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Painting My Relationship with my Body: Naamah Kumar

Recently on Twitter, I came across colourful pictures of the female body which immediately caught my eye! @HappyNoodle or Namaah Kumar is an illustrator (only part-time) who for the past decade or along with regular creative doodling has been sketching her version of the woman in all her glory. By day she works at the streaming platform Hotstar and is a proud Mumbaite.

I caught up with her for an interesting conversation about her art and why she thinks that discussing female sexuality is still taboo in India and how she wants to change the conversation through her drawings.

Namaah Kumar for SheThePeople

What are these drawings at its core?

A large part of my work as an illustrator focuses on the female form. Through my own learning, unlearning, my relationship with my body, my gender, and my sexuality. I try to stay true to what I know and feel. And hope to add to the discourse that exists around femininity and feminism through expressions of lived-experiences.

I believe in celebrating the richness and potential of that side of our minds as well as bodies to reach a better understanding of ourselves, and never letting ourselves be undermined.

 What enticed you to paint about the female body?

I’ve been partial to the female form since as long as I can remember. As I grew up and gained a better understanding of the female form through the changes in my own body, gender, sexuality, and the politics around it all, I found myself fixating on the female form as an exercise in personal empowerment. We have as a society managed to sexualized the physical appearance of an entire sex without it in any way furthering the agency of that sex itself. So while I cannot truly say I actively chose the subject, I hope to play some part in seizing the cultural narrative around it for as long as I’m here.

 Is talking about our bodies still taboo in today’s “modern” age?

Yes, I think so. For example. the debate around the release of Lipstick Under My Burka speaks adequately to this. The question at hand now is not whether the systemic oppression exists, but instead how did we get here and what we can do to course-correct.

Namaah Kumar for SheThePeople

We appreciate femininity in its neatly packaged, slickly marketed form, but don’t extend that appreciation to real living-breathing women who exist around us.

What do you aim to symbolise in your work?

The aim has been not strictly, but mainly to comment on how through history women have got the raw end of the deal on society’s Madonna-whore complex. We appreciate femininity in its neatly packaged, slickly marketed form, but don’t extend that appreciation to real living-breathing women who exist around us. My biggest problem is with the idea that we need to be beautiful at all. But that’s a whole new ideological can of worms. So at such a time, I find that it’s imperative to separate the superficial beauty as per the male gaze from the beast that lurks beneath which is eating into the well-being of an entire half of the world’s population. Through my work, I hope to get more women speaking up, using their gender as a platform and not a crutch.

The inspiration comes from ….

As a person, I am shaped by my belief in the power of empathy and humour, coupled with an almost comical sense of anxiety, so a lot of what I make comes from the music, books, art, and information.

My family and cats, Albert Camus, Kathleen Hanna, Arsène Wenger, David Firth, Diane Lockhart (yep, the fictional character), Wes Anderson, Thom Yorke, and even Rosie the Riveter are the few good places I go in times of creative as well as personal crisis of faith.

Namaah Kumar for SheThePeople

The best artists who paint the female form that we can learn from?

Megha Joshi is someone whose work I think is so good, and so important. What Aarthi Parthasarthy is doing with Royal Existentials, whilst not working strictly with hand-drawing characters. Then, on the global scale, there are the obvious but unmissable artists like Georgia O’keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Gwendolyn Knight, etc. The Riot Girl and Guerrilla Girl agenda and aesthetic have also gone a long way in helping me shape my own aesthetic.