Charcoal experiments by Tara Anand
19-year-old Tara Anand’s Instagram feed swims in a sea of beautiful brown women. Using her experience of being a young female creative as a pivotal point of inspiration, her illustrations feature brush strokes that are as bold as the women they conjure. In 2016, Tara began a project called I Am No Man, which celebrates long-forgotten Indian queens and warriors and their unabashed display of bravery and pride as women.
Tara reminds us of Bibi Dalair Kaur, a Sikh powerhouse in the 17th Century who formed an all-woman army to fight Mughal forces; India’s first female freedom fighter Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal, who defended her kingdom against Portuguese forces for four decades in the 16th Century; and Rani Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga who led her forces into numerous battles for over a decade after her husband was killed by British forces.
Presently pursuing a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts, Tara recently began a series I Am Like Other Girls with Ellie Lee, her roommate in New York. The duo set out to create solidarity in womanhood by questioning why so many young girls feel the need to distance themselves from their gender to feel individualistic. In between juggling art classes and passion projects, Tara Anand indulges us in a conversation about her craft, ongoing projects and everything in between.
I Am No Man, an illustrated series by Tara Anand remembers forgotten queens and warriors of India
How did your relationship with art develop over the years? Was becoming an illustrator always on the cards or something that you gradually gravitated towards?
My family is really big on stories. We all love to read, watch movies and dig into history. I visited my grandmother in Mumbai very often as a kid and she would tell me stories about mythology, stories from her childhood and just things from books she had read. When I would get back home, my mother and I would express whatever stories I came back with in the form of an art project. Initially, I didn’t limit myself to illustration; I loved working with clay and making dioramas when I was younger. But as my interest in reading became more pronounced, I became more aware of illustration as a discipline and began to create more nuanced works.
With art being used as a mode of communication, bonding and storytelling in our house, being an artist of some sort was almost always on the cards for me!
Character sketches by Tara Anand
What fuels your creativity? Take me through your influences.
History and Art History are huge visual influences in my work. Lately, I’ve been looking at really old paintings from places like Europe in the Early Middle Ages and old Persian miniatures. I also take photographs of things that I find visually inspiring or stimulating, whether that’s someone’s outfit or a storefront. They are usually not good photographs but serve as a bank of visuals that I can draw on for elements like colour palettes or compositions.
In terms of subject matter and narrative styles, a lot of inspiration comes from what I read or watch. I’m intrigued by Indian history, especially women’s histories and the history of Mumbai, so a lot of my projects tend to revolve around similar subject matters. I also find it inspiring to use art for smaller, personal projects for friends, like making a playlist or a comic about something funny that happened when we hung out.
Your artworks like Melanin and Shade Card are introspective, and makes the viewer think about our obsession with colour that is so deeply ingrained in our social fabric. How does your experience of being a brown girl drive what you do?
It’s one of the strongest things that drives my art and the experience of being a brown girl is obviously fundamental to it. I am also extremely opinionated and super firm in my beliefs, which means I always have something to say but more often than not, but can’t find the words to write a long Instagram rant about it. So I try to channel these beliefs into visual projects like Shade Card that allow me to express my thoughts while being productive about it.
What made you apply to the DFLR program?
I’d been following Design Fabric and Taxi Fabric’s work for a while and really enjoyed the perspective they have on design and art, especially in the Indian context. I liked that they had struck a balance between international influences and local engagement and I wanted to learn from that and about how the design world functions in terms of clients, communication etc.
You worked on a Taxi Fabric X Asian Paints Colour Next collaboration, for which you developed a set of prints. Deconstruct the creative process.
The prints I worked on were based on the trend ‘Untamed’ by Asian Paints Colour Next. It took many iterations until we settled on a visual language that we thought seemed appropriate for the theme. The print - the one with the leaves exploding from the face - evolved from a more illustrative draft of a girl with her hair fanned out all over the frame. For the other patterns, we used the faces, waves and leaves to create an artwork inspired by gender fluidity and music, with the waves representing fluidity in one of the prints and sound waves in the other!
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a comic-style project for The Gaysi Zine about Indian mythology. I love working on narrative projects like this, especially ones that allow me to play with more fantastical elements. I’m also working on developing I Am No Man into a children’s book. Apart from that, most of my time is spent on building @iamlikeothergirls and taking it to the next level.
Tara Anand was selected to be a part of the Design Fabric Low-Res (DFLR) Student Program, aimed to discover the best young creative talent in the country and give them an opportunity to work on commercial briefs.