Stepping in to the world of Dalit Tamil Futures with illustrator Osheen Siva
Talking on Tamilfuturism and Dalit Tamil Futures, Osheen Siva tells us illustration is a “practice through which I’ve learned more about myself and my voice.”
- Joey Levenson
- 14 July 2021
Born in Tamil Nadu and currently based in Goa, illustrator and muralist Osheen Siva lets colours guide the way in their decorative illustrations. An incredible visual odyssey occurs in every piece of Osheen’s work, which comes as a result of their artistic journey to illustration. “I actually had quite an atypical journey into illustration,” Osheen tells It’s Nice That. “I graduated with a degree in fashion, and worked as a graphic designer for a couple of years before finally jumping into self-taught freelance illustration full time in 2019”. On the side, Osheen was always illustrating and sees it as a mirror for her own personal growth. “It’s been a practice through which I've learned more about myself and my voice,” she says. Now, Osheen has perfected a signature style of her own, using an amalgamation of many elements which blend well together. “Science fiction, old Indian circus posters, Jack Kirby comic books, and my Dalit and Tamil heritage inspire me,” Osheen lists. “The vibrant neon homes from my grandmother’s town of Thiruvannamalai, graphic printed cotton sarees from Tamil Nadu, Marina beach amongst others,” she adds. While these elements may seem separable from each other, they are perfectly harmonious in Osheen’s work. It’s a style which they’ve coined as ‘Tamilfuturism’ or ‘Dalit Tamil Futures,’ a sister movement “to an already existing afrofuturism that I’m immensely inspired by”.
Osheen’s work has attracted the attention of a lot of commissions. With a distinct and mesmerising aesthetic, the illustrator has landed them gigs with Adult Swim, Gucci, Vans, Converse, Levis, Dr. Martens, and many more. However, for her personal and commercial works, Osheen takes on two different processes: “For my personal projects, the ideas come from everywhere and nowhere – sometimes it’s trying to make tangible how and what I’m feeling at the moment, like an outlet to vent visually,” she explains. “For commercial projects, there are usually specific steps like ideating, sketching, and feedback before the final product”. And mostly, for all these projects, Osheen uses Adobe Illustrator with some touch ups in Adobe Photoshop, which they tell us “lends to my distinguishable style.”
Currently, Osheen is working on their first solo show at the Method Gallery in Bombay, which opens in August. “The show is called Inflorescence, which is the process of flowering in which a group or cluster of flowers stem from one stem,” she explains. “I see it as a metaphor for how we all come from the same human and alien roots, but support and flourish together”. In the collection, incredible illustrative portraits of futuristic mutated beings bask in their feminine energy, healing and reclaiming their power. It’s the kind of work we’ve seen from Osheen in her large-scale murals across India, too. “My aim for this project is to weave the fabrics of past and present, of heritage and futurity, to explore solidarity, resilience and the manifestation of our ancestral dreams”. Ambitious yet entirely achievable for an artist such as Osheen, the exhibition promises to continue the illustrator’s unique style and vision. What is most admirable about Osheen’s work is how they situate themselves in another fantastical world, yet feel entirely grounded in Osheen’s own identity and real lived experiences.
“I am excited about exploring new mediums and finding more avenues to translate my work,” they tell us on what’s next for them. “I’ve been trying to teach myself 2D animation during the lockdown and would love to grow more in that direction as well”. Mostly, Osheen continues to strive for collaboration. With such a unique and distinct style, it may be easy to assume Osheen is an insular artist, but it is quite the contrary. “The idea of brainstorming, remixing and bringing together ideas of different minds from different fields to create one unique piece of work is magic,” they say. We can only hope to see more of Osheen’s beautiful visions come to life in collaborations down the line.
Osheen Siva, Pandemic Comic (Copyright © Osheen Siva, 2020)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.