Neha Kapil reimagines classical European art with Indian mythology
Minneapolis based artist Neha Kapil recently caught our eye with her painted series Desi Remix and what intrigued us most about looking at her work was the feeling of the familiar with the unfamiliar. By reinterpreting renown classical European art such as The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli and Hylas and the Nypmhs by John Williams Waterhouse, Neha has reversed cultural norms to intertwine Indian mythology as well as bring to the forefront the role of females within the stories.
Neha tells us more about her inspirations and what lead to creating her Desi Remix series.
Tell us a little bit about your background – where did you grow up and what did you study?
I’m from the U.S., born and brought up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve always been interested in art since as long as I can remember and grew up taking art lessons from a young age. More than anything, I was always drawn to creativity and creating because it was the only thing I could do with confidence and the only thing that truly excited me. Despite debating the idea of several career options over the years, art was the one thing I couldn’t let go of, so I followed my passion and went to the University of Michigan where I studied art & design and psychology. Since then, I’ve spent every day working as a full time creative, making paintings, illustrations, working on graphic designing, blogging about fashion and beauty, and even making youtube videos.
Here at Bound, we love how your Indian heritage has influenced your art. Can you tell us about when and how you became aware of this need to connect back to your roots?
For me, being “Indian” is all I’ve ever known. Although, I’ve never actually lived in India and despite being an American, I was always being taught about our culture in one form or another, so I couldn’t help but feel incredibly Indian growing up. When I went to school or hung out with friends of other ethnicities, I never felt ashamed or found a need to hide my Indian-ness, because I felt strongly that being Indian is just who I am. If I took a trip to India I would gladly tell my friends about it, or if someone came over to our house they’d see my Indian home life, even in school I’d always choose India as a topic for research projects, and eventually in high school I’d paint Indian subject matter in my art classes. For the most part, I was never hated on or felt any sort of discrimination from anyone. I was fortunate enough to have grown up with friends and peers who were accepting and always showed positive curiosity towards my culture. So for me, there was never any one moment where I felt a need to “reconnect” back to my roots. I’ve always been connected, and as I grew older I only felt a stronger need to learn more about the things I didn’t already know about my culture.
What led you to creating your Desi Remix series? What was it about Indian mythology that inspired you to interlace it with classical Renaissance iconography?
The series initially began from my love for “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli. I was lucky enough to get to see the real “Birth of Venus” in person a few years back when I was studying abroad in Italy. Since then it’s been one of my favourite paintings, not only because it’s such a recognisable painting in popular culture, but because it represents a lot of traditional beauty standards in the western world. Reminiscing back on the painting, it got me thinking about some articles I had read at the time about cultural appropriation of eastern culture, specifically Indian culture. If Caucasians could “borrow” aspects of our culture, I thought it would be interesting to practice reverse cultural appropriation on recognisable western paintings. This is how I got the idea to Indian-ise European works. I chose works by celebrated European artists because I’ve always had an appreciation for classical art, since growing up I took lessons from a painter trained in classical realism, which influenced me greatly.
As far as Indian mythology, I researched many traditional Hindu paintings and illustrations and found that they were always so grand and majestic in the way they depicted important scenes. The paintings centered on human figures mid-action, telling stories from epic tales, much in the same way Renaissance art centered around human interaction and creating a sense of grandiose.
However, to add another element to this, I wanted the figures in my version of the paintings to correspond to some sort of story, particularly examples of strong women in our history, something which isn’t as commonly celebrated especially in mythology. So much of our culture’s stories are about men fighting epic battles, so I wanted to create something about “herstory”.
Explain the role of feminism portrayed in your work
I think it’s very important for women to feel empowered and to see examples of strength and determination in many different forms. Personally, I find the most powerful form of empowerment comes from women who are all about taking action and doing something about their situation, which is what I try to show through the women in my paintings. I try to illustrate stories and give my figures a sense of movement so that the viewer can feel the strength of these women’s persistence unfolding right in front of them.
My work definitely supports feminism because it’s about showcasing how much herstory is equally as important as history. It’s about celebrating the untold stories and showing people that so called “traditional” women from our culture don’t always follow the stereotypes of being shy and modest.
Which other artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
My interests within art and creativity are so vast, I’m inspired by a lot of different types of people.
For my paintings, I’m most inspired by Raja Ravi Varma not only because he’s india’s most celebrated classical realist painter, but because I feel a real connection to his work since so much of what I’m creating falls under the same themes of storytelling and portraiture that represents our people and their culture. Much of his subject matter & painting style parallels with my own personal style and the type of art I strive to create, which is why I have so much respect for his work as an artist.
I’m also inspired by fashion designers like Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani, Neeta Lulla, and Anushree Reddy, who have created a new era in Indian fashion that takes intricacy and detail work to a whole new level. Working in an art world obsessed with minimalism, I’ve always felt like my work goes against the tide because I’m obsessed with intricate, ornate details and patterns. It wasn’t until I started studying their clothing that I began to really embrace putting in the extra hours to add every little detail. The clothing, patterns, and jewellery designs of my figures as well as the backgrounds in my paintings are all partly inspired by these amazing designers.
Finally, I have to give credit to my fellow desi beauty, fashion, and art influencers who celebrate creativity, and make the world a more accepting place for desi's to be unconventional and unique. To name a few: Irene Khan, Nabela Noor, Ankita Bhardwaj, Rowi Singh, and HateCopy.
Describe India in 3 words or less
Rich. Diverse. Beautiful.
Image credits: Neha Kapil