6 women who are breaking the boundaries set by society by just being themselves! It was amazing to see hear their story as they told us how they first started what really felt right to them.
Shyamli, Tattoo Artist
“I don’t understand people’s need to blend into their surroundings.”
Shyamli is a Delhi based tattoo artist who works with Devilz Tattoos. Her eternal love for tattoos led her here. She never thought of herself as a tattoo artist even though she had a keen interest in drawing. Nurturing her intrigue in visual art led her to graduate from Srishti School of Art Design and Technology. While working as a graphic designer her interest started to deplete making her wonder her next phase. Around the same time, she met her mentor who suggested she could take up tattooing as a career. After mulling over it hard and fast she finally decided to drop everything and begin again.
The transition itself took a toll on her; “…being good at drawing doesn’t make you’re a great tattoo artist. I had to strip down my ego to learn this beautiful art form. It was a real blow to my confidence because I had to start from scratch”.
Even after all the hard work and diligence, she wasn’t taken seriously. “It was a bit of struggle to be a female tattoo artist when it is so considered a male profession. It is even worse when a woman thinks so”. In an incident she described, a woman straight out refused to get a tattoo from Shyamli because she thought men were better tattoo artists. Shyamli schooled her before giving her a great tattoo leading the woman to take her words back. Incidents like such & unsolicited advice from people fueled her to keep pushing herself.
“As an introvert is quite difficult to be calm and accommodating of people, you can’t really yell at people,” she says with a chuckle. Being a tattoo artist has pushed her to come out of her bubble. “Meeting new people can be fun but then there are times when I feel like I am living in the same movie. Especially when I meet people who like blending and fitting into one kind of box. It blows my mind when I meet such people. How can you want to be anything else but yourself?”
Shyamli does believe that she lucked out, she is surrounded by people who support her. She thinks she struggled a lot less than what people can go through. “You have to be bullheaded to be able to push through boundaries.”
Zainab, Music Producer/DJ
“I never thought I’d be here.”
Zainab aka Zen Zenan aka Zequenx is a Music Producer/DJ who turned her passion into her trade. After bouncing through many different jobs and interests she finally found music to be the one that sticks. As a child, Zainab played the violin but hated it “As a kid, I imagined myself as a doctor never did I think I’d be here!” There was a time when Zainab had lost all aspirations, “I was in a terrible point in life, and I thought music and parties are the only reasons to live for”. She had observed and learned a few things about music production from her boyfriend who used to play psytrance which she is a fan of. “I would sit with him watch him and learn little by little but I still did not take it too seriously. Around that time there weren’t many women making this kind of music, I just knew Sandunes who was really pushing the boundary.”Sandunes helped her realize that she has to learn ‘making’ music “It’s not something you are born with, you have to learn the equipment and software”. Zainab then put her mind to it, stuck by it & sought every opportunity to learn. She came across DJing through a workshop she attended “I never really thought about being a DJ even though there weren’t many female DJs around that time. I was more interested in music production where the dearth of women is more prominent. The only one I knew at the time was Sandunes. Now, of course, there are many female DJs and producers, people are starting to recognize gender disparity and take the initiative to add women to setlists…but there is a long way to go before you stop being a token piece”. She believes that women shouldn’t be disheartened instead one should take it as an opportunity to show what’s in store, “In fact, there are a lot of men who’d kill to be at our place!”. DJing has helped her explore different music genres and she enjoys the thrill of playing for a crowd that enjoys her kind of music. Zainab thinks the boom in women turning into DJs has helped bring diversity into the music scene in India, “it’s not just about more women, but different people are exploring this and it is just refreshing the whole scene in India.”
It was always decided that Pia will focus on art. She got an early exposure to art through her aunt, “she’d give me sheets of draft paper I’ll sit on the floor beside her and draw while she worked”. Her aunt was the one who initially taught her how to draw which nurtured her intrigue. Most of her school life was spent focusing on art more than academics. She took up a diploma in Product and Interface Design from Srishti School of Art Design and Technology because they dropped the Fine Arts program from the college. After graduating she joined an e-commerce company as a UX designer then had a stint in advertising. After jumping different job profiles, she finally decides to start Pig Studio. Through which she worked on different social issues like women’s health & well-being.
One of her projects was on the #MeToo movement; during which she listened to many bad memories. Most of them were from her friends. It was beginning to take a toll on her, “you begin to feel like by being a woman bad things are bound to happen to you. I would relive my own bad memories and then think about the things my friends had to go through.
But this motivated her to collaborate with Ara Trust & design a legal literacy handbook for women especially refugee women in urban India.
To balance the ‘heavy’, emotionally draining work, she started to work as a children’s book illustrator. “There’s a lack of good creative children’s books from India”. It was one of the reasons why she chose to illustrate children’s books. Children are so malleable, you can mould them in so many different ways”. She thinks it’s necessary to add creative books into the market.
Becoming a freelance illustrator after quitting the comfort of a job was necessary to keep her spirit alive. “I want to work on things that excite me and can make a difference in the world we live in.”
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Prerna, Mountaineer/Rock Climber
“The true meaning of adventure is doing something you have no clue about.” As a child, Prerna spent most of her time outdoors whether it was to play Basketball or go on school camping trips. “I guess, my identity was being set during my childhood itself because I found meaning in movement. I had to keep moving to feel something.”
She came across rock climbing in college as it had a Climbing wall. This was the initial steps towards rock climbing. Taking courses during her summer vacations helped her understand the difference between mountaineering and rock climbing. By the time of her advanced course, she realized that a certificate doesn’t make one a good mountaineer, “it’s the experience that counts”. To build her confidence, she joined different groups to go to various expeditions. She dedicated any spare time to thoroughly understand this sport. Soon after graduation, she went on her first-ever self-supported expedition to Denali, Alaska. This expedition made her realize her true capabilities.
For Prerna, it’s all about the journey, the summit is a part of the whole journey. “It’s during the climb when you truly test yourself & you understand your capabilities. Surviving difficult situations and tricky regions of the mountain is what it’s all about.”
She gets a lot of support from the people who are close to her. “I think my parents still think it’s a hobby, they have been very supportive.” Indians are starting to recognize the sport yet it isn’t anywhere close to what it can be. “India still follows a traditional way of climbing, I want to move away from that and really push myself. There are so many untouched rocks in India waiting to be explored!” For the longest time, Prerna struggled with body image. She soon realized that she cared more about climbing than how people perceived her. “In rock climbing, the shape of the body doesn’t really matter. It’s not necessary that a ‘fit’ person would be a really good climber”. Change is a gradual process and it requires people to work towards it. “Every time a woman speaks up, it makes a difference”.
Happy and bubbly Amrai finds comfort in exploring something new through art.
During the final year in art college, an unfortunate experience changed her outlook in life. A few weeks before her final submission day her apartment caught fire. Her entire artwork which she had worked on that year and the previous year burned down. Her initial reaction was to give up. But her dean who went through a similar incident motivated her to create new art for the submissions. “I stood first that year. But knowing that I got through it all and produced work at all gave me the most sense of satisfaction.” This terrible incident changed her as an artist and as a person. “I thrive when I experiment a lot, it helps me open new layers of my own mind & puts me risky situations. Until I test myself I won’t know my capabilities.” Amrai is an artist & illustrator who quit her corporate job to start her own studio. Through which she is able to experiment, she has always loved to experiments with the medium. “I don’t want to make my work monotonous”. Amrai’s interest in art came at a very young age. Making greeting cards or building ‘Ravans’ during Dusherra with her cousins are some of her happiest moments. Her school did not focus much on art or extracurricular activities which made art classes all the more precious. Her art teacher would appreciate her work which kept her artistic spirit alive. She believes her parents too had a role in her pursuing art. So she was predestined to be an artist! “One should not look for recognition. I want to be appreciated for my work and from people to understand my work”
Swati Dayal, Artist
“I want people to feel curious when they see my work”
Swati Dayal is a Delhi-based artist whose interest in art started at a very young age. Being a dyslexic child, she couldn’t keep up with her fellow students which didn’t bother her much because she liked doing her own thing. This trait she carries with herself even today. She recalls “I always liked to draw the illustrations that were printed in our Hindi & English books, like the ones next to the poems.” This was one of her favourite things to do! She drew anything she found interesting from her textbooks. This fascination continued until one day her school decided to let her go because she marks were not getting any better. Her parents decided to move her to a different school which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She won her first-ever drawing competition which is when the people around her recognized her talent!
There was no stopping her after that, she’d spent her entire time painting & drawing things. Her father came across the College of Art, Delhi which he knew was the best place for her daughter. “He told me that I could draw all day here but in order to get through I need 50% in my 12th finals.” The first time she applied, she didn’t get through. This really brought her down. “I applied to a regular college where I spent my time drawing my professors.” A couple of college students from the College of Art told her that she could train herself at the NGMA, Delhi for a year & apply the following year. After finishing her Bachelors in Fine Arts & Masters Fine Arts from the College of Art Swati tried to work do conventional work which included a stint as an art teacher but she didn’t really enjoy it.
Her current series is a set of bold canvases which capture nature & her surroundings. One of which has been proudly displayed at the Turn Black Studio.
Swati believes she wants to keep doing her own thing, just like when she was a kid. She wants her work to be appreciated & understood by everyone. “I want that everyone should enjoy my work, not just a closed bunch of people. Art should be for everyone.”
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