Fusing Art, Female Empowerment and Social Change: An Interview with Nimisha Bhanot

With the aid of social media, artists today are an incredibly powerful force in the power play of global social, political and cultural change. Nimisha Bhanot, an Indo-Canadian artist, is one such powerful force. Her painting series ‘Badass Indian Pinups’ was featured in prominent publications such as Buzzfeed, SBS and BBC Asia Network. In an exclusive interview with Pigment Press, Bhanot discusses more about her art, her inspiration to paint, and how she plans to create more cultural change.

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‘Badass Pinups’ was inspired by Bhanot’s love for pinups but the dissatisfaction in the fact that she could never relate to them. She decided to appropriate the American pinup but instead of white American women always appearing so caught off-guard, she put emphasis on “the gaze and continuing to juxtapose dual cultural signifiers to mimic [Bhanot’s] bicultural identity”. Bhanot’s desire to create art that fused Eastern and Western culture and ergo reflect her identity was fueled by the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh and the victim blaming that came along it.

I know many South Asian women have been told that feeling sexy, showing skin, drinking, having tattoos etc., are things to be ashamed of. God forbid someone sees you and tells the entire community!

Instead of hiding these women, Bhanot decided to depict them ‘in beautiful clothing, with very lush, patterned backgrounds in an attempt to idolize them for their individuality’.

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Bhanot illustrates the importance of art as an agent of change by emphasizing on the way in which art can entice conversation about issues that affect a community, and more broadly, reflect modern diaspora. While portraiture was traditionally used to honor monarchs and members of the aristocracy, Bhanot’s paintings instead honour those who break the rules to live lives of their choosing despite contrasting expectations of dual cultural identities. Bhanot believes that stylistically, her work is not different from traditional South Asian art. “I’m obviously going for something a lot more dimensional versus miniature art which tends to be very flat.” However, her work is produced from a different point of view.

I think the most important distinction is the gaze, my subjects are confrontationally looking back at the viewer instead of just being something to admire from afar.

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Bhanot also stresses the importance of doing something that you can “imagine doing non-stop without ever getting tired or bored”. It was not until after Bhanot enrolled into Life Sciences at University with the aim of becoming a doctor, did she discover that her heart wasn’t in it.

My peers were sincerely interested in what they were learning and I just found myself getting distracted all the time. I had so much anxiety over my grades, over getting a 3.8 GPA so I could qualify for medical school. I’ve always loved school but I hated every day that I was there so I dropped out so I could be somewhere that made me love learning.

Bhanot applied to OACD University in Canada in 2009, unsure of the fact that she would be good enough to become a professional artist until one day in her 3rd year at University when she took nothing but painting studio classes. “Studio classes typically run from 3-6 hours each and it was in these classes that I realized painting was the only thing I could do non-stop without ever getting tired or bored. This is when I knew I made the right choice dropping out of the sciences”.

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Bhanot continues to inspire and drive social change through her art. She is producing a new series of paintings this summer which is about social media icons and the South Asian diaspora. She will also be working on a new series of paintings about complexion and body image – issues that are relevant to all women. For those who are lucky enough to live or visit Canada can see her works in person at her very first show this fall.

Thank you Nimisha Bhanot, for bringing us art that expresses how South Asian women should feel – liberated, confident and beautiful.

You can see more of Nimisha Bhanot’s work on her website www.nimishabhanot.comFacebook and Instagram.