Published: 25th September 2020
Artivism ahoy: Inside the colourfully political illustrations of Sonaksha Iyengar
Sonaksha Iyengar tell us how people can connect with her beautiful illustrations around mental health, the LGBTQIA+ community, body positivity, feminism and much more
Feminism, mental health, body positivity and LGBTQIA+ rights. Words that we hear on a daily basis but which probably need more focus now than ever. This is what Sonaksha Iyengar, an illustrator, writer and a book designer believes. A proud Bengalurean, most of her illustrations and paintings are heavily focused on these subjects. Having been into painting and writing since she was a child, Sonaksha has been using art to create something unique in the area of mental health in 2017.
Her work, A-Z of Mental Health that was featured in several international publications, speaks in detail about different disorders which are listed and described in alphabetical order. This bit of work which is available to view on the internet not only went viral but was also appreciated by a large number of people. Recently, Instagram had even asked three artists to describe how people are supporting each other in this pandemic and Sonaksha was one of them. Her painting that describes how one must be gentle and kind towards each other in these difficult times has won many hearts.
We speak to her to know more about her journey in the world of art and how she is using Instagram sincerely to strengthen social movements in our country.
What is the story behind your using art as a tool to express thoughts?
I've always turned to art to express myself. I was always that creative nerdy child sitting with heaps of papers, markers and magazine cut-outs, scrapbooking. I use it as a tool to process, release and articulate. It's also been a way to find community across the world. I've always looked for art in times of joy, crisis and everything in between, whether it's books, poetry, prose, paintings or film: art has always held me and guided me. So I turn to make art about everything I dream about including queer love and joy, navigating the world in a fat body, resisting fascism, smashing the patriarchy and so on. Art has also really helped me share the messy parts of being in a world that is taught to only celebrate highlight reels.
Accepting yourself is equivalent to loving yourself | Illustration: Sonaksha Iyengar
There's a lot of art out there on the internet. How do you think your work is different from others?
I don't try and set myself apart from anyone. I have and will always believe in a community over competition. There's space for all of us here and I believe in supporting fellow artists, sharing space, learning from each other and growing together.
How and when get did into writing stories and recording conversations/ events in the form of graphics?
I've always been the shy art kid in the room. I would write pages and pages of stories, dream of making books, draw my dreams endlessly and bury my nose in books all day. I studied communication studies where I had the chance to do a little bit of everything, which was honestly the perfect thing for me at the time because I wanted to try and explore all these different ways of making. It's the process of making that I think I've always really loved. But when I stumbled upon the world of design and illustration, I fell in love and couldn't stop exploring. So here we are.
Elevating the voices of LGBTQIA+ community | Illustration: Sonaksha Iyengar
Have you been part of social movements or protests recently or designed something for the people who were part of different protests?
Yes! I believe the personal is political. Art and social justice have always been intertwined. So I hold myself responsible to make art about the issues I want to talk about or the kind of world I'm dreaming of. The time we're in right now, it's incredibly important to stand up for our rights and the rights of communities who are being attacked and targeted. I draw kindness, community care, healing, and resistance as a way to challenge the oppressive systems we live in. I have always loved drawing bodies and addressing themes that I never saw in the books we read. Gradually, I began to use art as activism. Most of my art carries feminist messages that convey social justice and also prompt political action and liberation.
Have there been incidents when people might have come to you or even messaged you saying that your work helps relieve mental stress?
This has been one of the most incredible experiences because what I have created so far is personal. It's really a reminder that much of what we go through is a collective experience. In some ways, hearing that people use my work in their own journeys to process and cope with whatever life is throwing at them, also reminds me every time that I'm not alone. So in a way, it's a process of holding space for each other in our lives. I often make art to help myself process or deal with something and then share it so I can let other people into it. Hence, I'm truly grateful to everyone who engages with whatever I'm creating. Whether that's sharing my posts, buying my art or leaving a small comment.
What are your future plans and how do you want to take this art forward?
I'm currently dreaming of making books, zines and exploring the intersections of art and technology. I'm also looking forward to working with more human rights and feminist organisations across the world on visualising social justice and movement that emphasises more on the liberty of speech and choice.
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