By Tanya Singh
Digital art has become a modern tool of activist expression. Although many experts compare social media activism to ‘slacktivism’ (slacker + activism), artists are rocking the digital world with creative yet powerful art to generate awareness and to question and challenge several societal norms in their own unique ways.
Twenty-eight-year-old Payal Sharma (@paayalsharma) is an advertisement copywriter who explored digital art amidst the pandemic. Her art – female-centric, direct, brightly illustrated and textual – shines light on a range of social issues. . Through her art, she questions ancient practices and criticizes society’s double standards regarding women, beauty and body. Ultimately, her art is an ode to self love and worth.
One such illustration; “Agni Pariksha, my a**”, is a reflective take on the infamous episode of Sita’s Agni Pariksha in the epic Ramayana, which is symbolic of doubt and toxic notions related to a woman’s integrity. This artwork is Sharma’s response to society’s never ending questions on woman’s probity. Speaking on the work, she says, “Sita’s Agni Pariksha continues to haunt us women, even in 2020. She’s the woman who is afraid to talk about her abusive past for the fear of judgement. She’s the woman who is trolled for speaking up. She is the woman who puts herself last. She is also that woman who looks for society’s validation almost as a reflex. In 2020, let us be the Sita that douses the Agni and society’s opinion with it. Agni Pariksha, my a**.”
Another plucky artist, Bao (@thebigfatbao), is an illustrator and graphic designer. Her work focuses on concerns of caste, gender and wildlife. She emphasises on highlighting instances of everyday injustices that are either suppressed or go unnoticed. Through her work she pays a constant tribute to the legendary Dr. Bhimrao Ramaji Ambedkar, who dedicated his life for the betterment of Dalits.
Bao’s work is a bold and powerful stance against caste insensitivity, which questions and explores the double standards reflected in the treatment of minorities in India. #dalithistorymonth is a noteworthy illustrative series by Bao to showcase and celebrate endeavours of Bahujan and Dalit women.
“I want to remind you that everyday women who are kind, gentle, loving and supportive can also be fierce, loud, sassy, powerful, and courageous. … I will be focusing on some such #bahujanwomen and #dalitwomen who have fought fearlessly in the past and some who fight even today.” -Bao
As they say ‘No good deed goes unpunished’, digital artists are often subjected to sharp criticism. In a conversation with The Woman Inc, Bao recalls how she has been at the receiving end of slandourous attacks. “I think any work, whether artistic or otherwise should be critically analysed. Feedback only makes things better. Dealing with personal criticism has been extremely traumatizing because all of it comes from a place of hatred. I don’t think shaming someone in the name of criticism does any good. It just furthers the cycle of abuse. Criticising my work for my methods or on the technicalities with nuance is something I always look forward to. It is far more insightful and helps be become a better illustrator, ”she said.
Payal Sharma also shared her experiences of being trolled on social media trolling; she was brutally threatened by trolls and extremists regarding one of her illustrations. “You can’t always win with trolls. My opinion is that, try not to take them to your heart. They don’t really mean much. There are all sorts of people on social media, especially people who are out there to get you. They don’t want you to speak up and they don’t want you to have a voice at all. If you want to be on social media and an artist; you’ll have to be clever about it, you’ll need to find a way to work around trolls,” she said.
The creative field isn’t always the easiest to navigate. It can turn even more difficult when one has a voice; a voice that calls out for truth, love, equality and justice. Yet there are innumerable artists, working hard with a hope to change and inspire the world to make it a better place.
Payal Sharma leaves a heartening message for all budding artists out there when she says, “Just go for it. I have done that. It takes courage to put your thoughts out there. If you stop thinking about what the Instagram algorithm wants out of you or what is trending and if you actually talk from your heart, you will find likeminded people whom you can connect with and who understand you and probably you can influence minds as well.”
Tanya Singh is a research scholar in English Literature. She is an empathetic reader and a budding writer. Netflix is her favourite pastime and she’s always up for food and thought provoking conversations.