I'm Anshika Khullar, and I'm a 24 year old, genderfluid, Indian illustrator based in the South of England. I've loved art all my life, but in the last year I've moved into the more professional arena of freelance illustration, and I'm really enjoying the journey so far! I love exploring themes of beauty and femininity, but in forms that are traditionally overlooked; my illustrations feature people of colour, people of various different shapes and sizes, and people who generally defy the stereotypical ideals of what beauty and femininity is. I like to think my experiences as a minority really help me shape the kind of art I want to see in the world, and therefore the kind of art I create, and my aim is to create art for people who don't often see themselves represented in mainstream media.
Could you describe your path to becoming an artist?
I've been doing art for as far back as I can remember, and I even wanted to be a fashion designer when I was younger, but over the years it took a bit of a backseat to academia and generally growing up and finding my place in the world. Over the past year or so, though, I've really got back to my roots and have found that old joy of creating again, and begun a career in freelance illustration. My mum helped me buy the tablet I use for all my art for my birthday last year (we went halfsies) and since then I've been making more art than I can remember making for years!
How does identity impact our lives as creative people and how does yours impact your creative work? & What does creativity mean to you?
I'm a strong believer that identity and creativity are tied together inextricably. Every person, in my eyes, is creative in some way, whether that's how you carry yourself, how you make others feel, or literally the things you create, and I don't think there's any way to separate your identity from something so personal as creativity. My art relies wholly on my experiences of being a brown, genderfluid person in a world that doesn't always see me or make space for me. My art is a way for me to carve out that space for myself, and to make myself seen and heard through what I do, and to hopefully give people like me a safe space in which to see themselves represented positively and beautifully.
How do you nurture your creativity?
I try to constantly stay inspired, particularly when I'm working on new ideas and sketching out new things. Looking through artists I love's portfolios and Instagram profiles is particularly inspiring to me, because it's a chance to study the things that make their work so memorable and so wonderful to me, and helps my own work and style evolve. Everything you do as a creative person is informed by your identity and the things that feed your mind, and the more you feed your brain with things that you love and that inspire you, the better and more evolved your craft becomes. I do try and take breaks for self-care, however, when I'm feeling burnt out or uninspired- sometimes you can look at all the beautiful art you like, but if you're just too exhausted nothing goes in and equally, nothing great comes out. Finding a balance between staying inspired and giving yourself the space to breathe for a bit is tricky but essential to nurturing your creativity instead of burning yourself out.
What cultural barriers have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I remember when I first started school in England, after having been born and raised in India all my life till the age of fifteen, I was so nervous about being accepted and fitting in. Although my school was relatively diverse, it was still predominantly white, and I remember immediately rejecting my Indian roots in order to fit in; I subconsciously schooled my accent into something less obvious, and despite the expectation that 'the new Indian girl' would flock towards the Desi clique in our year, I purposefully tried not to, so as to fit in better with the non-Desis in my year. Looking back, I regret doing that, even if it was the way I felt I had to act as a brown person in order to fit in. Later on, some of my white friends would say things like, "I forget you're Indian!" or "you don't sound Indian!/your accent is so good!" or joke and say "you're such a bad Indian" when I pretended not to like Indian food in order to distance myself from my own culture and better integrate with them. I used to say those things myself as a way of reaffirming to myself that I was different. Now that I've grown up and grown into my identity as an Indian person, I look back with shame at what I felt I had to say and be in order to fit in. Now, at the age of 24, nearly a decade after distancing myself from my own roots, I'm fiercely proud of where I'm from and who I am. It's easy to deny your heritage when you feel like it's something that will hold you back, and it's incredibly difficult to embrace it despite that- and that is the sad reality for Desi people living in a diaspora. It's natural to want to fit in, particularly as a teenager, but it's so important to remember that the things that make you not fit in are the very things that make you unique and exactly who you are. Over the years, I've learnt to let people see the ethnic parts of me - the part of me that cries at old 90s Bollywood films, that jams out to Bhangra fusion, that picks Indian food for dinner over most other cuisines - at last unashamed to stand out, and finally fiercely proud of where I'm from.
What has been an important lesson you’ve learned so far?
As cheesy as it sounds, the most important lesson I've learned is to be myself, without apology. My art wouldn't be what it is if I wasn't who I was - not just in terms of race, but also in terms of my gender and sexuality. It's a privilege to be able to out to my family and to my friends as a genderfluid person - of course I was afraid at first of coming out, but I never doubted that I was in a safe and loved space to do that, unlike a lot of other LGBTQIA people, who are sadly often in too much physical or mental danger to come out safely. I'm lucky enough to be able to be myself proudly (I went to my first Pride last summer and I cried a lot and it was glorious), and that's a gift I never want to take for granted. Who I am is a part of my identity in a way that can't be separated from what I do, so I've learnt to love it and myself and never apologise for that.
How has social media and the internet helped you as a creative?
Social media has helped me discover wonderful artists whose work I admire so much, and helped me form friendships with many of them too. It's helped me create a community in which I can support and be supported by people who are in a similar position to me, whether that's as a creative or as a minority. Places like The Other Box's Facebook group are fantastic portals that have been instrumental for me in finding the opportunities I've been given - that's one of the best things about the internet and social media as a minority creative. Finding people like yourself is so much easier than it's ever been before, and so these online spaces are so much more important than they've ever been before. I'm really really glad of that.
What kind of projects are you working on now?
I'm currently doing a monthly zodiac series that's really fun- one illustration per month for the corresponding zodiac sign, featuring powerful feminine characters of all ethnicities and sizes that are wearing fabulous clothes who I'm slightly living vicariously through! I'm also working on getting my own online shop up and running so prints of my illustrations can be available to buy directly from my website!
How would you describe your artistic style in three words?
Detailed, colourful, and thoughtful.