ANSHIKA KHULLAR

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How would you describe your illustration style? What are you best known for? 

I’d describe my style as detailed, vibrant, thoughtful and, more often than not, political. I’m a firm believer of the statement, ‘the personal is political’, so even when I’m not explicitly being political, I’m still being political in every creative decision I make, from how I choose to depict the characters I create to the themes within each piece. I’m probably best known for my zodiac series in which I personify each zodiac sign with a feminine-presenting character that is more often than not brown or black, fat, and always fierce as heck. 
 

 
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What's a recent challenge that you experienced in regards to your work? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?

When I posted my latest piece, ‘Repeal’, I received my first real bits of negative backlash. I created the piece in support of the Repeal The 8th movement taking place in the UK right now, which is all about giving people in Ireland equal access to reproductive rights by repealing the 8th Amendment in Ireland’s Constitution that currently makes it illegal for pregnancies to be aborted. It’s an issue that’s close to my heart, because everyone should have autonomy over their own bodies, but not everyone thinks that way; I had a few people respond to my work with comments such as ‘disgusting obese brown people’, ‘they all [my characters] look condescending and annoying’, ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’, (etc,etc) and generally being spiteful towards the idea that people, of all genders and ethnicities, deserve to have free agency over their bodies. While of course I’m aware that opinions like these exist in the world, I choose to surround myself with people who believe in a fair, just, diverse and inclusive world in which nobody is persecuted for who they are or what they choose to do with their own bodies, so it was jarring to have strangers suddenly make themselves known and comment so vehemently on something I consider to be the beating heart of my art and my spirit. 
 

 
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There are times when people can and should be debated with, to understand their point of view and to hopefully have them understand yours: this wasn’t one of those times. These comments were vitriolic and the only thing for it was to ignore and block the people who made them instead of wasting my emotional labour banging my head against a brick wall. I suppose what I’ve learned from this experience is to be even bloody bolder about the things I’m passionate about; for every hateful comment I received on that piece, I got a dozen bits of positive feedback from people who are fighting for and believe in this incredible cause. Sometimes sticking to your guns is the most important lesson you can carry with you, even when you’re being shouted down by those who don’t see the world the way you do. You’ve just got to try and focus on the people who appreciate what you do because it is meaningful to both you and them.
 

 
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You've got several different areas of focus, including patternwork. Have you ever thought of bringing those patterns to life on fabric, or other products?

I’d absolutely love to do something like that! It’s more a matter of logistics and, honestly, working out how to make that a tangible reality. I’m super into the idea of doing scarves and tees in particular, so that’s something I’d definitely look into if there’s enough demand for it. (I think my zodiac series would make excellent scarves, personally!) I love the idea of creating things that people might love enough to wear proudly on their bodies. Particularly because I work digitally, there’s something very appealing about the thought of having such a tangible form of my art out there in the world.
 

 
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What's the biggest risk you've ever taken in relation to your art? Did it pay off? 

I’m still relatively new to doing art professionally, so I can’t say I’ve done anything that risky- yet! Probably the fact that at the beginning of this year I was offered an amazing opportunity by the brilliant The Other Box (@_theotherbox on IG) and Skinnydip London to be featured as part of the #SkinnydipSisterhood campaign that celebrates twelve female and fem-identifying minority creatives. This was pretty much the first real big Thing (yep, capital T ‘Thing’!) that happened for me career-wise, and at first I was so nervous about it. As soon as I got the email I rushed to my mum and was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this” and then, “Will you please go with me?” because I was just that anxious about it. A large part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it, because I was just doing my silly little doodles and surely they’d made some mistake and didn’t actually want me. But despite my anxiety and my own internal put-downs, I travelled up to London (yes, with my mum!) and did the scary thing and (despite being pretty shaky in front of a camera) did an interview with them and everything. It doesn’t sound like much of a risk, but to me it was- when you’re as much of an anxious person as I am, these things feel positively huge, and I didn’t know what on earth I was letting myself in for. I thought everyone there would just take one look at me and my work and go, “Is that it?” But that didn’t happen. Instead, everyone was beyond wonderful and supportive and encouraging. I obviously didn’t actually expect anyone to be mean to me, but when you’re a fledgling (and an anxious one at that) there’s always this tiny part of your brain thinking this is too good to be true. 

 
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But this ‘risk’ was so worth taking. The campaign was crafted beautifully, and all the creatives featured bring something fresh and vital to the industries we’re in – and I can finally say that about myself too. It was such an incredible chance to be part of something bigger than just me, but something that also helped me see my own worth as an artist, and built up my confidence enough to be like, “Hey, I have something cool and worthwhile to bring to the table, and I can say that proudly.” I can’t express how grateful I am for that opportunity because it’s helped me feel so much more confident that my work contributes something meaningful to the world and that it resonates with more people than just me. 

 
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Given today's political climate, do you think your body-positive and overall empowering illustrations are particularly impactful? 

I certainly hope so. As someone who has rarely seen themself represented in mainstream media, let alone positively, I know how it feels to feel invisible and insignificant. I know how it feels to take up “too much” space and still feel unseen. So it’s more important than ever now, when women and feminine-identifying people are reduced to our appearance (particularly those of us that are also people of colour, fat, and/or queer), to curate spaces in which we can feel seen outside of the male gaze, in a safe and supportive environment that exists to empower us. 

 
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There is so much bad in the world, and so much wrong with the way we view anyone different from the hegemonic archetypes of acceptable, and it’s a frustrating place to be in. But there’s also a small yet significant shift towards becoming more aware of the bad happening around us, and standing up and making statements like ‘time’s up’ or ‘me too’. Particularly as a fem-identifying person who can also raise my hand and say ‘me too’, I’m very aware that for me, personally, reclaiming my body and my sexuality is a big deal. Accepting a body that is also happens to be a battlefield is a hard thing to do, but one of the main ways I do it is by drawing what I draw. My characters aren’t perfect, they’re not always ‘pretty’, they’re not always conventionally acceptable; instead, they’re fat, or hairy, or darker-skinned, or awkward – all the things society says women and fems shouldn’t be – and they’re always majestic. 

Acknowledging the fact that femininity isn’t always cisgender, heterosexual, white, or delicate is what I needed to see in my own work. It’s what I hope my illustrations do for women and fems: be a safe haven that reminds them of their power, brilliance, beauty and fierceness in a world that would only see them as objects to be chipped away at and used, or not see them at all. 
 

 
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Who's another illustrator that you admire? What do you admire about them? 

Emily Jane Cohen (@emilyjaneillustrates on IG) makes some wonderfully irreverent art that combines themes of femininity, sexuality, religion and misanthropy with a gloriously dry sense of humour that shines through each piece. I can’t get enough of her work - particularly because looking at it doesn’t feel super serious or stuffy - it’s art that is colourful and loud and designed to provoke a reaction, but still has a sense of grace that I can’t explain. I find that so charming and hard to look away from. 

 
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What's the best piece of advice you've ever received in regards to creating? Why was it so significant for you?

Hmm. I don’t know that anyone’s ever given me advice about creating specifically, but there’s always those phrases tossed about on social media that are mostly faux-motivational but sometimes strike a chord. I guess ‘stay true to who you are’ is one concept I’ve unintentionally adopted over the years. Never compromising on your identity and what makes you who you are is also what makes your art what it is. I believe in this so strongly that I feel like I’m always talking about it, but yeah, that’s my main motivation. 

 
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How do you see your work evolving in the next five years? What are you working towards?


Honestly, I can’t even foresee the next year let alone five years! But as a general rule I’d like for my work to be more inclusive than it is today. Something I recognise in my art at the moment is that it features a lot of able-bodied characters- I haven’t yet delved into truly representing disabled people in the way that I’d like to. I did a piece on living with chronic GI conditions, which is of course a form of disability, but that was very much informed by my own life and my own GI condition. I want to be able to make art that transcends beyond just my own lived experiences and becomes more inclusive of people who don’t see themselves represented in mainstream art media. I hope that five years from now I’m able to look back at this interview and say, “Yep, I made strides in that direction” and that hopefully in that time I have made art that resonates with as many intersections of marginalised and underrepresented groups as possible. Nobody will ever be able to represent absolutely everyone, but I hope I can let as many people as possible see themselves as powerful and beautiful when they might not ordinarily have that. 

More recently and tangibly, I’m also working towards opening up my online shop to make prints of my pieces available for purchase so those who like my work can have a physical manifestation of all the things my art stands for. Hopefully some day this will be established enough that the scarves and tees start making an appearance too!

 

 

Check Anshika out on Instagram and their website.

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