In Portraits: Indian Women in a Never-Seen-Before Avatar

MEANS brings you the second in our series, a profile of Nimisha Bhanot via Quartz:

In the summer of 2012, Nimisha Bhanot discovered her fondness for portraits. The 27-year-old Canadian visual artist didn’t want to paint just any kind of portraiture—she wanted those representing totally badass, liberated, independent Indian women.

“I think all women are badass. What makes the women in my paintings exceptionally badass is that they are free to be whatever and whoever they want to be,” Bhanot told Quartz in an email.

The Toronto resident has begun a series of paintings called Badass Indian Pinups. As a woman originally from South Asia, her work “explores the perception of self and societal roles from a bi-cultural perspective,” she said.

Women in her work are shown breaking every possible patriarchal expectation—be it holding a glass of alcohol, dangling a cigarette, gazing seductively, or dressing in cleavage-showing attire. At the same time, her hands are covered in henna, she is fully adorned in ethnic jewellery, sports vermillion and a bindi—typically worn to denote a married woman.

Bhanot has been drawing and painting since she was a child. She began making art “more geared towards the societal role and perception of the Indian woman” during her graduating year at OCAD University, Toronto, in 2012-2013.

That year coincided with the horrific gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi. Singh’s murder brought to the forefront Indian society’s hypocritical attitude towards its women. The victim-blaming in the wake of the incident “sincerely pissed” Bhanot, she told Buzzfeed.

“They’re (the portraitures) badass because they’re looking back at their viewer. This gaze maximizes the subject’s confidence and that’s what my art is all about,” she said.

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