“Art is supposed to make you feel something”
Mumbai-based teenage artist on sharing her feminist works on social media
Like most other
children, 18-year-old Priyanka Paul took to doodling as soon as she was introduced to a pencil. But it was only after she joined St Xavier’s College, where she studied the humanities, that she brought in feminist thought to her illustrations and poetry. Art, she believes is supposed to make you feel something. “It's supposed to rile you up, it's supposed to make you re-think everything, even the norms of patriarchy, so that's exactly what I aim at doing with my art,” says Paul.
Last year, the artist who goes by the name ArtWhoring, attracted a lot of attention through her Goddess series, inspired by Harnidh Kaur's poem 'Pantheon'. It featured various goddesses from different cultures fighting for feminist and sexual liberation. For instance, she portrays Kali in a crop top sticking out her tongue in between two fingers in the shape of a V. The series celebrated bold, uncensored and unabashed women, which is something Paul continues to do through her menstruation series as well.
Although menstruation has been a recurring theme in her work, she feels that creating a series is important to break the taboo around the subject. “It's still considered to be impure. Recently I was told by a number of girls my age, that during their periods they were treated differently and were told to not touch anything and were kept away for that particular time. This is 2017. These are girls I've grown up with and gone to school and college with. Education still can't determine your awareness about a natural process like menstruation and that honestly scares me,” she reveals. The constant fetishization of menstruation has helped create a rift that has meant that 88 per cent of women in India today have to make use of woodshavings and cloth and leaves instead of sanitary napkins. “It doesn’t help that the government classifies sanitary napkins as a luxury commodity, and hence imposes up to 14.5 per cent taxes on sanitary napkins in some states. The government definitely needs to stop taxing pads, but also subsidise and provide encouragement to affordable and biodegradable and safe sanitary napkin manufacturers,” adds the artist.
Instagram has been a very useful tool to Paul. But while there are people from around the world who constantly encourage and inspire her, she also receives a lot of flak. “What amuses me is that there's so much offence over a supposed disrespectful imagery of goddesses, but there's no offence over the literal social media abuse of an 18-yearold artist,” she says.
Also the fact that, not always will a discussion about so called 'taboo' issues such as menstruation and female masturbation be taken in the right sense, and that's all the more reason to be talking about these issues. “Though social media is accessible to just a negligible amount of population in a country like ours, I believe change in any capacity has the ability to spread. If my art can change how even one person perceives society, then I believe my purpose as an artist has been met,” she adds. More often than not, she finds a lot of peers and even other women conversing with her via social media or otherwise about a variety of issues. “It's overwhelming that my work could have such an impact and also that I learn so much more from every experience I hear about.”
Currently working on her period series, and collaborating with a number of artists, Paul is also working on a zine with Alok Vaid Menon, a trans femme activist and spoken word poet. “The zine will try to explain non conformity when it comes to gender binaries. I'm also working on a series/zine that deals with the different Indian states and shows them in a way that hasn't been done before, I started with Kerala and it's on my Instagram page. I might have a series that talks about castebased oppression in the future. It's an issue that I want to put forth, and I'm researching and reading up in order to be able to do that in the most appropriate way possible.” A media student, Paul says she might pursue journalism or go to art school or study policy or just paint streets and walls in the future. “As long as I'm creating art and questioning patriarchy (and all kinds of archaic power structures), I'll be exactly where I need to be,” she says.