Born and raised in India but now based in Southampton, Anshika Khullar is an illustrator with a clear goal and a distinctive aesthetic to back it up. “My work 100 per cent reflects my politics and my identity,” they tell It’s Nice That. “I feel the need to create a strong visual impact with my work to mirror the impact of the issues each piece explores. Very rarely do I create a piece that is devoid of any deeper meaning – I just don’t think it’s possible when your identity and body is so deeply politicised for you already.”
As a result, Anshika’s work is considered and thoughtful, featuring highly detailed scenes full of colour and pattern. Sometimes standalone scenes showing, for example, friends eating dinner together, and sometimes produced in series, each drawing is a replica of something Anshika has experienced. “I’m not just drawing portraits of underrepresented people,” they explain. “I’m creating snapshots, almost, of my own lived experiences and by proxy, those of others like me. The maximalism within my work, the chaotic surroundings I put my characters in, every little bit of wordplay or humour I inject into objects within those surroundings, all speak to corresponding real-life experiences and feelings, just through visual metaphors.”
Take, for example, Anshika’s piece Balancing Act, which features a character that, if pressed, the artist says “I could admit look[s] a little bit like me”. They appear in the centre of the composition, spinning several plates which, Anshika tells us, “represent a different part of modern-day life”. There’s a plate for their love life, a plate for work, diet culture and a lack of wealth common to millennials. All this, and they’re being attacked from all sides by arrows. “The flip phone attached to a thigh garter reads a baffled text message from a friend asking ‘wtf is going on with u???’ and the flyer for ‘that event you’ll never actually attend’ on the corkboard represents their abandoned social life; the ‘Netflix & chill?’ card sticking out from a bouquet of flowers is a comment on an often commitment-averse form of modern-day romance; the candle burning three wicks next to the box of matches branded ‘Terrifire’, as well as the rotting piece of watermelon on the vanity, represent the constant threat of chaotic entropy,” Anshika says, reaffirming the complexity of their references.
There are some pieces, however, such as A Clean Shave, which – although still very much maximalist in their execution – encapsulate more specific moments or emotions. “_A Clean Shave_ is my way of exploring how gender can be performed in absolutely whatever way feels comfortable to any one individual; it’s based on my wanting to rejoice in the weekly minute and a half of gender euphoria that shaving my face gives me, and how I wish every one of every marginalised gender got to feel that euphoria in whatever way is accessible to them,” Anshika remarks.
Whether personal pieces like Balancing Act or A Clean Shave or their commercial work, Anshika’s portfolio is inherently outspoken and political but it’s not always straightforward to create this kind of work, they explain: “There’s a larger, more nuanced conversation to be had about marginalised artists not having the same work opportunities as cis-het white male illustrators (who often dominate the editorial illustration industry) and therefore taking whatever work comes our way (regardless of if it aligns with our personal values), versus having the privilege and ability to be more selective about the projects we choose to accept.”
However, thanks to Anshika’s method of working, which sees them uploading work to Instagram supported by in-depth commentary of the experience the piece portrays, Anshika has attracted jobs which “fit my perspective as a marginalised creator”. They add: “I think carving out my niche has been beneficial – clients who approach me already know exactly what I’m about and tend to view the world from the same lens as me.”
Ultimately, Anshika’s portfolio is a testament to what can be achieved by firmly and resolutely stating your purpose as a creative. What’s most compelling about their work, however, is not the rich and diverse characters represented in their work, but the effortlessness with which they appear. Packed full of narrative and details to explore, Anshika’s drawings are a true-to-life telling of the experience of a marginalised person.
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