In this series, Women In Power, we feature women who have done groundbreaking work in the field of gender, sexuality, women’s rights and the likes to get an insight into their lives and their work. More and more people are joining the feminist movement and working on gender and we wish to bring them in the limelight, one life at a time.

What is the point of art, if does not portray social problems and encourages reform.

17-year-old Priyanka Paul from Mumbai is the newest feminist artist you’d love to follow on Instagram. A teenage artist, she draws goddesses of colour with a fresh perspective and a feminist avatar. She depicts goddesses, who are traditionally seen as epitomes of feminine divinity, as young women, who are epitomes of feminist liberation. The series is a modern feminist take on goddesses and biblical characters, taking inspiration from Harnidh Kaur’s poem Pantheon. It also talks about oppression across cultures, and the reclaiming of female bodies, sexualities and voices across different cultures. The point of them being goddesses was to put across the idea of women today being goddesses like the mythological ones — strong, fierce, and epitomes of feminine divinity.

She is also a mass media student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and an aspiring artist and poet. Priyanka is passionate about issues of feminism, racism, LGBT rights and other social issues that need speaking up about.

I want to speak for the margins, the lost teenagers, the ones who’ve faced oppression, the ones who’ve been told that their pain is not worth being validated.

From Mumbai, Priyanka spoke to FII over email on how she came up with the name ‘artwhoring’, what drawing feminist avatars of goddesses of colour means and the importance of more feminist artwork in India. Read the full interview below.

Priyanka Paul
Priyanka Paul

1. When did you start illustrating?

I started illustrating recently, in terms of digital art. I’ve been drawing since I was a child, but I only started taking it seriously when I got into Junior College (High school). I chose the humanities stream and was introduced to subjects like sociology and political science which contributed to an understanding of different cultures and generally, the world around us and human experiences.

2. How and why did you come up with the name Art Whoring?

The username artwhoring just popped in my mind one day. But I think it’s of relevance to me and my feminism, because more than often words like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ are used to address women who choose to dress ‘promiscuously’ or have sex as much as and as openly as men do.And like Albus Dumbledore said, “ The fear of a name, increases the fear of a thing itself.” Hence, I use the word whore, because fierce, bold, and non-conforming women rightly need to be feared.

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“The struggle of being fat, in my head it looks like this. What I weight drops down to me weighing all my options. To women who are trying their best to lose weight, all the best and I hope you love your bodies and work towards nurturing and loving it! To women who aren’t working out, all the best to you and in your journey to acceptance, I wish you love and well being.x To all women, you are beautiful and fearless and strong and through all your perfections and flaws, you bring to this world so much Happiness and love and so much more. So never stop shining all you amazing humans! ” – Priyanka Paul

3. Your artwork is quite intersectional and focuses on goddesses. Tell us more about your Goddesses Series?

The goddesses’ series was based on the poem Pantheon by poet Harnidh Kaur. The poem talks about modern day feminists and their social media activity and mainly talks about sexual liberation. The poem talks about how female sexuality has always been a hushed up topic across cultures. Our goddesses have always been epitomes of feminine divinity and power, hence why not depict them as epitomes of feminist liberation?

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Goddess Kali, inspired from Harnidh Kaur’s poem, Pantheon. 👅Tumblr Kali is a badass brown girl. Loves graphic t-shirts and piercings. She’s against misogyny and sexism and quite literally slays. – Priyanka Paul

4. Can you walk us through the process of making an illustration?

Making an illustration starts with a base idea. Something just pops into your head, then you research and read about what it is that you’re illustrating. Then there’s gathering references, if needed and then sketching the idea out, and drawing in all the elements. I then decide a particular colour scheme, a lot of my work is done in pastel colours. In the end, you just have to touch up.

5. Your art work is inherently feminist and breaks many norms. Did you face challenges while putting the point across?

I think art is a perfect medium to talk about issues like feminism. It can be used as a medium of awareness and activism. It’s important that you utilise art and poetry to talk about issues like feminism. Art is active human emotion in play, which is why when human problems are portrayed through art you reach a wider audience and garner a greater understanding of society and it’s interaction with art. While drawing, it’s important that you take into consideration all perspectives and make sure the message you’re trying to impart is prominent.

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Why is it not socially acceptable for women to not shave? – Priyanka Paul

6. Have you received any backlash on “inappropriately” depicting the goddesses?

I have received A LOT of backlash on apparently ‘inappropriately’ depicting the goddesses. It’s ridiculous how an illustration was taken out of context and people were offended by it. I was questioned how I dared to draw Goddess Kali in that sense. I was told to learn from MF Hussain and Charlie Hebdo. I’ve received lewd and disgusting comments. I tend to ignore the hate, but it just goes to say so much about our social media audience. People are offended over two fingers under Goddess Kali’s tongue, but not with the social media abuse of a 17 year old artist?

7. Do you think we need more feminist artwork in India to reach the youth?

YES. We definitely do! The term ‘feminism’ today has been wildly taken out of context nowdays, and I see so many girl, a lot of my peers too, who do not want to be associated with the term. There’s a serious misconception if you’re against equality, because that’s what feminism is. I believe art and expression will help bridge the divide and will convince more of the youth about the relevance of feminism in every aspect of our lives.

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“That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” So wrote Greta Zimmer Friedman, recalling the day in 1945 when a drunken sailor named George Mendonsa sexually assaulted her in Times Square. Such incidents happen all the time, though ofcourse not many enter our cultural consciousness as iconic (and widely misinterpreted) photographs. – Priyanka Paul

8. What impact do you aim to create with your artwork?

I hope my art makes people think. Makes you reflect and ponder on the centuries of social conditioning and normalisation of oppression across different sections of society. I hope my art makes you feel like you can bring about fundamental change in the smallest things you do and the way you react, because you can.

9. What would be your message to young feminist artists?

My message to young feminist artists like myself would be, feminism is a revolutionary movement, it isn’t supposed to be liked and you won’t always get people appreciating your work and ideology because that’s how the world is, but you are bringing about change and spreading awareness and inspiring other individuals and YOU SLAY, so keep doing what you do and never give up. And may your voices and pencils always rise up against oppression and remain raw and uncensored.

All images courtesy Priyanka Paul. Follow Priyanka on Instagram here.

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