Although ‘art is a universal language’ is a term that’s become a cliche, even bastardised in a certain manner, it’s undeniable that it continues to hold true. Indians have often turned to the world of art in its various forms and medium, to use as an outlet of creative expression, exploration of one’s self and identity, as well as a reflection of society. Be it lighthearted cartoons or intricate miniatures — forgive us for another cliche — a picture truly does speak a thousand words, at times untranslatable words that can’t be done justice to in any other manner.
Whatever downfalls and criticisms one may have of India, what can’t be refuted is the multiple indigenous, traditional and contemporary forms of art we have across our vast land. Maybe it’s just something we’re all born with, the human race as a whole looks for an outlet to let our imaginations run wild. While art as a career is still looked down upon by many in society, it hasn’t stopped the younger generations from carrying on in any way.
The burgeoning artistic talent of our countrymen holds no borders, be it the stellar works of Anish Kapoor or the incredible Mira Nair — the Indian diaspora is far and wide, and today we look at 10 contemporary global Indian artists that are making waves with their growing bodies of work. From painters to graphic designers, singers and fashion designers, this talented bunch has used art as a tool for exploration of their south Asian identity, voice strong social messages and even just plain ‘ol quirky fun.
Using fluorescent colours and simple geometric shapes, New York-based artist Aakash Nihalani creates complex 3D art installations on the street across the globe. Through his distinct style of ‘tape art,’ Aakash transforms public spaces creating a unique lens to view this world through.
II. Alok Vaid-Menon
A non-binary, transfeminine writer, entertainer, and performance artist is how Alok Vaid-Menon has been described in their own words. Having grown up in a conservative Texas town, Alok is known for being one half of the performance art and poetry duo DarkMatter, alongside Janani Balasubramanian. Having since parted ways to follow their own paths of creative expression, their work voices trans politics, creating a safe space for queer people of colour that are searching for an identity, while also calling for the visibility of an entire generation that fall left of centre of the dominant heteronormative societal standards.
III. Babneet Lakhesar AKA Babbu The Painter
Based in Toronto, Babneet Lakhesar was born in India and these Indian elements find their way into her multi-faceted artistic works. Be it painting, graphics or designing clothes - Babbu the painter, as she’s known popularly in the online word, has her toes dipped in all the vibrant pools of tongue-in-cheek humour. The #BadBeti movement initiated by her and artist Maria Qamar took the internet by storm last year.
Heavily influenced by pop art and, well, Bollywood’s stereotyping of women, Babneet’s take on Indian culture through the unique lens of an ‘immigrant’ living in Toronto is something you definitely want on your feed.
IV. Chiraag Bhakta AKA Pardon My Hindi
Known by his online pseudonym *Pardon My Hindi, artist and designer Chiraag Bhakta made waves on social media first with his collaboration with Das Racist, followed by his hashtag #WhitePeopleDoingYoga and subsequent exhibition of the same. In his own words, “This piece is a reflection of my personal relationship, as an Indian American, with yoga and its migration to today’s Western context. I call this piece #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, the hashtag symbolising the commercialisation and commodification of a culture.”
Bhakta’s work explores the South Asian identity, history, race, multiculturalism and pop-culture in an age of increasing globalisation and the creation of a global community, all while race tensions continue to exist - his eclectic work is an amalgamation of mixed media and found objects.
V. Himanshu Suri AKA Heems
Himanshu Suri, popularly known as Heems, broke out in the American music scene with his collaboration with his friend Victor Vazquez, with his alternative rap project, Das Racist, which when joined with another musician of Indian roots, Ashok Kondabolu as hype man, gained a new status for alternative hip hop in America. Heems, most known for his lyrics infused with quirky humour and pop culture references, has now began an independent career, along with Riz Ahmed as part of Swet Shop Boys.
VI. Janani Balasubramanian
Janani Balasubramanian describes themselves as a writer of speculative fiction. The second half of the Darkmatter with Alok Vaid-Menon, Janani is a trans-rights activist, and along with their spectacular spoken word poetry performances they are currently working on Sleeper – “a trilogy about a post-war dystopia where sleep is a form of labor performed only by some. Set in dreams, waking life, folk tale, and everything in between, Sleeper uncovers a conspiracy as deep as the human need for sleep itself,” as Janani describes it.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find Janani’s social media pages, but you can stay updated on Sleeper by signing up on the website, read some their writing here, and spoken word performances on Youtube.
VII. Karan Singh
To say Karan Singh is talented would be an understatement. The Australian artist of Indian descent, currently living in Tokyo, is a powerhouse of artistic skill and his work has caught eyes around the world. Using vibrant, bold colours, patterns and strong vectors, Karan’s work is reminiscent of the incredible Yayoi Kusama, in terms of pattern repetitions.
VIII. Ketna Patel
Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and Ketna Patel’s work may appear to be just pop art-inspired, multi-colour collages, of sorts, but peel back its layers and you’ll find conversations on multiculturalism, identity, globalisation, and politics. Born in East Africa, a Britain citizen of Indian descent living in Singapore - Ketna has seen and experienced three drastically different, at times opposing, but simultaneously similar cultural interactions, all of which seep into her work.
Her body of work comprises of paintings and collages that you’ll find on furniture, sculptures, fashion accessories and even cars!
Visit her website to see more of her amazing creations.
IX. Manjit Thapp
UK-based Manjit Thapp is an illustrator representing everything pop culture. She is killing it with her merging of digital creative programming with the pencil work. Thapp’s unique aesthetic often portrays popular modern imagery with the kind of diversity in it’s representation of people of all communities, which is exactly what we love about her work.
X. Meera Sethi
Meera Sethi has long established herself as a household name when it comes to the South Asian artist community on a global level. Her three-part project ‘Upping The Aunty’ went viral across social media platforms, a project that included an adult colouring book, paintings and photographs. Her work comments on the relationship between culture, fashion and identity, and the politics of crossing boundaries.
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