“I did my Undergrad in Graphic Design in Dubai, and I realised at the end of it that I had used my Illustration skills in practically every project I was given. So studying Illustration after this was a natural progression for me.
I am very interested in spirituality, and the commonalities of spiritual metaphor found in almost all religions. I enjoy spiritual poetry, particularly that of Leonard Cohen and Rumi, and my final undergraduate project was an illustrated book of spiritual poetry. At the beginning of my Masters course, I took it for granted that I wanted to illustrate children’s books, particularly because all the illustrators I admire have done the same. However, I soon realised that the world of children’s illustration was more nuanced than I had first thought, and that it was not for me. I decided, therefore, to use my interest in spirituality as a vehicle for my illustration skills.
While I had explored spiritual metaphor before, I had never explored my own Hindu background. I decided to be egotistical and use my name as a starting point: Sharanya, which is one of the many names of the Goddess Durga. The story I’ve illustrated for my Masters project is about the creation of the Goddess, who is manifested out of the female aspect of the various gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. She is created to vanquish a demon who has been granted his wish that he not be killed by a male of any species. In his own eyes, he is practically immortal. He does not think a woman capable of defeating him. But this underestimation of women turns out to be his downfall.
The feminism inherent in this story is quite astounding to me, as it originated roughly 1500 years ago. In addition to being a feminist story, it is also a metaphor for the battle between the mind and one’s supposed higher self: the concept of non-duality, or oneness. Essential Hindu philosophy works on the process of negation, where the primary question is “Who am I?”, to which the mind provides different answers. The response to each answer is “Not this, not this”, until one reaches a state of nothingness. “I am not this or that, I simply am.”
The illustrative style that I used for the story evolved throughout the year. I worked through different sets of experiments until I settled on a single colour: blue, with accents of red. This was perhaps a subconscious choice, but blue in Hinduism symbolises one’s higher faculties and red the more primal faculties. It is also perhaps a visual representation of the concept of non-duality: the evenness of a single colour, with visual disruption brought about by the occurrence of a second colour. “