Bold hues, firm strokes and quirky designs—this is what catches the eye in the works of India’s contemporary women illustrators. From selfie-taking gods to lungi-clad cats, women stuck in long beards and crown-donning skeletons, their art is a reflection of their unabashed, unapologetic and uncanny spirit. An exploration of the female form and identity is a common thread that binds most of these works. But, what makes each of them unique is their distinctive style of using wit and wisdom in equal measure. The eclectic repertoire of this new wave of artists opens a window into an entire generation brimming with fresh, witty, audacious and irreverent creativity. So, here’s a list of 10 women contemporary illustrators (in no particular order) whose works you need to follow:
An illustrator and writer, Prabha Mallya’s world is dominated by animals and birds with strong personalities. Not surprising then that her first book was a collection of illustrated collective nouns for children titled The Alphabet of Animals and Birds, which went on to win The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Award 2016 for Best Picture Book. Mallya was recently commissioned by The Guardian as one among 10 artists who created a series of illustrations reinventing Rudyard Kipling’s classic, The Jungle Book. Her depiction of Raksha, the mother wolf, defending Mowgli from the cruel Shere Khan, was done “directly in ink” to echo the intensity and fury the scene demanded.
A student of communication design from Pune, Himanshi Parmar confesses that she was “one of those kids who drew on every possible surface”. Inspired by the people she meets and the places she travels to, her work deals with the recurring themes of discovering the self, exploring societal restrictions or sometimes just the art of being.
The creator of the much-celebrated Gods Taking Selfie series, Adrita Das is a 24-year-old graduate of Srishti School Of Art, Design and Technology. Das’s works are marked by a good dose of dark humour, be it her series called The Ramayan Bro Code or her ongoing series Everyday People. Inspired by artists Mario Miranda and Jon Burgerman, she has etched out a unique style of her own by employing smart parody to draw attention to deeper issues.
Femininity, flora and fauna form the crux of Gurgaon-based Barkha Lohia’s abstract illustrations. Despite her sparing use of colour, Lohia’s works are raw, yet calm and intense. It shows women tied down by life and its losses, yet re-emerging in full bloom. Her work depicts hope and optimism, without going overboard with too many motifs or hues.
This Indo-Canadian contemporary artist created a lot of buzz with her series titled Badass Indian Pinups recently. A spin on classic American pinup paintings, Bhanot’s works show women who are outwardly Indian, decked in gold and hands painted with henna, but sexually liberated and posing in ways that would be looked down upon in our patriarchal society. It is a clever critique on the roles that women are expected to be playing in a patriarchy. While Bhanot’s subjects are all following tradition by keeping the Karva Chauth fast or ironing their husband’s shirt, their confident outward gaze, right at the audience, conveys an entirely different story.
It is possible that you may have stumbled upon Mumbai-based graphic designer and illustrator Pranita Kocharekar’s light-hearted take on anxiety, a series of 16 illustrations titled ‘Is That You’? She was also a part of the city-wide Taxi Fabric art project, which transformed seat covers of Mumbai cabs into canvases with doodles and illustrations. Kocharekar’s work strikes a beautiful balance of being bold in its thought, yet feminine in its execution. Her ongoing ‘doodle a day’ project has also garnered many social media followers.
Bangalore-based illustrator Rae Zachariah’s works are emotional, evocative and effervescent. Be it the mixed media graphics for the online magazine Kindle or her series of illustrations featuring sexist vintage ads, Zachariah’s work is sure to bring a smile on your face. For the uninitiated, she is the creative force behind the widely shared “Headbanging Modi” illustration that appeared on the cover of Kindle magazine.
Nagaland-born artist Limatola Longkumer learnt the basic of art from her mother while she was in kindergarten. Longkumer, who has been hailed as one of the most promising contemporary artists, has a distinctive style of her own. Humans, mostly women, leaves and fruits are her main motifs, with which she plays, mostly sans colour, to intricately create a design of desire, peace and self-introspection. Her work belies the fact that she is fairly new to the world of illustrations.
A comics maker and illustrator, this NID graduate is currently working on a collaborative webcomic series on urban stories and observations in India, titled UrbanLore Comics. Her work is driven by strong content, yet light-hearted and witty. She was one of the first in-house designers of the quirky lifestyle brand Chumbak and is also a part of Kadak, a South Asian collective of women graphic storytellers whose work premiered at this year’s East London Comic Arts Festival.
A cluttered desk, idly hanging bangs, clothes lazily thrown on a dorm room hair, a man taking a moment to think about what to order at a fast-food counter—Pranisha Shreshta’s illustrations takes you into the little details of the mundane. Her intricately-observed drawings sometimes turn interestingly participatory with the viewer getting a tiny peek of the artist’s sketchbook and the beginnings of the creation of a work. Her doodles depict life, people and the world as it is.