Women feeling sexually liberated, being comfortable with their bodies, and unapologetically being themselves. This is the vision of 25-year-old Indian artist Pratiksha Tandon, who is challenging conventions in a patriarchal society.
Tandon’s mother thinks her daughter is “obsessed with boobs and vaginas.” She grew up wanting to be a fashion designer and even studied the subject for four years at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. But she eventually found that she was more interested in what lies beneath the clothes.
The artist found her calling only after a series of personal trials. First, she had to decline a job offer with designer Rahul Mishra in Delhi and move back home to Indore, Madhya Pradesh to look after her mother after she fell ill with the chikungunya virus. This left Tandon with a fair amount of time to herself while taking care of her mother, and it was then that she found a way to explore her art.
“Exposed to Instagram, I was inspired by the works of artists including Venus Libido, Polly Nor, Dhruvi Acharya, Miranda Tacchia, and Egle Zvirblyte,” she says.
Tandon is intrigued by women’s bodies and personalities and feels an inner itch to explore them. She also wants to talk about women’s insecurities and express them through her art.
In school, Tandon was mocked by others for being the “fat girl with two ponytails”. She felt that boys didn’t see her as someone they wanted to date since she did not have a slim body or fair, acne-free skin.
In college, she saw girls who wore miniskirts and make-up and talked in fake English accents to look cool, and that shocked her. She wore Kurtis (Indian long tunics) to hide her body and was bullied for it, which further increased her insecurities. It was after this experience that she decided she did not want anybody else to go through the cycle of self-doubt and self-pity that she had endured.
Being a politician’s daughter, Tandon says she has always been expected to present herself as a polished, courteous girl. “It wasn’t just (about) looks but I was also told to be soft, be delicate, talk less, greet your elders, don’t be too loud, don’t wear this, don’t sit like this, don’t be so short-tempered, don’t act like the son of the family, do this, do that, oh my god… will you let me live? These rules were suffocating me! I thought of breaking them off and I started drawing them as a means to just relieve myself from within.”
Initially, she kept her work a secret but when her friends found out they encouraged her to share it publicly.
In one of her works, she sketches a woman with multiple pairs of breasts wearing pink panties.
“I wanted to depict how men are so obsessed with breasts and (their) different sizes….. and how no size really satisfies them. For some, too big is plastic and too small are like lemons. For others, they are too hard to press or way too saggy to squeeze. So I’m imagining myself with all possible boob sizes – will I still be good enough for them?” she says.
Tandon likes to explore in her art themes of insecurities, desires, body types, states of mind, pubic hair, periods, breasts, vaginas and women masturbating to satisfy their own needs and knowing their bodies and seeing the beauty in it. She takes on subjects that are otherwise taboo in a world where women’s sexuality and desire have long been stigmatized and suppressed.
“Women should be able to freely enjoy the parts they own and should not feel ashamed in pleasuring themselves. A woman’s body is God’s greatest creation – it comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, with hair, without hair – what else do you wish for?” says the young artist.
Her characters are unique. They depict different chapters of her story and like her, they are raw, natural, sloppy, and carefree. They have bulging bellies and fuller thighs and are ugly to society but really fun to be around, she says.
Although funny, her work is often dark, and the sudden shift from technicolor to monochrome stands as a testimony.
When she was working at the clothing company Péro as an assistant designer in New Delhi and was all set to move to Gurgaon for another job, her father, who had never consumed tobacco, was diagnosed with stage-three oral cancer. The news shattered her family, and trauma, pain, and sadness swiftly occupied space in her illustrations.
The majority of her artworks are hand-drawn in her pocket-friendly notebook or A4 size drawing pad. Sometimes she draws directly with a brush pen with no scope for erasing errors. More descriptive pieces sometimes take weeks to be completed as she does not sit on a particular work for more than an hour at a time.
In many of the others, the sketch comes first and she forms a story later. While sketching, she is mostly multitasking – finishing office work, housework, or helping her parents.
Tandon does not want people to see her as a girl who is “easy” just because she makes erotic art. Her Instagram inbox is full of men making assumptions about her, she says.
“I want to draw many more naked women who enjoy their loose skin, fat bellies, and like to play around with their tits, vaginas, and hairy thighs, basically women who are having the time of their lives,” she says. It’s about women and their free spirits and not about the men around them.