For over a year now, Dunedin-based third year Medicine and History student, Jaya*, has been using her creativity to fill a void in our otherwise white washed Instagram feeds.
Her Instagram page is full of the “artistic ramblings of an angry brown girl”, and is an eclectic mix of illustrations, most often featuring naked, brown women that aim to explore her experiences as a bisexual, shapely, Desi woman.
She began curating her Instagram page when she became exasperated with her traditionalistic and white washed Instagram feed. “I was so tired of scrolling through Instagram and not seeing a lot of brown representation, any women who aren’t a standard supermodel cut out, or a whole lot of bisexual representation.” She said to herself, if she is going to complain about it not being there, she “might as well” contribute and show others like her that they aren’t alone. She now finds this funny: as soon as she began to contribute to this community, she realised just how many others were out there.
Although often maintaining an altruistic approach to publishing her artworks, she also finds her platform a space to help her deal with her own insecurities. “Body image is something that my art has helped me come to grips with. I have stretch marks and perhaps curves in not the most slightly of places, but I try to put the parts of my body that I don’t like into my art because it makes them look nicer” she said. Regardless though, her motivations overlap and inform each other, “people who have similar body shapes to me tell that they like my art because they can see themselves in it - that is the best feedback that I get.”
Blooming out of a heavily conservative family, Jaya uses her creativity as a safe haven to explore all facets of her identity. “One of the reasons why I don’t put my face or name on it is because I am bi and no one apart from my mum in my family knows. I’m sure some of them would be supportive of my art, but I definitely see [my sexuality] being a factor that some of my family would not appreciate. That is why being a part of the Dunedin community is great for me because no one gives a shit – no one cares that I’m bi or that I draw naked women - some of the toxic conservative views that previously have held me back are not constraining me anymore.”
While Jaya tries to keep her art as open and accessible to all political flavours, she defends her freedom and asserts that her art is an expression of her lived experiences. “I don’t want my art to be inaccessible to people who do not have the same views as me, so I try to keep it as non-aggressive as I can. But sometimes I just get sick and tired of bullshit. It is important to me for my values to come through my art because, as much as I love to make things that look pretty, I still want it to be beneficial to someone. I think that pushing for values that are important to me is a way that I can do that through my art. Art that has been activist-based has been really impactful in my life, and I’m just trying to give back into that sphere.”
Last year, Jaya participated in OUSA’s Art Week and featured some of the pieces from her Instagram page. She mused on the experience, “it was one of the first times that I have displayed the art from this account. People messaged me and said that they really liked it and some of it got bought, that was really crazy.”
Jaya continues to use her platform to share her whole self with the Dunedin and wider online community, while performing a balancing act with her studies, relationships, and family life. She wants her art to “validate people who may not receive validation elsewhere, which is an experience that I am very accustomed to” and also hopes that if her work inspired a constructive conversation, “that would be a win-win for me.”