2018 has been a year of many milestones for feminism in India. Some of these include the removal of Section 377, the Sabarimala ruling, the #MeToo movement. These are all steps towards gender equality and inclusivity. However, there is still a long way to go.

Women in India have found their voices, sometimes in art. Art can be immensely effective in opening up conversations, reimagining symbols, and dismantling oppressive structures. It does so by articulating subjectivities which otherwise remain diminished. Here are twelve artists whose work has encouraged serious engagement with questions of gender, sexuality, inclusivity, and intersectionality.

1. Anita Dube

Image Source: Art Asia Pacific

As curator, contemporary artist Anita Dube is committed to making the Muziris-Kochi Biennale 2018 more inclusive than it has ever been. This year’s theme is “Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life”. To quote Dube,  “The need to listen, think, and learn with each other, particularly voices from the margins—of women, of the queer community, of the oppressed castes, of the whispers of nature—with a spirit of comradeship is vital.” This year’s Biennale features female and queer voices with works addressing questions of social justice. These include the Guerilla Girls from New York,  Goshka Macuga, Valie Export, Shilpa Gupta, and Zaneli Muholi, and others.

2. Aqui Thami

Image Source: Livemint

Aqui Thami is an artist, activist, and academic. She is a founding art member of the Dharavi Art room, and a member of Bombay Underground. Thami works across mediums, using art as medium for storytelling. Her art is grounded in social and political issues. This year, she was a non-resident fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She is also working on a project called ‘Sister Library’, which is a travelling library featuring the work of women writers, artists and zine makers. The Sister Library is now raising money to create a permanent space in Mumbai.

3. Arunima Bose

Image Source: Youtube

Arunima Bose is a bisexual feminist artist. Through her art, she addresses questions about gender, sexuality, and pleasure. Before she took to art, Bose worked in the development sector as a gender trainer. Some of the issues she addresses in her work are as follows. Firstly, she finds that our conversations about sex mostly revolved around issues of the absence of consent, but rarely around its presence. Questions of pleasure, as a result, remain unaddressed. Secondly, she noticed that whereas phalluses are everywhere, female sexual organs remain more or less a mystery, even to women themselves. Therefore, she took to extensively illustrating and sculpting vulvas, for the Gender Bender exhibition in 2017. This year, her illustrations addressed nudity.

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– And we’re growing –

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4. Divya Seshadri

Image Source: Twitter

Divya Seshadri is an artist from Chennai who moved to America to study advertising. Her work features feminist digital art in a bold, empowering palette. The subject of Seshadri’s illustrations may be located at the intersection of gender and race. Her work is immersed in desi culture and postcolonialism. Thus, it is immediately relevant to South Asians.

5. Kruttika Susarla

Image Source: Krutikka Susarla

Kruttika Susarla is a New Delhi based illustrator, comic maker, and graphic designer. Her work explores how visual imagery can be used to make or break stereotypes. This year, she designed several campaigns in association with Point of View (on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia), Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (on the 2016 Transgender Bill), and YP foundation  (on trans rights, sexuality education, and other themes). Susarla has also worked with FII.

6. Pranjali Dubey

Image Source: Medium

Pranjali Dubey is the artist behind Kalmuhi (the one with the blackened face). Dubey uses the word to challenge patriarchal norms in society. Her simple doodles seriously engage with gender issues on an everyday basis.

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vote for period blood this time y'all

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find yourself, tag yourself, abort yourself

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7. Priyanka Paul

Image Source: Indian Women Blog

Priyanka Paul is a twenty-year-old artist from Mumbai who illustrates under the Instagram name ‘artwhoring’. Her username depicts the dignity of work, which is regrettably missing from dominant understandings of sex work. Paul is a feminist and her illustrations address questions of social justice. Paul’s work has been widely featured in national and international publications. Her digital art has been smashing the patriarchy since 2016. This year, in collaboration with graphic designer Rushil Bhatnagar, Paul released a sex education zine for Indian millennial men titled BedxTalks.

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Swipe to read the poem. //From The Margins// This was written and drawn after discussion with other friends and educators from marginalised communities. I’ve taken care to never let my work be a product of appropriation. This piece is particularly important to me because I come from the ‘Backward’ Thiyya-Ezhava community from Kerala which has been oppressed for centuries. For reference, centuries ago women from my community were forced to be topless as covering their tops was a privilege reserved only to Savarna upper caste women. In protest, Nangeli cut off her breasts to oppose the breast tax. My tryst with caste has been weird. My grandma would regale me with stories of my great great grandfather, C Mithavadi Krishnan, who she’d say was a Freedom Fighter (google him). He was so much more than that. I later learnt that he stormed into temples that didn’t allow in lower castes, he argued and fell off with Gandhi because he believed in the eradication of caste before the attaining of freedom from the British, introduced Buddhism to Kerala and established the first Buddhist monastery in Kerala. He was a freedom fighter from the more obvious oppressors. My grandma also tells me that the Thiyya caste was better than the Nairs. As a kid, I didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t know how it mattered. In recent years, when she reiterated this statement of ‘betterness’, I asked her “aren’t we OBC?”. She sort of hung her head in shame like she had tried hard to hide and rub away the oppression but had failed. I didn’t get why, but then again I did. At the end of the day caste is a hierarchy based on oppression and the attachment of shame has always existed. So this piece is for my surname which is my middlename and not my surname because I don’t have one, this is for my ammamma and her shame and this is for me and me reclaiming the ‘discourse’ around caste from Savarna individuals. #Caste #Avarna #Poetry #Savarna #Draw #Illustration #Poem #JaiBhim #Dalit #OBC #TalkCaste #Reclaim #Brahma #CasteDiscrimination #Inequality #Rap #Discourse #Varna #Brahma #India #IndianGods #VarnaSystem #FuckYou #Privilege #Ambedkarite #AnnihilationOfCaste Poem in the comments as well.

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8. Reya Ahmed

Image Source: IndieFolio

Reya Ahmed is a Calcutta based visual artist. She is studying architecture. She started a zine called Saintbrush in 2015. Ahmed created a series of  illustrations depicting female rage in the wake of #MeToo this year. Ahmed draws inspiration from feminism, cats, art history, cinema, and architecture.

9. Sandhya Prabhat

Image Source: Cinema Express

Sandhya Prabhat is a Chennai-based independent animator and illustrator. This year, for the 36 days of type project, her theme was Female Characters in Literature. Prabhat holds a bachelors degree in literature and enjoys reading.

10. Sarah Naqvi

Image Source: Indian Women Blog

Sarah Naqvi is a textile artist whose work is immensely corporeal. Through her art, she hopes to start a dialogue on issues that we might otherwise not talk about. Naqvi employs embroidery, which is often considered ‘women’s work’, to elevate the seriousness of her pieces. This is exemplified in her Shrine of Memories series.

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Mata ni pachedi is a craft born out of marginalisation. It is a narrative textile that tells stories of the mother Goddess and was used as a mobile temple cloth for its practitioners when barred from entering the local temples. Owing to this history of the craft, my work tells a similar story of my mother’s struggles during her first pregnancy in 1993. With the riots at their peak in Mumbai, an increasingly hostile environment fostered fear amongst city dwellers. My parents lived in Dombivali then, which was a predominantly Hindu locality, when the riots broke out, my mother felt vulnerability like never before and questioned birthing a child into this world full of uncertainty and divide. She often wore bindis and sarees while stepping out and took off the nameplate on her door. This is her story. While I worked on these I was fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time with master craftsman Chandrakantbhai who helped me tremendously by making the dyes and guiding me throughout. I was welcomed into a household that makes temple cloths, and not only was I welcomed, I was given love and so much support to tell this story. Chandrakantbhai shared with me what he thought of religion, women and their intersectionality, it overlaps with content that I’ve come across often in books written by scholars who’ve spent years studying and researching the subject. And what makes it so remarkable is that he came to these conclusions by mere self realisation and evaluation. When I first met his family I noticed that he had 3 daughters and a son who also happened to be the youngest. Now given that my interaction with them was previously very limited, I assumed that this pattern was because they were trying for a boy? It took me less than 3 days to see how equally he treated and gave them the same freedom and opportunities even in the realms of his reach. We give such little credit to the people around us, the ones who love us, support and protect us and challenge everything that’s wrong with our societies today. I think I’m going to acknowledge every little act of rebellion which I encounter, whether in the form of love or solidarity, I want to make them be seen. Eid Mubarak!

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11. Sonaksha Iyengar

Image Source: The Hindu

Sonaksha Iyengar is a Bangalore-based writer, illustrator, book designer and mental health activist. She has widely illustrated on mental health. Her work breaks stereotypes surrounding mental illness in #PublicPrescriptions, calling out ignorant and unsolicited advice. In #GardenofKindness, she illustrates messages of empathy and encouragement.

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If you're living with a mental illness, I'm certain someone has said this to you. Because apparently you can't be sick if you don't look sick. If you've told people you have a mental illness they expect you to look unkempt, pale, have droopy eyelids, a swollen face and so on. Suppose you're wearing make up, bright clothes or even decide to accessorize with a cap, the immediate assumption is that you are lying. Here's the thing: yes, the tiniest tasks can become arduous when you're living with a mental illness, but mental illness shows up in different ways and there is no one size fits all way to approach it. A lot of times mental illnesses are invisible, as are many chronic illnesses. Also, who gets to judge the validity of one's illness? Telling someone they're pretending or making up a mental illness is extremely distressing. The sad part about this is that it doesn't end with seemingly ignorant people. I've had so many doctors say this to me, repeatedly. That is supposed to be a safe space. It's exhausting to have to constantly feel like you're not 'sick' enough, as if this is a competition to qualify for. And so, as I repeatedly like to say, just because it isn't visible, doesn't mean it isn't real. #PublicPrescription – – – – – – – – Image description: Illustration. The text "But, you look fine. Stop pretending" is lettered across the illustration. There are three hands in purple, teal and majenta demonstrating the A-okay gesture. There's a yellow paper behind the word fine which is written in cursive.

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12. Tara Anand

Image Source: Tara Anand

Tara Anand is an illustrator from Mumbai who is pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in New York. She also co-runs the Thursday People zine collective. Anand draws portraits of women in history. Earlier this year, in collaboration with Ellen Lee, Anand kickstarted the I am like other girls project, which goes one steps closer towards female solidarity.

Feminist art deeply engages with politics. It encourages a radical rethinking of existing systems of power, which are challenged through various mediums. Feminist art is open to multiple intersectional perspectives. A lot of interesting and inspiring work has been created in 2018. The creative future of feminist art in India looks promising, provided that the culture of inclusivity encourages even more marginalised voices.


This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to this list are welcome in the comments section.

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