When I first looked at Agrima Kaji’s illustrations I was drawn by the innocence and princess-like aura of her women. It is almost like you expect them to blink, wink, smile, reprimand or stare back at you depending on which illustration you cast a look.
Watching cartoons since she can ever remember, Agrima’s illustrations are in some ways an extension of her own diverse background. And she manages to capture with her series and illustrations not only her own, but also the essence of hundreds of women across the country and the globe.
In conversation with Agrima Kaji, about her passion for art, her interest in women from different regions and fields and her acumen in creating petite, yet powerful mini-series.
Q: Since when have you been interested in art? Where did you learn it?
A: I was interested in art since my childhood. I was fascinated with the world of animation and the fact that such an amusing world existed parallel to our boring world. I used to draw all over my house walls and always strived to someday make a masterpiece out of it.
Q: Which artists have inspired you?
A: All the animations have inspired me, but Leonardo da Vinci and Walt Disney are my inspiration as an artist.
Q: Why do you represent women from different fields or regions in your creations? In other words, what made you choose to create art that is concentrated on women, their achievements and their cultural diversity?
A: I love the fact that we live in a world with different cultures and history. Every culture has a special story to celebrate; this is what makes our world so colorful. I choose to represent women in my series since I see the series as a part of my Identity. Just like my series, my identity is also diverse and colorful.
I have lived in different states of India but it amazes me how different we are from each other in spite of staying in the same country. For many, that’s a reason to discriminate against one another and develop biases, but I was always fascinated by how different we are from each other and was eager to learn different stories which everyone grew up with.
However, my origin (like many) is not clearly defined by state boundaries. My grandmother is from Punjab, my grandfather was from Himachal and my mother from Uttarakhand. I am married in a Gujarati family! So when someone asks me where are I am from, I usually reply with a smile and repeat my origin map trails. After hearing this, I see people confused and thinking “so how should we group her in our heads, what conclusions can we draw from this?” or “which language will she understand?” With the modernizing times, our origins have become blurry but we are still stuck with the same old biases, which need to change.
I feel women hold an important part in every culture and this should be celebrated. I often think that women are the leaders in moving our identity forward, but sadly, they are treated like just vessels and instruments for various responsibilities but never given freedom, authority and respect. So, I decided to represent our cultural diversity with women.
Q: Tell us a bit about the different series that you have created, especially the cultural diversity series. Which have been your personal favorites?
A: I started by making a Kashimiri Girl, which is one of my favorites since I was excited for the whole series in my head. With every illustration I thought about how I would look wearing this in my everyday life. My favorite mini-series was the north-east series, where I realized how influenced the designs are from their lifestyle, nature, beliefs and celebrations. I was a bit scared and surprised while making illustrations of women from the states I belonged to because with each new element I learnt something more about myself.
Q: Do you prefer digital illustrations over other forms of visual paintings and creations? What do you think is the scope of digital illustrations in India?
A: I love digital illustrations, since our ecosystem is surrounded by digital products these days and hence, we need to wisely use it as a powerful medium to communicate with people. I love other forms of art as well, like painting, sculpting and photography but I understand the importance of digital medium and want to use it.
The visibility and discoverability of digital illustration for a common Indian is a bit restricted. India still needs to register this as an art form in its mind. I feel the scope is huge, since the digital medium has endless possibilities for a creative brain.
Q: Are you open to customizing your creations as per customer requirements or do you prefer creating your own thoughts and illustrations and then showcasing them?
A: I usually create my thoughts and Ideas, but I take custom illustration requirements and contracts too.
Q: As an artist, what motivates you?
A: Seeing my art touch someone’s life and soothe their pain and thoughts.
Q: What are the challenges that you face as an illustrator? Do you think it is a lucrative career option?
A: Being an illustrator is difficult in India but not impossible. It’s a long run and you need to believe in yourself during each point. Sadly, a freelance illustrator is not yet termed as a ‘stable’ job option. You need to create a strong network for illustrators and inspire each other to grow on the way to attain its true power and freedom. Illustrations relieves me from the world outside of me and connects me with the world inside me, hence it comes with a lot of freedom and happiness.
Q: What advice would you give young artists?
A: Be true to yourself, don’t follow trendy design styles, learn sketching from scratch, practice a lot, never be shy of a new medium and techniques even if you think you will fail, never stop believing in yourself and look for strong reason / topic to create art rather than doubting yourself. Because there will be a lot of people telling you that ‘you can’t draw or do anything in art’ but you need to shut those voices and open their eyes.
Q: What are your future plans or upcoming series?
A: I recently completed a series of inspirational women around the world, a mini-series on Audrey Hepburn and now creating a series on powerful women in India in the field of science. I am also working on a miniseries in emotional wellbeing.
Q: Besides, depicting women which other topics, social issues or objects do you prefer creating?
A: Yes, the topics are endless, but I want to take up one topic at a time. I feel the topic of mental and emotional wellbeing is under-represented and still treated as a stigma in India. I want to do some work on it.
Q: Lastly, how much of an impact do you think art has on society?
A: Art can only move the lives it touches. In order to have an impact on society, art needs to reach the common people’s lives and society needs to reach out to art as well. Art is a concept which needs a medium to travel and place to reside. Art is different for each of us and speaks to everyone differently, that is why art is very personal but in order to broadcast its impact, we need to let it influence us.
Here is wishing Agrima the very best for all her upcoming series and looking forward to seeing through her illustrations, a unique interpretation of society and women.