May the Yakshi Rise Again!

BDes Illustration Thesis

OCAD University, 2020-2021

Special dedication and thanks to my thesis professor, Lauchie Reid, for his mentorship, encouragement, and valued critique throughout the creation of this series.

May the Yakshi Rise Again! is a collection of hybrid media illustrations created for my undergrad thesis at OCAD University. The series visually synthesizes South Asian women’s issues with various feminist concepts found in ancient South Asian mythology, art, and literature.

Cosmic Imbalance, Photoshop with scanned analogue textures and black paper, 2021. 

This piece uses the ancient South Asian icon of the Ardhanarishvara - a half male-half female deity symbolizing the cosmic alliance between male and female energies - to comment on the issues of gender inequality and gender-based violence, prevalent today in South Asia and South Asian diasporas around the world. 

Learn more about this piece and the rest of the series here.

The Dance, Photoshop, 2021.

Learn more about this piece here.

Reference image depicting Maa Durga, or Mother Durga, the powerful Hindu Goddess, defeating Mahishasura the demon.

Each piece uncovers the empowering feminist roots of South Asian culture while shedding light on issues of gender inequality that persist in the region today. With the use of traditional South Asian art motifs and contemporary illustrative approaches, the series reflects on the lives of South Asian women through the past and present. Commenting on current issues such as the taboo of menstruation, honour killings, and the lack of sex education, it offers the past as a guide towards a more liberated, nuanced and empowering ideal of South Asian womanhood. 

The Temple, mixed analogue media and Photoshop, 2020.

This illustration tackles intersecting issues regarding the gatekeeping of female spirituality and the taboo surrounding the female body, and consequently, menstruation. In South Asian countries, the stigma around periods has a direct impact on a girl's access to feminine hygiene products, as well as education - it also led many houses of worship to prohibit menstruating women from entering under the belief that they were unclean to be in the presence of God. 

Historically, however, the holiest of South Asian temples exhibited numerous references to the female body and were covered in female iconography - as well as surprisingly explicit sculptures depicting fornicating couples and bare-bodied figures (check out the incredible Khajuraho Temples!). The indigenous peoples of the Indian subcontinent surely believed the female figure and her gift of fertility were close to sacred and worthy of the divine.

View the entire series here.

By visually juxtaposing current women's issues to the feminist themes of the past, the work hopes to spread awareness about the injustices South Asian women face to this day while providing an empowering alternate view of a culture many modern South Asian women feel repressed by or disconnected from. The series is a call to action for everyone to rise against injustice and return to a more empowering, inclusive, educated, and supportive South Asian culture for all its people - regardless of gender. 

Karmic Retribution, Ink and gouache on board with Photoshop, 2021. 

View the entire piece here.

Due to the restricted nature of working from home during the age of COVID-19, each artwork is a 2D digital layering of analogue painting textures, digital collage, photo manipulation, and digital painting. Through its central themes of dichotomy and learning from the past, the work fuses the ancient visual language of traditional South Asian art with contemporary hybrid approaches to art-making. My goal with this approach was to bring the symbolic nature of traditional South Asian art to a contemporary audience.

For The Fools' Position, I started with an analogue drawing. I used graphite to draw the final linear on semi-transparent Yupo paper and went over it with ink washes to add a bit of colour. I then used a dip-pen in ink to bolden the linework. 

To play around with the border and add more colour and textures, I scanned the analogue drawing and brought it into Adobe Photoshop. I scanned multiple watercolour washes and superimposed them over the illustration to give the piece a rich weathered look.

After adding colour and texture to the piece, I cleaned up any unwanted smudges or dust particles from the original scan, refined more details and adjusted contrast levels. 

The Fools' Position completed illustration, 2021.

Learn more about this piece here.

Born out of a profound love and respect for the South Asian culture of my heritage, my thesis series sheds light on the dichotomy that is femininity in South Asian culture, by contrasting its historical veneration with its current persecution. The intention was for the series to be relevant to a female South Asian audience - it is, however, clear that issues of gender inequality have ripple effects across all people within a community. 

Above all, this thesis project seeks to offer the hopeful perspective that fostering a more empowering culture for South Asian girls and women is possible because our ancestors have paved the way.

The Fall of Ganga, Photoshop, 2021.

Learn more about this piece here.

If you are interested in learning more about the issues presented in this series, and ways you can support equal rights for South Asian girls and women, please refer to the following resources:

Period. End of Sentence Netflix documentary (Available on YouTube)

India's "Nirbhaya Movement": What has Changed Since Then? - Women In International Security publication

The Troubling Lack of Sex Education in South Asia - The Gazelle article

Because I am a Girl - "Plan International’s global initiative that is working to advance girls’ rights by helping them unleash their inherent power and potential."

UNICEF South Asia on Gender Equality

Using Format