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  • Writer's pictureVSK

Peelin' Onions!

To paraphrase Shrek, ogres (and artists) are like onions; both have layers.

We’re all a complex concoction of a million different layers of emotions and experiences and today I’d like to peel back a few to give you a glimpse into the hermit crab that resides within this bright, multicoloured shell of confidence, empathy, feminism and quirkiness. So buckle up!

Our journey begins in the tiny industrial town of Kanpur, which was like any typical small town in India. Everyone knew everyone and even something as innocuous as a haircut could be cause of concern, discussion and comment amongst the neighbourhood aunties. School was never as glamorous as the movies, mainly because I was a giant nerd and thus I had few friends, most of whom were the hard-bound tomes in our dusty library. I was introverted and a teacher’s pet and I could never express my true personality. Throughout my adolescence, art was my companion, my release, and the only way I felt aligned with my true self.

While school was tainted in shades of beige and dishwater grey for me, my home on the other hand was a riot of colour and self-expression. Living with erudite, well-read and well-travelled parents with a passion for reading, travel and the arts, we developed a voracious appetite for books and were encouraged in our creative pursuits. My family had a rule – no store-bought gifts – and all those years of creating handmade paintings and presents really helped push my imagination and creativity to new heights.

My home was also my first art gallery as my parents proudly displayed all my scribbles as if they were masterpieces.

Cut to a few years later, I moved to the fast, happening and chaotic city of Delhi. Nobody knew me as the shy girl from Kanpur and the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be was almost intoxicating.

I joined the School of Planning and Architecture and in the five years that I was a part of this prestigious institution, I really came into my own. College was a smorgasbord of talent and I met some of the most interesting, exciting and intelligent minds from across the country. I burst forth from the chrysalis of my introversion and joined every possible club and society – be it theatre, music, fashion design and of course, art. My experiences in college contributed to shaping my creative thought processes to a massive extent, and my artistic style thrived while I was there.

While in college I got an opportunity to intern with Gensler Architects in Chicago and I grabbed that with both hands. Chicago was an eye-opener for the sheltered girl from Kanpur who was yearning for a taste of independence. I contributed to a variety of projects; from retrofitting banks, to designing for institutions to pro bono construction work in low income neighbourhoods and even cooking in partnership with Mc Donalds! Chicago enriched me like nothing else.

I fell in love with city – its culture of speakeasy jazz bars, blues music, inclusivity and tolerance, amazing food and people from around the world. I had conversations that left me a little wiser and experiences that brought me learning and growth.

I was paying the bills, living on my own, meeting exciting new people every day and was exposed to diverse cultures and food! The city had so much to offer and I was eager to take it all in. I’m not sure if it was the city, the people, the experiences or the independence, but I felt at home there.

To me, art is an interesting contradiction – fluid yet permanent. Capable of holding multitudes of meaning within a single stroke. It evokes a sense of belonging, a feeling of warmth, acceptance and a natural state of being.

Post college, I worked in a variety of careers – as an architect, an interior designer, an urban planner and furniture designer. I designed residences and commercial spaces, townships and showrooms and even worked as a baker! But something was still missing. I felt incomplete and yearned for more. In 2014, a personal tragedy led me to Lisbon, Portugal. Walking the narrow cobbled lanes of the city in a daze of emptiness and uncertainty I was overwhelmed by the smell of salt and the sea, the bright vibrant colours and the clamour of so many different languages. Lisbon has an amazing amount of local artistic talent, manifesting in the gorgeous street art on display, and the city moved me like no other. I came back from there a changed woman and I knew I couldn’t continue creating in half measures. I resolved to throw myself body and soul into my art and pursue my calling full time.

A few months later I posted a photograph of a painting I made of a sari-clad woman on social media. I received a message from a someone residing in my hometown of Kanpur who loved the painting and wanted it for his living room. Just like that, I sold my first piece of art and there’s been no looking back!



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