Are you ashamed of your body? An increasing number of people seem to be, and the narratives in the media don't seem to help. Visual artist Kritika Trehan wants to shut down body-shamers, and aims to do so with her new book, 'Excess'. Her crusade of sorts began as she came to terms with being body shamed herself, as a teenager, which led to a personal and social inquiry. The visual artist and author tells SheThePeople.TV more about her journey, her work, and what exactly is wrong with Indian society and media.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Unlike a lot of my other art contemporaries, I got into art and design much later. I started being drawn to this field only when I was 17 or 18. My main interest in illustration and visual arts at large only flourished in my first year at Srishti where I started maintaining a sketchbook regularly.
Being a graduate from Srishti School Of Art, what inspired you to publish 'Excess'. What is the book essentially about?
Excess was my final thesis project at Srishti. It was initially just that, a college project.
Coming from a family where my parents are from two different cultures I have always had to face confusion as to how I am supposed to look. Whereas the Punjabi side of my family has always encouraged me to eat more “ghee” or “sugar”, the Rajasthani side has subtly encouraged me to be leaner and eat “simpler” food. I had been reading ‘The Beauty Myth’ by Naomi Wolf which became the starting point of a personal and social enquiry into the politics of body shaming especially in India. My own cross-cultural confusion of the ideal body image fed into the process of rigorously collecting images and text to develop a language critiquing the context itself.
'Excess' is a book of digital collages using the medium of satire to explore the relationship between body shaming and genre biases using images from the visual culture of India. The visuals in the book are based on real stories of shaming experienced by women from ages 13-55 from an urban setting. The book mimics that of a fashion catalogue strengthening the relationship between the influence of media and the ideas of perfection it brings along with it.
I only decided to publish it because of the response I received and was surprised at how many people resonated with it.
What makes your book so special for Indian readers?
I think I was very sure from the beginning that I wanted the book to be situated in India. Being someone who has experienced body shaming myself, I tried to contextualise our culture's implications on the same. I think one thing that came up during my research a lot was how seamless shaming was in our culture. Often said in a joke or even as an ice breaker, people shaming don't tend to see it as a problem, rather as something funny. I wanted to rid ourselves of this delusion and ignorance and make people realise what might be funny to them might not be to the person hearing it. I think it resonated with people the way it did because of this, either they realised what they were doing or had experienced it at some point of their lives.
Why do youngsters need to read about it?
As a "youngster" myself, I think the only aim of my book was to abolish this ignorance that comes attached to shaming. People often think that it's "No big deal" and it is okay to discuss someone's body as dinner table conversation, when it's absolutely not.
How and when was your love for giving social messages born?
In my fourth year in Srishti, I realised that I had the power to create a strong social dialogue through my art. I realised that art/design is not only about making pretty things, but also about getting an "idea" (no matter how simple it might be) out there.
How did you initially pursue this passion? What got you interested in illustration?
I had initially decided to do something very different with this project. Something with art direction and photography. But it looked too glossy and I found myself feeding into the very same idea of beauty that I was aiming to fight. I then decided to use already existing imagery and alter it to create collage, since body shaming is something that makes you feel similarly about your own self. It makes you want to alter your own self. So collage seemed to be the best option in this context. I also wanted to use imagery that I had grown up with and include as much of a wide range as I could since I wanted the book to speak across ages, from my grandmother to my youngest cousin.
What are your ambitions for your career as an artist?
I am currently working out of Mumbai and am working on a few personal as well as commercial projects. However, I do wish to use a mix of art and design in all my work from now on, and also have a strong conceptual backing for each of my projects.
I am currently working on a mini personal project which is documenting my travels in the past month.
How much research goes into each project?
There is no specific time I allot to research, but in Excess (a 3 month long project) it took me about 30 days to do my base research. Also I feel that research and execution go hand in hand and a lot of times the research happens even after you've built the final project.
What are your biggest challenges when it comes to designing and doing research, plus balancing personal life?
I try to take as much as I can from my personal life in my projects. I try to incorporate my own self and experiences in my work as I have found myself being more involved that way. I wouldn't count these two things as separate aspects.
What is your view on 'women empowerment'?
I feel people are finally acknowledging the need to talk about the huge gender gap in all walks of life. There are still many issues left to be addressed and solved, but making conversation and being critical is necessary and artists and writers alike are slowly beginning to address these through new mediums.
What are some of the lessons you learnt from your project?
During the course of this project I realised that a lot of times I used to body shame in my head. I used to find myself getting jealous or resentful towards people who were skinnier than me and this mental struggle is depicted in the book through upside down collages. But once the project was done I realised I no longer feel the need to shame anybody else. This is what I wish people realise after reading the book as well :)
There are only 50 copies of the book are now available on Amazon as well. Go grab them!
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