Artist Medha Srivastava’s doodles might have a pop-culture side to her—with her concept art of comic characters and everything, but Srivastava’s body of work has a serious side too.
Her love for art and social issues were kindled back in school during interesting lectures on war and peace, while art activities kept her busy on the sidelines. It wasn’t a surprise that her sketches were centred around these issues. “I was interested in doing those than mundane landscapes,” she jokes.
Srivastava has been creating these paintings for as long as she can remember, but it was only a little before Inktober, 2016, she saw purpose in her socially laced illustration. One among them was a painting that portrayed a mother. That (among others) was the start of a creative metamorphosis that’s alive to this day.
Since then all her illustrations are dipped in social issues that bring to light things like child labour, genital mutilation, rape culture, and more. Her recent work spoke about the floods in Kerala and Section 377.
We at The Grey Alley catch up with artist Medha Srivastava, who tells us more about her socially inclined illustrations, her creative process, plagiarism, and more.
You started creating illustrations based on social issues/topics right around Inktober 2016. It has been two years since then, and your works have gotten bolder and precise. What made you start and stick with them for so long?
My exposure and participation in many art activities and drawing competitions during my school and college days have contributed immensely to instil in me the values and concern for the society. Even as a young student, I preferred topics which involved serious issues like War and peace, Terrorism, Child Labour, the environment and more.
This probably trained my mind to think seriously and use art as a powerful medium to express my thoughts. Through art, I raise my voice and draw people’s attention towards various problems. I make them think about it and how we can resolve it.
This perpetual practice or mindset encouraged me to participate in Inktober with the same attitude and thinking. Fortunately, my creations on social issues have received a great applause in and around the country. I guess the success of an artist depends on the viewer’s opinions and encouraging response. So, I can say that this childhood trend has been further carried on. Inktober amplified it and enlarged my artistic vision. And any work created to heal society is always a blessing.
When you sit on these illustrations what are the things you look for?
Being a highly sensitive person, I naturally enliven the pain of the victims and the sufferers. I feel it strongly and that reflects in my paintings. I don’t think to portray the woes of others, you need to step into the same shoe. A writer, actor and artist need to be empathetic, emotional and highly sensitive to make their creations realistic. The work shouldn’t feel laboured, it should come with ease.
My innate nature helps me to perceive the pain of the sufferers. It helps me visualise the circumstances, agony and turmoil of the people who undergo such testing situations. I also focus on a lot of life learning topics which I guess comes from my experiences and ups and downs.
A recent one was an illustration you did on the floods in Kerala. Could you take us through the idea and the execution of that illustration?
While Kerala flooded, news broke out giving crisp and clear pictures of what had happened. Lives were uprooted and swept away by a deluge causing massive devastation. This transported my vision there. I thought about how people were striving to save themselves. How they hoped against hopelessness.
While hands emerging from the flood symbolise the victims, the visuals of hands turning downwards stand for those who were ready to save them. It conveys the message that humanity has not yet sunk. It always rises and stands up to save mankind. Help poured from all the directions breaking all the barriers of caste, creed and religion.
Can illustrative art bring a change? If yes, can you cite examples on how your illustrations have brought about change?
Yes. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. On the same lines, I would say all forms of art, has the power to make people think and bring about a change.
I can’t make any claims, yet viewer’s comments, likes, and shares on social media signify that somewhere my art touches them. When I find that people are copying my ideas as it is, I believe my work impresses people.
A lot of people do question on the use of making such artworks. Because the real change comes when it’s executed through actions.
Great visuals always stay in people’s mind and that’s the best part about them. I have always tried to focus on the fact that, ‘Art that has a voice and a purpose.’ The purpose to move hearts, to remind people of the scenarios of our country and not just silently brush them off under the carpet.
I recently made a short animation film on Female Genital Mutilation. After that film was out, I got so many messages and comments from the people. They said that they were absolutely unaware of this practice.
Female Genital Mutilation is an old, ritual practised by a lot of communities where the clitoris of the female is cut off at a tender age, restricting women from any sexual feeling or desires. They define it by calling it the ‘path of morality and chastity.’
A lot of countries are trying to fight against it including India. So I do feel that if I have the power to make strong visuals, why not use them as a tool to educate people.
Out of all the social themes, which one is your favourite to work on, and why?
I think issues related to children and women attract me the most. I am proud of the beauty and the ancient culture of my country. But I am not happy about the fact that India has been named one of the most dangerous and unsafe countries for women. No democracy is a democracy when half its population lives in a fear. But what is even sadder is the fact that women protect men and their families by keeping quiet. Most of the time the culprit is one among the extended families and friends. Young girls and children have nowhere to go.
I read the news and there is more than one article about rape and child abuse. I get affected the most when it comes to children. Right from human trafficking to rape to child labour. I definitely would want my art to speak volumes about such issues and focus on the silence and ignorance of the society. At least people are constantly reminded that they do exist. And not just focus on the issues but also spread the knowledge and highlight the importance of women and child safety.
A social topic you would like to explore in the future?
I think as artists, we constantly live in fear. We have to think twice before depicting anything in our visuals only because there is so much intolerance. Everything, from Religion to art to personal choices. This religious, social and artistic intolerance is one of the most dangerous evils in India right now.
It has the capacity to snowball into something extremely volatile and dangerous in the coming years if it’s not addressed. I would definitely want to highlight more on the intolerance of our country without any fear of hurting anyone’s sentiments. I would want to make my art spread more awareness about living in peace and accepting other religions and choices. People are killing each other in the name of religion and that is something so dangerous and unacceptable.
We also see that your work gets plagiarised a lot. Your thoughts? Why is plagiarism so rampant in India… especially in the arts? Is there a way artists can try to secure their work?
Plagiarism is prevalent in all fields of art, be it music, films or even paintings. I think there is a difference between being talented and being creative. All talented artists may not be necessarily creative. Creativity involves original thinking, ideas, concepts and new perceptions which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. An artist may be highly skilled in playing an instrument, but the same artist may not be able to create a tune or something that conveys deep meaning.
Lack of natural creativity prompts them to take this shortcut route of Plagiarism. They steal other’s ideas and call them their own. New technology and social network are helpful in keeping a tab on such people, but it gets difficult sometimes. It is a matter of one’s conscience.
Yes, a lot of my work has been plagiarised especially the mother painting. It was a spontaneous work created two years back which went viral. It portrays what a mother undergoes to bring life on earth, and how this fact is often ignored. A lot of people had and are still stealing it, using it for their poems, personal benefits, making a graffiti and what not!
People, especially budding artists, need to understand what it takes for another artist to create an original body of work. There is a lot of ideation, trials and errors, and hard work involved in creating something of your own. The minute it is put on the internet, in a fraction of seconds it’s ripped off and copied.
People need to be taught the value of art ethics and morals, the definition of a true artist and not just having a tag of an artist. One can never stand out in the crowd if he or she just tries to imitate something which already exists. It is okay to not be perfect or excellent at the start but it is not okay to recreate someone’s hard work and take credit for it.
Yes, artists can secure their artwork by officially registering it with a copyright. Apart from that, you can always put a visible watermark on their artworks. And probably tell the users that a high-quality version is available for downloads. Sadly, people still have the liberty to tweak a watermarked image or make it high resolution. If your copyright is infringed you can get legal advice and take action.
Anything interesting you are currently working on?
As a digital and concept artist, I keep taking projects from different areas of art right from gaming to events to book illustrations. But that is something I do to make ends meet. I love working on social issues for my soul and I keep creating them depending on the current affairs and my mindset. For now, I am working on a lot of projects for NGOs and have plans to make more short films on current affairs.
Plans for the future?
I really wish to make my artwork useful for society. I do have plans to start something of my own and make a brand in the future. Probably get associated and donate the money I earn from these artworks to NGOs helping women and children of our country. That would really do some justice to my art and the work.
Follow her work on Instagram here.
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