"I want to redefine South Asian art for a modern audience"
South Asian illustrator, DayaIllustrations (Daya), is a UK based artist who ran her first solo exhibition “The Art of Adornment” in May, 2020.
The talented 22-year-old has been creating art since she could remember and her tremendous work has been gaining traction across social media.
Her appreciation for South Asian culture oozes from every hand-painted piece as she aims to celebrate the rich history of her Indian heritage.
“The Art of Adornment” aimed to bridge the gap between modern fashion and cultural tradition.
The exhibition took place virtually due to Covid-19, but that did not stop the unparalleled recognition Daya received.
Her creativity seeps into every painting, using a variety of texture, colour, depth and patterns to celebrate the beauty, spirituality and history of South Asia.
Daya impressively intensified the exhibitions artistry by collaborating with dancer Manisha Solanki.
The established choreographer created unique animations to give each painting a visual story, providing an innovative aesthetic for a modern audience.
DESIblitz spoke exclusively with Daya about the exhibition, her artistic idols and the influences behind her spectacular pieces.
When did you first develop a love for art?
From the earliest age, I remember just loving to draw and create.
Creativity was always the way I just got lost in time, I could sit for hours completing a piece and loved every minute.
Creativity runs in my family from my grandparents through film making, cooking, textile work, my dad through art and even my sister who is an incredible graphic designer (@devyvisuals).
I think that’s where my creativity has stemmed from.
It wasn’t till I started painting, my passion really developed and I knew I couldn’t let it go.
It just felt so natural for me to create and the same feeling of becoming lost in time just doing something I loved really never changed for me.
Hence I decided to pursue illustration at university and the journey continued from there.
Now I am freelancing as an artist/illustrator being able to deliver personalised portraits, commercial illustrations, fashion illustrations, personalised hand-painted clothing, animations and more.
How would you describe your illustrations?
I would describe my illustrations and paintings as an exploration of identity and culture through the lens of fashion, textiles, portraiture and animations.
I like to tie together modern-day narratives with elements of history to paint onto different surfaces and experimenting with my canvas.
Film, music and fashion were the ways that I accessed that part of my cultural identity living in the UK.
My practice has allowed me to learn and explore culture in depth and share this with the audience with the purpose of visually communicating the significance of traditions, history and social issues.
I also hold onto more of the handcrafted traditional art forms such as hand painting.
I believe it’s the imperfections of the human hand that makes each work so unique as no two pieces are the same.
Which artists do you admire and why?
I admire so many artists it’s difficult to put it down to a few for example Van Gogh, Banksy, Elly Smallwood and more.
I am really inspired by painters like Frida Kahlo who explored her identity and culture through portraits, it’s so fascinating.
A lot of my work is based around portraiture and storytelling and Frida Kahlo has always been a big inspiration.
I also admire Raja Ravi Verma, one of the greatest painters in Indian art, his technique in paintings was impeccable.
Inkquisitive is also a big inspiration for me, he was the one who inspired me to even think about pursuing a creative career.
I love how he makes so many powerful and thought evoking illustrations representative of current-day issues.
His illustrations really convey how powerful art is in society.
How did you get the idea of ‘Indian adornment’?
As a British Asian artist, cultural heritage is heavily defined by clothing and adornment.
I grew up wearing traditional garments and accessories on special occasions but I never really knew the significance of them, where they came from, how they were made and why.
Through my artistic practice, I have become more aware of the deeper significance of these clothes, adornment their value, and their history.
At the heart of this exhibition is the preservation of knowledge and sharing this with the world.
The exhibited works express my personal connection with my culture and how I am able to connect with my family and ancestors through tradition.
I think it’s also important to know the significance because the language of clothing and adornment is more than just a garment and accessories.
The collection is ongoing as there is so much to explore. The exhibition is a combination of previous work and new work representative of this concept.
Why fuse art and dance for the exhibition?
Art and dance are very similar in both being creative forms which tell stories.
Especially in forms like Bharatnatyam, a classical Indian dance form, where stories, expression, emotion is all conveyed through movement.
In the same way colour, tone, texture and visuals in a painting depict a story, dancers do very similarly.
As I love creating moving images, I wanted to portray traditional paintings in a non-traditional way.
I thought about creating animations. I wanted to add the dance element to enhance the story of each piece and create a new and unique way to showcase paintings.
This integration is so incredible to see how two storytellers from two different forms of art, come together to narrate the significance of cultural adornment.
What was it like collaborating with Manisha Solanki?
Manisha Solanki is incredible and collaborating with her has been such an amazing experience.
She is very passionate and creates so authentically which is why we instantly connected.
She understood my vision from the first time we spoke and I was confident from that interaction that she would be able to deliver something incredible.
I wanted Manisha to be able to be creative and freely respond to each painting. I gave her full freedom when creating as I wanted her dance response to be as real and authentic.
She delivered more than I could imagine.
Although the paintings have been released on Artsy, the first showcase of these animated versions were displayed on 20th May in a Private Viewing which is an Online Zoom Event.
What do you hope the exhibition evoked?
I hope that the exhibition evoked more appreciation of the culture and value of the clothing because the extravagance of Asian fashion is world-renowned.
Yet, much of the historical significance of adornment has been lost.
I hope that people gain more understanding of the history and value of it more.
It’s not only focused on the significance but how adornment empowers women, this is conveyed through expressing the energy of the women through painting textures and colours.
I hope this exhibition showed more people that it’s not ‘uncool’ to embrace the culture as there is so much beauty and importance of it when you explore the depth of it.
This is important for me as growing up I did become distant from culture due to feelings of displacement and feeling like I didn’t fit in.
However, through this exhibition, I hope the depth and beauty of culture was conveyed and people felt connected.
How have people reacted to your art?
I have genuinely had such a positive response to my art, I feel so grateful that people from around the world are able to connect with it.
It means so much to me just because I just create genuine passion.
Every person that supports me just encourages me to keep going and growing. It just means a lot that anyone would even take time to notice my piece of art.
I think a lot of people who may not necessarily be interested in art have been able to connect due to the cultural element.
This was my purpose to allow people to not feel intimidated by the art world because they didn’t feel personally connected but present something that is relatable and representative.
Especially for the South Asian community because art is for everyone.
It’s such an important tool in society which is evident during the lockdown where so many people have turned to creativity.
What is your most favourite piece?
My favourite piece is probably ‘Nath’, it’s so powerful as it shows the jewellery against beautiful brown skin enhancing and intensifying the beauty of the wearer.
It represents that it’s not just a piece of jewellery that looks pretty but holds so much historical and religious value.
This includes where it came from, who wore the nath and what it represents. You can find out more about this painting via my social media.
The energy and aura of the woman wearing the nath is translated through the use of colours and textures.
It is so incredible to see so many people just embracing culture, wearing traditional attire and adornment like this but I feel like it’s just as important to know the story behind them and why they are so valuable.
This piece aims to do that very simply but effectively.
As a Desi woman, have you faced any challenges in art?
There is a lack of representation within the arts being from a cultural minority in the UK.
There have been limited opportunities for people of colour but in the right places, I have been encouraged to continue to explore what interests me and what I am passionate about.
I think that’s why culture has become such a valuable and an important part of my practice.
I remember growing up and being naturally drawn to anything that related to my culture just because I felt connected.
Another challenge within the South Asian community pursuing creative careers is looked down upon and not deemed as valuable or a traditional path.
I just feel like our culture is so vibrant, visual and creative that creativity flows throughout all of us whether that is through cooking, what we wear, music, art or dance.
It’s naturally a part of us.
What are your ambitions with your art?
My goal is to create art for a community: art that represents the impact of South Asian culture and how these traditions continue to colour the fabric of society, through the eyes of the diaspora.
I want to redefine South Asian art for a modern audience, continuing painting people of colour and create authentic work that is representative and that is unique.
The whole purpose of my practice to redefine and see beyond the ordinary.
I would love to push forward my practice in showcasing contemporary South Asian art, continuing creating personalised commissions, pushing forward handcraft and just keep pushing boundaries in the art world.
It is quite easy to see how captivated Daya is by her South Asia roots and representing her culture within the arts.
Although Daya is still establishing herself as an illustrator, her creative flair and passion will surely traject her to stardom.
In such a marginalised industry, Daya’s empowering paintings capture the true strength of South Asian women and traditional fashion.
When absorbing the beauty of her pieces, one can truly see the soul that Daya paints with.
The emotion of her portraits, details in accessories and the gleam of the canvas is so effortless.
With strong women being the focal point of her art, it emphasises how Daya wants to redefine the perception of art within the South Asian community.
Her paintings are not just a celebration. They hold historical value and urge spectators from all backgrounds to understand the foundations of Indian adornment.
You can see more of Daya’s brilliant artwork and highlights of the exhibition here.