Published: 09th May 2019
India in an easel: How Agrima Kaji's series perfectly captures the culture of every state, through its women
Agrima Kaji's Beauty in Diversity series is inspired by Danish artist Pernille Orum and Disney princesses and aims to capture the diversity that every state in India exudes
When you scroll through Agrima Kaji's Instagram page, you should watch out for this endearing illustration of a pheran-clad woman wearing a red kasaba — an attire traditionally worn by Kashmiri Muslim women. The kasaba is padded with a turban and is pinned together with brooches. A pin-scarf originating from the kasaba descends towards her neck. Her pose, neatly detailed by the 28-year-old artist from Delhi, oozes confidence and poise. "The complexity of their outfits and their lifestyles appealed to me so much that I always wanted to bring them to my canvas," says Agrima.
The illustration, called Kashmir Ki Kali, is Agrima's first and is among the 31 that she drew as a part of her Beauty in Diversity series. Each of her illustrations features women dressed in traditional attire and depicts the cultural identities associated with various Indian states.
I chose this topic of cultural identity because of my personal experiences with people. I have seen them take a lot of pride in their state/cultural/traditional Identity. Also, I chose women because I feel they have always been a better representative of a culture’s traditions and values - more than we give them credit them. Women have worn tradition in the form of a sari and are still keeping it alive. It’s essential for us to acknowledge their contribution and empower them to achieve more
Agrima Kaji, artist
Her series of 31 digital illustrations also includes an illustration on Pride and one on Women’s Day that features Rani Laxmi Bai.
Where are you from? Finding your identity in India
This varied and intricate series began with questions about her own identity. "It was an attempt to identify myself. I was born and brought up in Delhi and that was my world. To study for my Masters, I moved to Bengaluru where I met people from different states of India. Everyone had different cultures, traditions, beliefs and languages which mesmerised me and made me think of my own culture," she says. Any attempt by Agrima to define her own identity became difficult and more challenging when she kept on moving cities."I have a mixed origin story. I can’t trace my culture to just one state but to four different ones. My grandfather was from Himachal Pradesh, my grandmother is from Punjab, my mom is from Uttarakhand and my husband is from Gujarat. Since we stayed in Delhi, I just used to call myself a Delhiite to avoid confusion, but soon after I shifted to Bengaluru, it made me feel that I’m not a Delhiite anymore, I’m a Bangalorean. Then soon I moved to Mumbai and fell in love with the city and wanted to call myself a Mumbaikar. Next, I shifted to Hyderabad and have become a Hyderabadi," she explains.
A taste of Bengal: Imbued with religious significance, Garad sarees (and their cousin- Korial with intricate buti or flower patterns in the body) are hugely popular during the Durga Puja
That was when she decided to let the canvas do all the talking, "So I took a few steps back and rather than forgetting about the previous cities, I wanted to celebrate them. I met people who have had a similar journey and that led me to this Idea that there is no singular origin. So rather than finding that single origin, we need to celebrate the fact that we live in the midst of such diversity. I thought, 'Why can’t I bring various aspects from different states and put them in front of my eye and just rejoice about the fact that I am part of this vibrant and colourful country'," she laughs as she speaks.
Kashmir ki Kali: The traditional outfit for both males and females in Kashmir is the pheran and poots
On the face of it all
Agrima hopes that her illustration series will enable women to own their narratives, which is one of the reasons why she hasn't focused on different facial features and made them as generic as possible. "I believe it’s our beliefs and our experiences which makes us different from each other, not our facial features. When I told someone that I am from Himachal, people didn’t believe me since I didn’t have their sharp ‘facial features’. When I told them I am from Punjab I was told I don’t look Punjabi because I’m not loud. When I told them I from Delhi, people told me that I am not snooty enough to be a ‘Delhiite’. It’s very important to break stereotypes regarding facial features and judge people by how they appear or where they are from," she says.
From the desert: The illustration is inspired by the kalbelia dance from Rajasthan. The dancers are women in flowing black skirts who dance and swirl, replicating the movements of a serpent
There's a Rajakumari in every Indian woman
This series is inspired by Danish artist Pernille Orum and look like Disney princesses. Currently working as an independent artist in Hyderabad, Agrima feels that the definition of beauty is quite subjective. "Every woman in India is beautiful. It’s our stories that make us beautiful and if you put numerous vivid stories in one single page it will form a beautiful fairytale of different states. My designs are inspired by Disney's princesses as I wanted to associate that to Indian women as well, to portray that we are all princesses as well," she adds. The illustrations from Agrima's series are extremely detailed, pointing towards the complex cultural mechanisms in our society that lead to collective identity. She explains, "I try to focus on details as I feel that our culture exists in a visible and sometimes in an invisible form as well. The aesthetics of the illustrations are always determined by the story I would like to tell. So you need to 'Zoom-in' and 'Zoom-out' in order to truly appreciate an illustration."
When asked what her takeaway from the series was, she responds, "I felt more connected to my country India. It made me feel that there are so many things to learn and so many voices to translate into visuals."