The Warrior Woman

Tara Anand, a young feminist artist changing the world one illustration at a time. 

Tara, a Mumbai based artist, creates illustrative work centering around the lives of people around her, especially women. She portrays an intersection of feminism and women’s issues through her artistic medium. Her work largely focuses on advocating for women empowerment with a touch of literature and Indian history. Currently. She is pursuing a BFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York, USA. Manasa Ram Raj spoke with Tara Anand to find out more about her work as a feminist artist.  

Tell us more about yourself and your journey so far as an illustrator.  
I’ve been drawing and painting since I was very young. So, to grow on to become an artist was just something I’ve always wanted to do. I use my art as a way to express or just think through some ideas and beliefs because I find it easier to digest something once I know how to express it. Therefore, it’s only natural that my feminist beliefs tend to make their way into my art, although I don’t know if I would classify myself as a feminist artist really! 

What does feminism mean to you? Tell us about how your creative process manifests feminism in your art. 
To me, the idea that people should be treated equally irrespective of any gender and this is to be achieved by the upliftment of the female and feminine! As I said before, I find an idea easier to digest when I know how to express it, whether through analogy, verbally or through a visual; so, I often end up using my art as a mode to express ideas, for my understanding and to showcase what I think. 

You worked on various art series with a specific focus -- Can you tell us more about them?
I Am No Man is a series I did about 3 years ago of illustrations on women warrior queens/leaders in Indian history. There were 15 illustrations in all, of women from all over India through various historical periods. I took their likenesses from previous artist renditions, statues and sometimes just descriptions. The series was about the fact that Indian women don’t really have easy access to a plethora of female role models from their own history even though these figures exist! Although I don’t believe that taking on traditional leadership roles or participating in war are the only ways to prove “strength”, these were examples of women who had power in a system that disadvantaged them greatly. You can find the complete list of illustration here.

I Am Like Other Girls is a project I started with my college roommate Ellie Lee. It all started when we had a very intense conversation with our friends about something we heard when girls say about not being like “other girls”. We were upset by the fact that many girls would go around saying things like “girls are petty and there’s always so much drama.” The fact is that phrases like these are normalized in our society that we don’t even realize the damage they are doing. Think about how much hate you cast against your own gender by throwing phrases like these. That was when I suggested that we should do something to help create solidarity among women. We were so shocked when we realized how many people felt the same way as we did. We believe that femininity is what you make of it, and we want other girls to see that as well. Usually, girls who engage in “non-traditional” feminine things are seen as outliers and hence are treated as outcasts from the feminine sphere. For example, you can have as many women in STEM but people won’t see STEM as a “feminine thing” because the women in STEM are seen as exceptions. Our project seeks to showcase the diversity that exists among women all over the world and how many amazing exceptional women there are willing to speak out about these issues. You can find all the illustration here.

Skin Shade Card was another fun collaboration with a friend and writer, Anoushka Agrawal. We’re both relatively dark-skinned girls and had been talking a lot about how that affects the way you’re treated hugely in India. We started to talk to other people about it and realised it is not just dark skin that comes with its set of prejudices, but it seems that the Indian society tends to judge and pigeon hole you simply on the basis of the colour of your skin. We both thought it was bizarre the amount of importance that was given to something that was solely superficial and aesthetic; so, we decided to do an art project about it. Anoushka wrote 6 poems and I did the accompanying illustrations. The name is supposed to reflect the diversity of skin tones in India, like the many colours a Pantone shade card would have but also alludes to the idea of “playing the light-skinned card” or “playing the race card”.   

You have written a book called Warrior Women. What inspired it?  

The book is based on the original I Am No Man illustration series. Tulika approached me about turning it into a book and I loved the idea because I’m an avid reader and I love children’s books as a medium. We tweaked the list a little to make it more diverse and the medium of a book allowed us to explore the backgrounds, lives and time periods of the women a little more. 

You bring back history’s forgotten female warriors through your art - what impact has it had on viewers? What did you wish to portray through this? 
A lot of people said they bought Warrior Women for their kids which I think is amazing because it means that those kids will grow up with different knowledge of the Indian female legacy than I did. 

Who are your role models and how do they influence your work? 
I’m not really a role model kind of person, I think surrounding yourself with people who you can learn something from is important but I don’t really have a select few people who I follow or emulate. The biggest influences on my work tend to be good books and good conversations! 

What are the challenges of being a feminist artist in India? How do you address them? 
Honestly, I personally don’t face a lot of challenges with my art because it is not very “out-there” or provocative. I have friends who have received death threats and hate mail because of bold artwork but that’s not personally happened to me 

What is your biggest achievement so far? 
I won an award from the Ministry of Women and Child Development for the I Am No Man series and the ceremony was at Rashtrapati Bhavan so probably that and publishing Warrior Women!

Snippets on Tara Anand’s personal favourites:
  • Challenging piece of art you created:
I don’t know how to draw water, figures from high angles or realistic animals very well so I honestly don’t know what I was thinking while creating this! It was also only my second oil painting ever and much bigger than my usual working size. It was part of a series for a class where my professor was teaching us how to develop themes and ideas through our work. This one was for the prompt “the journey home” and is kind of about the character returning to the mundane from the time spent in the wild (which is what the tiger represents).

  • An inspiring piece of art: My current favourite piece of art is this painting by Robin F. Williams who is also one of my favorite painters. I just think it is so clever, so skillful and has such an “I will do as I please” vibe.

What are you currently working on? 
I’m working on another project with Tulika that I’m very excited about! 

You can find Tara Anand on Instagram. To know more, visit her website.