By Priya Patel – University of Florida
Meera Sethi is an artist based out of Toronto, Canada and I recently came across some of her art pieces online. Sethi uses art as an expression of her Indian roots mixed with contemporary Western culture, truly exemplifying the diasporic nature that so many Brown girls experience,struggle with, and embrace on a daily basis. I caught up with her while she was on a trip to India, and she graciously took some time to answer my questions about her life and career. If you want to learn more about Sethi, visit her website: http://www.meerasethi.com
Where did your artistic inclinations start? And how did you make the decision to pursue (what most consider) a potentially risky career?
As a child, my favourite class was always art. I was encouraged from a young age to explore all subjects and grew up aware of an extended family full of artists, designers, writers as well as business people.
My most precious artwork from when I was a child is this self-portrait that I drew with crayons. I am wearing a plaid dress and my arms are brown and my face is white. Apart from the obvious bicultural and biracial implications or rather, confusions, what strikes me about the piece is the emphasis on clothing and style. Some 30 years later, I am still fascinated by the same expressions of identity.
My decision to pursue artmaking as a career choice is very recent and unexpected. In fact, I had all but abandoned my own art for a number of years while I pursued careers in cultural studies, arts management and graphic design, each circumventing the actual making of art. I kept myself away from actually creating as I always felt I didn’t have the technical skill to “draw.” It was a narrow definition, of course. Beginning to draw again came about rather spontaneously. I bought some supplies and began expressing myself, my identity on paper. Something about what I made resonated with me and others and I began to take it more seriously.
I once read this quote by the Sufi poet Rumi that said something to the effect of “Do what you love and the money will follow.” I have faith in this and, moreover, my quality of life is greatly increased because every day I wake up excited for a day filled with creative possibility, with the space to dream, imagine and play. This to me is of far more significance then the stability of a regular income.
Taking a look at your website, you mention you work in several different mediums. Do you have a favorite, or one that you’re most comfortable with?
I work in the mediums of graphic design, drawing, painting and photography. They all sort of ebb and flow depending on what I am trying to communicate. I appreciate them all and enjoy using each. However I am a graphic designer before anything else as I tend to approach the world through a design lens. Wherever I go, I find myself drawn to typography, signage, interior design, architecture, craft. These sources of inspiration find their way into my art.
Can you tell us more about the Firangi Rang Barangi series? I think it’s one that our readers can readily and strongly identify with because of it’s representation of hybrid culture. During the process of creating these pieces, did you have any direct influences?
The Firangi Rang Barangi series came about as an unconscious response to the circumstances of my bicultural life. I was born in New Delhi and immigrated to Toronto at the age of two yet never quite felt fully “Canadian”. Having constant exposure to Delhi as I was growing up, with summer vacations spent with my grandparents there, I felt a strong connection to the language, culture, style and dress of India. But this was so rarely expressed in Toronto either through the art that I experienced or the clothing of those around me. As a result I felt something was missing or lost: a hybrid style of dress that took into account the experiences of those like me. Without deliberately setting out to, I drew together these cultural influences and geographic locations to create something new, something as yet unexplored.
You have recently made a trip to India. Can you tell us about the significance and impact of this on your art practice?
I was just in Delhi and Mumbai for two moths after a three year hiatus. This was perhaps the longest gap I have ever had in between visits to my homeland. It was also a significantly different to any earlier visits as this time I consciously set out to develop my art practice on Indian soil.
The impact of this trip has been enormous. I have found tremendous support in India for my art, the images and ideas that I explore. There is a sense that people over there “get it.” People in urban centers like Delhi or Mumbai see themselves in the hybrid combinations I create. Their own sense of style is very influenced by the culture they are immersed in, a culture inflected with Western music and media and contemporary Indian design. This is encouraging as I realize that my audience is quite large, diverse and wanting representations of themselves that speak to their lives. I feel excited by my practice in a way that is entirely new for me.
What is your advice to any aspiring/budding artist?
Well, I don’t have all the answers as I am in a constant state of learning and “becoming” an artist. However, I would advise anyone who has a career passion of any kind to let yourself be surprised by what you do and to remember that there is rarely a direct path to achieving our dreams.
Image courtesy of mtvdesi.com