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Lavanya Bahuguna

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Artist Neha Kapil Wants To Introduce You To Forgotten Badass Women From Indian Mythology

  • IWB Post
  •  January 29, 2018

Neha Kapil had always been an artist at heart, and since childhood, she was bold enough to know that she will choose her passion over everything else.

Learning about Indian Goddesses and badass women from the Hindu mythology, Neha is making art that is not just stunning to look at but can also teach us a thing or two about the stories of women we should have grown up on. Excerpts:

Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m a visual artist, beauty vlogger, and fashion designer from Minneapolis. I’ve always been interested in art since for as long as I can remember and grew up in a progressive household that really supported my interests. Despite being the only person with a passion for arts within my friends group and community, I have always been very stubborn and strong-minded in doing my own thing and being different from everyone else. More than anything, I have always been drawn to creativity and creating because it is the only thing I can do with confidence and the only thing that truly excites me. Despite debating the idea of several career options over the years, art was the one thing I could never let go of, so I followed my passion and went to the University of Michigan where I studied art & design and psychology. Since then, I’ve spent every day working as a fulltime creative, making paintings, illustrations, working on graphic design, fashion design, and even making YouTube videos.

The universe may whisper “you’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.” Today I whisper “I am the storm.” 🌪 3rd variation of my new Thakat hoodies just went up on the website! If you have a sec be sure to check them out :) @agnistyle | agnistyle.com Also huge thank you to anyone who’s been on the website lately! I really appreciate it! . . . . . . . . . . . #desifashion #indianmakeup #wocmakeup #wocbeauty #desibeauty #southasian #browngirls #browngirlslove #browngirlbloggers #indianbeauty #indianblogger #indianfashionblogger #emergingdesigner #southasianblogger #badbeti #desibaddie #browngirlmagic_ #melanin #reclaimthebindi #indianfashion #desimakeup #bindi #browngirlmakeup #desiart #sareenotsorry #bollywood #decoloniseyourwardrobe #indiandesigner #fallfashion #emergingartist

163 Likes, 2 Comments – Neha Kapil (@itsnehalicious) on Instagram: “The universe may whisper “you’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.” Today I whisper “I am…”

When did you develop an interest in art? Did you undergo any formal training?

For me, there was never any one moment where I suddenly developed an interest in art. I’ve always been an artist at heart and my love for the subject has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. I grew up taking lessons and later went on to take several art classes in high school. Outside of that, I studied under two local professional artists for some time, and also majored in art when I went to college.

Styling Sapta Matrikas – The Seven Divine Mothers in gothic and punk style, how/when did that idea come to you?

The Sapta Matrikas series is a branch of the work I’m doing for my Desi Remix series. Since there isn’t a lot of widespread stories or texts out there about women during this time period, you have to do a lot of extra research. Luckily, I was able to come across the Matrikas in my reading and thought it would make a nice mini-series. Because my work with Desi Remix is very traditional, I wanted to do something with a modern twist to offer a new perspective and hopefully inspire people my own age to learn something they probably didn’t know. As for the stylistic influences, there’s a strong emphasis on fashion because I’m also a fashion designer and I wanted to challenge their depictions not just through the artwork itself but through their outfit choices as well. There’s something about taking them out of their traditional saris that brings their essence into the modern world and makes their characteristics more relatable to women today who may not necessarily be as familiar with ancient goddesses.

🙅🏽 MANDODARI 🙅🏽 This squad does not play games 🔪 Check out the rest of Desi Remix on my website: nehakapilart.com . . . . . . . . . #oiloncanvas #iamzardozi #art #artist #artistsoninstagram #artwork #indian #indianart #indianartist #queen #mohini #southasian #southasianart #vogueindia #timesofindia #hindustan #hindustantimes #illustration #indianbeauty #mythology #hindu #painting #oilpainting #indianmythology #reclaimthebindi #desibaddie #elleindia #melaninpoppin #melaninqueen #browngirls

303 Likes, 13 Comments – Neha Kapil (@itsnehalicious) on Instagram: “🙅🏽 MANDODARI 🙅🏽 This squad does not play games 🔪 Check out the rest of Desi Remix on my website:…”

Did you face criticism from religious extremists?

No, luckily I haven’t had any such criticisms. Majority of the response has been positive. But that also could be because most of my audience is young and they usually haven’t heard about these characters.

You’re clearly enriched with a brilliant knowledge of Hindu mythology. Do you read or is it someone in your family who influenced you?

Most of my knowledge is self-taught through research I’ve done on my own. With my artwork, one of the main challenges I wanted to take on was to go as far back as I could in our history, which in India happens to be the mythological era. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of mainstream texts or information on female characters of this time period, nor do I know anyone with such a keen interest, so you really have to take it upon yourself to do some digging.

Which Hindu tradition or cultural activity fascinates you the most?

It’s hard to name just one because I’m fascinated with our culture as a whole, but to name a few I’ve always loved the way we celebrate our festivals and our sense of community when we get together and support each other.

At that, the most absurd one would be?

I don’t know if I can think of anything really absurd, but I do find some of the superstitions people believe in a little ridiculous.

Do you have a thing for traditional Indian paintings and artwork seen in temples, etc.?

Of course! Some of these pieces are as ancient and iconic as the stories I’m trying to tell, so naturally, I have a lot of respect for traditional art. We’re lucky to come from a part of the world that has such a rich art history, so it’s hard not to feel inspired by that.

Do you visit India often? Which is your favorite city/region?

When I was younger we used to go a lot, and even now I still try to go once every couple years. I absolutely love visiting Rajasthan. I’ve been there several times and I love everything from the culture, desert, and clothing to the architecture and people.

Which Indian artist do you look up to?

I’ve always been really fond of Raja Ravi Varma. I recreated one of his paintings when I was in high school, and since then I’ve always referrenced his work when creating my own compositions. I grew up exposed to a lot of classical realism, and he was the only Indian realist painter I knew of so I felt really connected to his work, especially since my own personal style parallels a lot with his.

You’ve also Indianised many famous Western artworks. How well has it been received?

For the people who take the time to read the stories behind each remix and understand the meaning behind them, the response is always very positive and appreciative. Of course the concepts in these pieces aren’t very mainstream or modern, so at first glance it’s easy to mistake what I’m doing for religious iconography or something too traditional. The point of these remixes is to go beyond just the composition and attempt to get the viewer to read the stories associated with them so that they can learn something about our history and expand their knowledge of South Asian feminism. These days, a lot of art in the South Asian community revolves around themes of rebellion, modernization, and witty commentary on taboo subjects. My art doesn’t exactly fit in with this trend, so it’s been difficult to “popularize” my ideas, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because I’m thankful for the few people who do support what I’m doing.

When you’re just so over it…hang loose like MAHESHWARI 🤙🏽 Here’s another honorable mention from Desi Remix & another one of the 7 Matrikas (goddesses of war & emancipation) I mentioned in my last post. She rides a bull & is the power of transformation ⚡️⚡️⚡️ High key I’ve been loving coming up with Desi camo outfits for these gals. If only I can figure out how to make them in real life though! (Sidenote: DM me if you’re interested in prints or purchasing the original artwork) . . . . . . . . #oiloncanvas #artistsoninstagram #baddie #illustration #queen #rani #brownbaddies #buzzfeedindia #vogueindia #timesofindia #hindustantimes #illustration #indianbeauty #mythology #hindu #painting #oilpainting #indianmythology #reclaimthebindi #desibaddie #elleindia #melaninpoppin #melaninqueen #browngirls #brownbeauty #bindi

302 Likes, 11 Comments – Neha Kapil (@itsnehalicious) on Instagram: “When you’re just so over it…hang loose like MAHESHWARI 🤙🏽 Here’s another honorable mention from…”

Pardon my lack of knowledge, but are these women characters, Urvashi and Satyavati, imagined by you or do they really exist in our mythology?

No, they are not made up, they actually exist. Like I’ve mentioned before, I find it ironic that there are so many well-known stories about male characters, and when you think about Indian mythology as a whole it’s predominantly characterized by “men fighting epic battles”. This is why no one ever talks about the women nor do they have any knowledge of ever hearing of some of the lesser known characters. It’s funny that even when you look up a lot of the more prominent female characters, all you’ll find is information about how so-and-so was the wife of some king and how she bore a hundred sons. A lot of women are reduced to simply being loyal, obedient homemakers and for their ability to bear children. Once you get past some of the sexism and do a little research, you’ll be surprised to find a ton of unknown badass women who break from these stereotypes and truly embody taking action.

Do you sell your art? If so, where can we find it?

Yes, I sell prints of all my work as well as originals of select pieces. I sell everything upon request so anyone can either email or message me on any of my social media platforms to purchase artwork. (IG: @itsnehalicious | nehak64@yahoo.com)

Are you, in any way, trying to break the stereotype surrounding Asian women?

I think we’re in an interesting period of time where there is an incredible amount of pressure on women to look and act a certain way, so it’s important, especially as an artist, to create energies that defy the norm and embrace strength in as many forms as we can.

With my art, I’m definitely trying to break the stereotypes surrounding south Asian women, but not in the way you’d expect. It’s true that a lot of women today see traditional depictions of ancient women as too obedient, shy, and conservative, so my goal is to challenge that perception and prove that just because a woman is dressed modestly that doesn’t mean she’s not strong in her own way. I think a lot of young girls interpret confidence and strength as being sexually liberated or confident with your body, and while that angle of feminism is still very important, I want to show girls that strength doesn’t just come from how much skin you’re showing or the type of image you portray in photos. It’s about your actions in real life, the ideals you represent, and how you inspire and stand up for what you believe in. This is why I purposefully try to find goddesses and other ancient female characters with strong stories to show you that despite what you may see in the composition, their actions and what they represent always speak louder than any stereotype or preconceived notions.

When bae’s in trouble & you’re the only one who can save him ⚡️ “Savitri” aka the anti-‘damsel in distress’ [pt. 4 of the Desi Remix series // remix of “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt] Read more about the piece here: www.nehakapilart.com . . . . . . #art #painting #savitri #satyavan #india #indianart #indianartist #desi #buzzfeed #buzzfeedindia #reclaimthebindi #southasian #hindu #hinduism #37minus #art_fair #creativemag #oilpainting #desipopculture #thriveartstudio #browngirls #artist #acrylic #glitter #gustavklimt #thekiss

207 Likes, 24 Comments – Neha Kapil (@itsnehalicious) on Instagram: “When bae’s in trouble & you’re the only one who can save him ⚡️ “Savitri” aka the anti-‘damsel in…”

I, for one, loved your reinterpretation of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss.’ How creative of you that you replaced those mosaic motifs and spiral kaleidoscopes with paisleys and flowers! Can you please explain this piece? Also, what is the significance of the weapon Gada?

“The Kiss” is remixed to tell the story of Savitri and Satyavan. As the story goes: Savitri is so beautiful and pure, she intimidates all the men around her. When it’s time for her to get married, no one asks for her hand, so she sets out to find her husband on her own. She goes on a pilgrimage and eventually finds Satyavan, the son of a blind king living in exile in the forest. Although perfect in many ways, Satyavan was destined to die within a year. However, knowing this and despite many advising her against choosing Satyavan, she decides to marry him anyway. The day Satyavan is predicted to die, Savitri accompanies him into the forest. While cutting wood, Satyavan suddenly becomes weak and falls into Savitri’s lap. Yama, the god of death, comes to take Satyavan’s soul but Savitri chases after him as he carries her husband’s soul away. When he tries to convince her to leave, she fires back with her wit. Yama, impressed by her speech, praises her and offers her any wish except the life of Satyavan. Thinking carefully, she first asks for her father-in-law’s sight to return, then 100 children for her father, and finally 100 children for her and Satyavan. Her last wish leaves Yama with a dilemma, as it would require Satyavan to be alive. However, impressed by Savitri’s dedication and determination, he changes his mind and decides to grant her any wish, including Satyavan’s life. She instantly asks for his life back and Yama blesses Savitri’s life with eternal happiness.

As with all the women of this series, Savitri is an example of beauty beyond the physical. Her words have their own strength & she proves that there is power in action. She defies all “damsel in distress” storylines of mythology and ironically turns them upside down to stand up for a man. If “herstory” exists, it’s because of women like this.

As far as the significance of the “gada,” it’s simply a weapon characteristic of demons and gods associated with death. Yama is here to take Satyavan, so this is his weapon of choice. Most mythological characters are seen carrying some sort of weapon, so it’s just stylistic to the time period and to also solidify his status as the antagonist/villain.

BTW, which one is your favourite from the collection so far?

They all hold a special place in my heart, but I’d have to say “The Birth of Satyvati” because she’s my first born child *laughs*.

Lastly, what’s in the future for the brand Neha Kapil?

I’m a multi-genre artist so my artwork is just a small fraction of what I do. My brand expands into a lot of different things from creating beauty looks and makeup tutorials to designing fashion and working on graphic design. For quite some time now, I’ve been translating my artwork into silkscreen designs that I hand print onto clothing. My clothing line, AGNI (@agnistyle), has been my passion project so you can expect to see a lot of my future creativity channeled into my designs and our accompanying campaigns.

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