“Club culture influences my work in a subliminal way – if I see someone in a club wearing a string vest, I’ll most likely end up drawing them that week without even realising”. Illustrator and DJ Anu Ambasna is discussing how music unwittingly influences the work that she makes; however, despite designing flyers for club nights and hosting her own show on east London internet station NTS radio, music is just an accompaniment, rather than top billing.
For the 23-year old west Londoner, what’s most important is grappling with representations of the self (her own, in particular). Her work is punctuated with humour and misshapen, globular, playful depictions of predominantly brown bodies – how she might look through a skewed fun house of mirrors.
You can almost hear her smile when she reflects, “I think either my work makes people laugh, or it grosses them out”. It might be the sagging tummies, thick squishy thighs or tiny little hands and feet that people find difficult but for Anu, it’s exactly these things – a perfectly drawn paunch, for instance – that she gets the most joy from. “I mostly draw human figures, as I wanted to be a fashion illustrator for a while, but I got bored of how every figure had to be skinny.”
“I found skinny bodies really boring to draw. I started playing around with different body-types and experimenting with gender. Most of the figures I draw are full-bodied and genderless. If people get grossed out by my work, then I think they need to question the way they look at the human body and what actually defines beauty!”
The depiction of friendly brown bodies was an subconscious reaction to the puzzlement of not seeing them frequently enough in the world of comics and drawing, “From a young age, I’ve been obsessed with graphic novels and comics, but I always noticed how there was never a character that I felt like I could relate to – there were never any brown characters which is why most of my illustrations represent a number of different ethnicities”.
For Anu, of Indian heritage via parents who grew up in Tanzania, brown bodies were part of the aesthetic of everyday life, and reproducing them with wit and fun was all part of her self-reflection on the page.
She cites “people I see in pubs, Adult Swim, and my friends and family” as inspirations for her work, and you can see the musical inspiration too. Club culture and her relationship to it might just account for the fact that most of her figures look like we’re catching them mid-dance, arms outstretched, ready to continue a party we didn’t realise we were invited to.
It’s this joyous spirit that has earned her flyer commissions for south London parties like Rhythm Section and BBZ London, but it’s her stranger creations which are perhaps the most captivating. She mentions a recurring character, ‘snax’, who was the focus of a small exhibition of her own work at South London space, The Peckham Pelican titled who is snax. “Snax is a teen superstar (think Zayn Malik) with millions of fans” she answers.
“The exhibition itself was the bedroom of one of snax’s biggest fans, with posters, paintings and drawings of him everywhere”. It’s these slithers of music culture – through fandom, dancing and club culture – which make her work so engaging, and serves as a satisfying exchange, giving illustration a little more music, giving music a little more art.