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Lavanya Bahuguna


Feminist Illustrator Priyanka Paul Makes Skin Show Non-Westernised In Her Raw Drawings

  • IWB Post
  •  June 10, 2017

From poop art (Yes, POOP!), to drawing modern goddesses to support Free The Nipple movement, 18-year-old Illustrator, Priyanka Paul, has been using her art to break stereotypes and taboos around women.

IWB has been following Priyanka’s Instagram page, ‘Artwhoring,’ for quite some time now and she has always managed to amaze us with her phenomenal illustrations of various social stigmas and the empowering messages hidden behind each of them.

Last time, when we spoke to Priyanka, we talked much about her representation of modern goddesses. (You may read the entire chat with the Illustrator here)

This time, we tried to gain an insight into some of her specific illustrations, which are breaking some or the other kind of societal stereotypes:

#CultureVulture – Was our culture always intolerant towards women showing their skin?

Instagram post by Priyanka Paul * Mar 28, 2017 at 5:36am UTC

1,552 Likes, 62 Comments – Priyanka Paul (@artwhoring) on Instagram: “We live in a world of social conservatism, one that’s dominated by the patriarchy. But about 150…”

It’s a misconception that showing skin in Indian culture is a no no. We’ve always been very proud of our bodies and sexualities. Nudity wasn’t considered as a taboo, and this can be traced back to the clothing in most regions of India before the dawn of the British. Even the sculptures and painting across ancient temples including Khajuraho are proof that what modern India, today, calls culture, is not culture but merely misogynistic agendas being pushed forth under the garb of ‘cultural values.’

This illustration was from a short series on Kerala, where the traditional dress the ‘Mundu’ was worn topless but further evolved into what I call, the first tube top of the world. The ideals of ‘modesty’ and ‘covering up’ were brought in by the Victorian trends of fashion. Covering up essentially is foreign (Mughal and British) indoctrination. So, next time when you find right wing fanatics beating women in pubs because they are ‘westernized,’ know that they are fundamentally wrong. Covering up and modesty are not part of the Indian culture, sadly, telling women what to do, is.

#GenderIdentificatio- Is this a real story? If yes, tell us about the girl and how you came across her? How is life treating her now and what’s her mission?

At the age of 6, all the boys played cricket. I wanted to play, too. They’d give me their bat when it was my chance but they soon found it annoying. So once, at a nearby construction taking place, I found an iron rod and that was my new bat. I can’t imagine how I used something as thin as a rod for a bat, but I did. Until one day, the rusted rod cut my hands and my dad saw. He then bought me a bat. My question: Why not buy me a bat when you already knew my friends played cricket. Why buy me a doll with a flat stomach, blue eyes and blonde hair? At 10, I joined football classes. My dad was a district level player. He’d go down to play with the neighbour’s kids. Never me. When I asked him why? He’d wave it off as me not being good enough or him being tired. He used to play defence. I played defence, too. We just never played together or watched matches. Sometimes I think, does he want a son? Or would I be treated differently if I was a boy? At 12, I was at my dad’s office and a client of his saw me and my sister and asked whether dad had a son? Dad said no. The client then sympathised and said try harder, you’ll surely get a son. Dad said “My daughters are better than any sons.” We live in a world where you have to compensate for the existence of two daughters with a son or justify the existence of two girls. At 15, I cut my hair into a mohawk and faced ridicule at my house and school. My parents refused to look at me and kids at school jeered at me. If you try to change the dynamics of everyday life or try to change society or gender roles even through something as menial as a hair style, you’re gonna be punished. Long hair. Girls were supposed to have long hair. I don’t like adhering to norms. At 16, I go swimming, where little girls, wear a swim suit and then a shirt under a swim suit and then lycra tights too. While boys jump in with bare minimum clothing. Some boys having boobs bigger than mine. Because obviously my body can’t be exposed because it will either turn you on or offend you and as such, society deemed this to be a woman’s problem. I hope we are seeing what’s wrong here. I hope you’re doing your little part in not enforcing gender roles.

1,400 Likes, 42 Comments – Priyanka Paul (@artwhoring) on Instagram: “At the age of 6, all the boys played cricket. I wanted to play, too. They’d give me their bat when…”

It is a real story. The girl in it is me. This is something I wrote 2 years ago. And, all of those things are things that most girls face. It’s relatable because almost every girl has faced at least one of those instances.

I talk about gender stereotypes in it, and I put forth my perspective. The interesting thing about it is that it puts out a narrative that others can connect to, too, because gender stereotypes are so widespread that they affect everyone. It affects girls, boys, and gender non-conformists, and shapes so many aspects of life.

So, I believe feminism, today, is about breaking these barriers and expressing ourselves the way that we want to. My aim through this illustration and narrative was to spread awareness and to tell people that you don’t have to be a certain way to be you. So, yes her (my) mission is to not let gender be an oppressive, rigid, identity-defining construct.

#Mentalllness – Was there any real-life inspiration behind this artwork? If yes, after you published it, did anyone reach out to you for help?

It takes a lot of courage to talk about depression and mental illness, but please please, everyday, try to talk about it, or help your friends who need to. Check up on friends, family who you feel aren’t themselves lately. Take time to do something special for someone. We all need to talk and even importantly we all need to listen. ? Oh, also if you ever wanna talk to me, I’m always up for it!!! Talk to me about anything, if you’re feeling down or you’re a super duper happy pumpkin! I’ll try helping!Tell me about the newest bomb icecream flavour you tried or that shitty boyfriend you dumped, or how you had a good hair today or how your mom didn’t give you pocket money! It’s not creepy or weird at all, I promise! <3 #Doodle #Draw #Talk #Speak #Listen #Depression #MentalIllness #Mind #Feelings #Illustration #Yellow #FixYou #Faces #Hidden #Thoughts #Dark #DoodleJournal #Hair #Eyes #TheBlues #Sadness #Misery #Tragedy #Awareness #Page #DoodleDiary

800 Likes, 34 Comments – Priyanka Paul (@artwhoring) on Instagram: “It takes a lot of courage to talk about depression and mental illness, but please please, everyday,…”

I’ve had to face depression at some point of time in my life and I know how difficult it can be to reach the point where you decide you need help, where you stretch your hand out for it. I also know how it feels having to keep it all bottled up, in fear or because you’re just not ready to talk about it or you’ve convinced yourself it’s not worth talking about.

After I posted it, I received a number of messages, some asking if I knew doctors (because of which I made a list of doctors around Mumbai) and some just pleasant conversations.

Also, my inbox is always open for anyone who wants to talk or thinks that I can help in any way. I’ve had to see a lot of my friends fall into depression, and it gets so difficult to deal with it because we’re creating a culture that doesn’t encourage conversations and is defined by a lack of empathy and I know that being there for a friend and going an extra mile can make it all a little bit better.

Sometimes, one heart-to-heart conversation with the loved one is all that the person needs.

#PadAds – Why do we still hide our femininity? Share experiences from your childhood where you were told to hide or not talk about your body/sexuality/femininity. And, how do you make sure you’re loud about yourself in your personal life?

I bled blue through my uterus, like the blood that came out from my vagina was so foreign, so inhuman, it couldn’t be red. So instead the ink from my pen and brush, they bleed red. I promise you,they do. Dear Pad Ads, I’ll bleed like you want me to. In blue. #NormalisePeriod #Menstruation #MenstrualBlood #NormaliseMenstruation #NormalisePeriodBlood #PeriodBlood #Periods #RedNotBlue #PeriodShaming #BloodShaming #Feminism #Bleed #BleedRed #Vagina #Uterus #Photography #ConceptPhotography #Ink #Art #Pads #SanitaryNapkins #Media #Advertising

1,631 Likes, 85 Comments – Priyanka Paul (@artwhoring) on Instagram: “I bled blue through my uterus, like the blood that came out from my vagina was so foreign, so…”

I find it ridiculous that Pad ads use representational blue liquid, not red, not even pink. All this does is fetishize menstruation and projects it as something alien, hence, changing the way we perceive and address women’s issues.

I remember in school, probably 8th grade, a boy asked me what a period was and what pads were, and I was explaining it to him and I was pulled up by the teacher and reprimanded for talking about such ‘dirty’ things. We distance ourselves and sexualize things that are natural, and this holds true for everything related to women, be it our sexuality or anything for that matter. The patriarchy functions by creating a gap between the sexes so that a woman’s sexuality can be treated as a pawn that can be used to satisfy the needs of the patriarchy.

However, when a woman reclaims herself, her sexuality, we all have a problem with that. We need to change that, we need to normalize our very ‘existence’. It makes me sad that we have to do that.

I, as a person, am really vocal about issues that concern me as well as my personal life, so if you’re a person who I’m engaging in conversation with and we happen to touch upon such a topic or you make evident your disgust about such a topic, get ready because you’re just about to be EDUCATED.

We all need to join hands and break social stigmas around women, gender, mental illness, and other things. While Priyanka chooses to address them and shatter them through illustrations, I choose the power of my pen. What’s your medium?

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