

What nuance does visual art add to your particular brand of activism ?
Visual art lets me showcase my perspective as a queer, brown, feminine and gender-fluid person by highlighting the beauty in under-represented bodies.

A huge part of my activism is centred around positive representation of marginalised communities. There’s a big stride towards this in various creative industries, particularly in the West, where people of colour have been increasingly coming to the fore and reclaiming the space, which has historically been kept from them due to colonialism and racism.

There’s still a lack of representation in the media. Except for Frida Kahlo, white, cisgender and heterosexual men have prevailed throughout history as masters of art, but that’s because they have largely written our history. In doing so, they have kept cisgender and transwomen, non-binary folks, and more particularly those of colour, out of the narrative. We’ve been creating art for just as long as them, but it isn’t visible or as valued as theirs. Hence our voices and perspectives have been scarce.

Do details enhance or take away from a sense of universality in your art?
I’m not aiming for universality in my art; there is plenty of that kind of art out there to appeal to mainstream audiences. My work is supposed to be detailed and niche because it’s aimed at people who’ve barely had very positive representation of themselves to relate to. I showcase these groups highlighting all the little details such as size, stretch marks, body hair, skin conditions, complexions, queer symbols and sexual imagery. Anything hidden from view becomes shrouded in mystery and ultimately, something to be ashamed of. I want to create works that humanise and give marginalised communities visibility.

How does social media influence your art process?
I love being able to interact with people who are consuming my art because it helps me understand the impact it is creating. I can tell instantly if something that I’ve created resonates with the audience or not; it gives me the chance to have my work critiqued constructively. For instance, someone once wrote to me asking if I could include more facial hair on my feminine characters because they’d like to be represented realistically.

My art is people-powered, and it isn’t impactful if one disconnects it from social media. It also has its disadvantages — a lot of people and brands feel entitled to use my work without acknowledging the emotional labour that goes into creating each one — but for me the positives have far outweighed the negatives.

What are your views on the South Asian LGBTQIA+ community?
I’ve been very lucky to have made invaluable connections with the South Asian community in London, specifically through ventures such as The Other Box. They are dedicated to championing creative people of colour. And this has enabled me to build relationships.

Prior to this, I was disconnected from people who shared similar backgrounds, which can be quite a common diasporic experience, particularly if one doesn’t reside in or near cities like London. This disconnect can be quite isolating, especially for a queer South Asian person. Social media has been a blessing in that sense. It’s helped me connect with other queer desis.

But there’s also a responsibility to pave the way for younger generations — they should have an easier, better experience coming to terms with their identity. The activism and work we do is all to ensure that no one from the community has to feel persecuted. We’re a long way from that, but small steps such as the recent revoking of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is helping us get there.

As a non-binary individual, what are your views on the #MeToo movement in India?
Women in India have historically been either idolised or vilified. They’ve never been seen simply as people deserving of the same basic respect and rights as anyone else. These conversations with women coming forward to bravely share their trauma have to be taken seriously. We have to believe women if we are ever to get to a place where we actually address the abhorrent ways in which they are treated.

I also see where the movement is falling short, and this isn’t specific to India; we need to open up the conversation around #MeToo to be more inclusive of marginalised identities. The fears that cisgender women have in terms of sexual violence are the same as the ones transwomen and non-binary people have. Recognising what allies us instead of the ways we might be different is important if we want to move the conversation into a space that is even more inclusive.

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