There is a common saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That idea is further complicated when we look at it through the eyes of different cultures that exist today. In today’s globalized world, culture, race, and media intersect to create an idea of beauty that is admired by a collective and not an individual. Pop media and artists today have a bigger responsibility to open the world’s eyes to what today’s beauty standards are and what they need to be.
We speak with visual artist Thokchom Sony on the importance of showcasing cultural importance in art.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a 29-year-old visual artist from Imphal and am currently based in New Delhi. I have lived in the south of Delhi for the last 10 years, where my career has continued to grow. This is where I’ve regained a sense of self-assurance. I have attained a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Jamia Millia Islamia Institute and I have a postgraduate diploma in visual effects and animation from the Anwar Jamal Kidwai Mass Communication Research Centre. Currently, I’m teaching art and pre-productions as a contractual professor in AJKMCRC at Jamia while working on my personal painting projects.
“I take every day as a learning experience. I love to explore the world and learn about new cultures but I will always be connected to my roots.”
My homeland has nurtured and loved me and made me the person I am today. You will see something about my culture in every work of art of mine, whether it’s the pattern derived from my culture, facial features, wildflowers, and grasses etc.
Was it a conscious decision to be culturally specific in your work?
Not really. It felt natural to me. When I look back, I feel honored to be born in northeastern India. Growing up in the valley surrounded by hills, diversity of communities, rich cultures, languages, and rich organic vegetation is a rare experience. My parents have always been there to support me. We had no luxury during childhood but basic necessities were always provided for. This aspect of my life definitely influences me richly. My art is a reflection of my experiences in life and expressions of how my soul sees the world. The inspirations I get from this perspective is limitless.
What is the creative philosophy behind your work?
I find deep meaning in looking for beauty in diversity and gain a sense of freedom in expressing my findings.
“Ethnicity, cultural diversity and Mother Nature inspires me. I believe the creator of the universe loves diversity and variety. We all are a part of nature. We need to be aware of that and communicate visually with the world around in order to experience it.”
I spend a lot of time observing details and appreciating peculiar beauty in even the smallest of things. I believe in equality and freedom of expression. I strongly feel that art in any form is a channel to express our opinions and release our energies in a positive way.
How would you classify your style of art?
I love creating portraits from my imagination. My artistic style is linear and figurative. Most of my work is done in a contemporary style while adhering to traditional elements. In the past, I have worked on a few graphic novels and illustrated books for other clients and NGOs.
Now, I’m exclusively focused on making a series of my own conceptual paintings and illustrations. My full-time work is painting in my own space. As a professor, I provide lectures in the classroom for only two to three days a week. I have the rest of the days for myself which I dedicate to paint my ideas and concepts. Sometimes I pick up commissioned works too.
What sparked your interest in painting?
I started scribbling and drawing since the time I was a three-year-old. I then developed an interest in painting in school. I’ve always loved to spend time painting things out of my imagination. Now painting is my profession and I consider myself lucky to be able to follow my dreams and carve out my own path towards this direction.
What do you hope people take away from your art?
We live in a world where we build up walls to divide and to dominate. We have set aside boxes for everything to fit in, but times are changing for the better.
“I want my art to help people see and appreciate the beauty in the smallest things. I hope my work makes them more open to explore the differences in cultures and diversity around them.”
I want to encourage people to live their dreams and to be confident to express their uniqueness. I want all of us to be a part of the world where we can be themselves – a place where we can be original. We need to educate people that being different is ok, it’s actually good. Everyone is unique in their own ways. Different people have different capabilities and gifts from the creator. Why should we force someone to fit into society’s standards?
Can you tell us about any recent project you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
Recently, I got a lot of appreciation and lovely feedback on one of my paintings titled “I’m still beautiful and strong”. The painting depicts a woman of mixed ethnicity, sporting very short hair, adorned with gajra and wearing a Manipuri shawl. This is about a woman who won the battle of breast cancer. She is bold, beautiful and emotionally strong. In the background, one can see varieties of wild grasses, depicting the subtle beauty of the tiny, detailed creations made by Mother Nature. The bunch of dandelions she’s holding are releasing tiny flying seeds to spread the message and awareness of breast cancer. I hope the painting inspires other people to overcome their fear. I hope it encourages them to break the taboos and discriminatory views of the world we live in.
Are you working on any other art projects currently?
I’m currently working on a series which is slightly on a larger scale than what I am used to. The series is inspired by my experience with people of multicultural backgrounds that I’ve come across here in the capital. This is to show how I see beauty in the rich diversity of India. I hope my work does its bit to help unite and appreciate the different cultures and ethnic groups within the subcontinent.When it concludes, I’m working on putting up a show of all my recent artworks in Delhi, hopefully by next year.
For more culturally proud art by Thokchom Sony, follow him on Facebook and Instagram.
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