Sharanya Ravi's Digital Art Vividly Captures Sapphic Love & Queer Resistance

Sharanya Ravi's Digital Art Vividly Captures Sapphic Love & Queer Resistance
Dame Drawsalot

People say that falling in love in Mumbai is in the small things, for the many people that have made the city their home. In movies and music, we’ve seen it all. But the queer love stories of brown people are only found by those that seek it out, as they rarely find mainstream representation. But there are artists in the virtual space who are depicting stories of queer love in ancient times and showcasing modern ones. Sharanya Ravi is someone who creates digital art whose main subjects are strong brown women and queer relationships, all seen through a soft, whimsical style with soft strokes and pastel hues. When you look through her instagram, you’d see soft brown women with realistic features and relatable stories of their attempts at living and loving. 

The 20-year-old visual arts student grew up in Mumbai, with a deep love for stories. She traces her love for art back to her grandfather and her attempts of drawing the stories that he would tell her. While she always doodled through her life, the lockdown is when she spent all her time painting and realised that she has a real passion for it. 

Her biggest inspiration throughout her work is the mythology and literature that she grew up loving. While she started by reading poetry and epics, today she writes stories of her own. They are translated into the visual medium through her works. The fact that women in literature were rarely given reins of their own fate is something that drove her to write more female-focused stories. In her own words, ‘The plot of most great stories usually revolves around some external being dictating the lives of the women. The Lady of Shalot’s fate was sealed by a mysterious curse. Tired of her wretched life, she left the confines of her tower only to meet her demise. Arachne was turned into a spider as punishment for being a talented weaver. Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, was killed for her girdle. Strong, independent women always seem to end up dead. The message is hardly subtle. We have become desensitised to the erasure of women as individuals with free will. I want to write and paint stories with strong female characters, ones that I can look up to. I think it's this sense of anger, injustice and indignation that drives me.’

With most of her artworks talking about queer love and identity, her sense of self and her personal perspective is the base of all her works. Growing up without seeing people like herself represented, she felt that stories like her’s deserved to be told. To reaffirm the existence of queer identities, she hopes to see more stories in galleries and history books and she looks at her art as a way to give more visibility to the people of her community. Through her works, she seeks to depict how being queer, just like any other aspect of your identity, shapes how you see yourself and the world. And how it also shapes how one looks at love - being loved and loving someone.

She never really came out to anybody, but rather she started making and posting gay art one fine day. Her art is a visual representation of her exploration of her identity - in the beginning, she laid out stories that prove that she exists in a community. A few months after that, she drew and wrote a self-portrait describing her complicated relationship with herself. And these days, she has begun making and creating a queer story of her own. In talking about the motifs of her works, she said, ‘I like portraying moments of tender intimacy, the quick hug or warm cuddle that makes us human. Right now, I think queer bodies are either extremely sexualised or completely erased. We are robbed of a gentle, mundane existence. I show the slow moments that force you to look at us and acknowledge that we are just as human as you are. You cannot call my art vulgar or unnatural and dismiss it. I won't make it easy for you to hide your cruelty in the guise of being an upstanding citizen. I'm not going to make it easy.’ 

Despite being a South Asian artist, she never really thought about her Indian identity when she was younger. When one lives in India, surrounded by other people who are brown, things might seem pretty easy. But as she grew older, she started noticing that all her favourite shows, books, paintings, and music all seemed to be from the distant land of the West and that it seemed like the modern world had forgotten about brown people. She started noticing that more and more of the things she was taught to look up to didn't look like anything familiar. She noticed that in modern galleries and museums, brown bodies were rarely found. More specifically, if they weren't savages or exotics, it seemed like there was no place for brown bodies. But through her art, Sharanya is attempting to put brown bodies where they belong with everyone else. She is trying to represent the lives and culture of India without exoticising them. She looks at the act of simply asking to exist as we are, as revolutionary. And her act of rebellion is painting brown bodies. It is a simple act, but one that she urges more brown people to be a part of. 

As someone who lives in her head a lot, Sharanya is someone who is constantly on the lookout for the beautifully mundane things around her. She says that she thinks of her train of thought as an actual train, that picks up passengers and little moments on its way - whether that is bottles of sunlight. Moss crawling on bark or disembodied features of people that she has met in passing. The medium that she chooses to work with is often decided by the story itself, whether that is watercolours, pastels, ink or digital. 

She doesn’t follow a specific visual style and much like the subject of her work, it is a continuing exploration and she finds new ways to express herself. According to her, ‘I use a vibrant palette that reflects my love for how the world looks in the 4 o'clock sun. I like drawing swords and skulls, armour and blood, flowers and gossamer gowns. I've played with replacing the white knight with a brown one. Whenever I miss my grandfather, you can see darker themes of decay, bitterness and loss in my work. Off late, I've worked with brown bodies, often queer, and their place in the world.’

Currently, Sharanya is working on several different projects. Her most recent work is what initially caught our attention, here at Homegrown. She has been creating and sharing the love story of her first original characters Goth GF and Pink GF. The episodic stories that have been shared through reel show two young queer women falling in love in Mumbai and capture the small beautiful moments from this story. 

But personally, for her, the biggest project has been the Dames and Dykes project she began last June. She did an open call on instagram asking people for their stories as queer, brown individuals. They could remain anonymous, and she’d bring their words to life. It has helped her build a community and helped her prove that she wasn't alone. It was a beautiful experience for her, with some people even coming out to her. For her, this project has become this cosy room of rainbows huddled exchanging laughs and secrets.’

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