#ACTC: Darsh Illustrations

I am Darshini Chetty, a 23 year old South African-South Asian creator currently based in Durban. I have my degree in Architecture although my passion lies in all realms of art- architecture, illustration, fashion and animation to name a few. Creating an impactful experience through design and art and the process of turning concept into reality is something I find super exciting and want to do for the rest of my life hopefully. I’m still trying to figure out the space I’m most happy occupying and contributing towards at the moment. If I’m not drawing or painting I’m usually trying to find cool books to read and movies to watch and then never reading or watching any of them. I also just appreciate a good cup of coffee but hate anything coffee flavoured, and kinda obsessed with Adventure Time.

How did you become an artist?

I think it started off with my love for fashion design. I remember staying over with my grandmother (who was a dress maker amongst so many things!), and being so fascinated by the way she would transform bolts of dull fabric into complete, beautiful dresses within a matter of hours! She would work at her sewing machine and pass me all her spare fabric pieces to draw patterns on with felt pens and wrap around my dolls to make new outfits with. So I’d say drawing was something that started quite early and naturally progressed- I found myself doodling during class, designing friend’s sweet 16 dresses during break and then coming home to draw after school. It wasn’t until the end of university in 2016, when I had more creative freedom and a better idea of what I wanted to learn more about, that I began taking it more seriously, and developed more of a focus on storytelling, colour, style and messaging through art.

Are you a self-taught artist or did you go to school?

I am self-taught, but I have studied Architecture in university which I think taught me a lot about concept development and discipline. I’ve also learnt a lot from online artists in terms of using different techniques and mediums and developing a personal style.

What inspires you as an artist?

I shape my work around inspiration borrowed from all around me- driven by my own interpretation of what I see or what something means to me and the communities I am part of. Sometimes I could get inspired by a line from a book I’ve read or from a film I’ve seen, and sometimes it would come from a mood captured by a photograph or another piece of art, and then trying to interpret that from my own perspective. Our current environmental and social political issues play a massive role in trying to capture a message with my illustrations, as well as exploring the rich tapestry of South Asian culture and community.

List three words to describe your aesthetic.

Eclectic, whimsical, diverse.

Why do you specifically illustrate brown women in your artwork?

I think it’s probably because I’ve always been surrounded by strong, dynamic brown woman, from family and friends to community figures. It’s something I grew up around and blessed to still have today, so it’s definitely going to play a role in what I create, as I try to include a part of me, my background, my heritage in everything I draw. Also there’s way too many stories still untold due to lack of representation, so I’d hope by using my art to highlight woman of color that I can contribute, even in a small way, to creating a space and platform to share more.

What issues do you care about the most?

South Asian communities are notorious for their honor culture which is why I think we all need to speak about Intersectional feminism more. It focuses on letting communities speak and present their own narrative. It focuses not only on racial and gender specifics, but includes a range of other interrelated forms of structural and direct oppression for all, and it’s important to highlight the LGBTQA+ community as well because it’s something we don’t speak about enough. By acknowledging and discussing why we need Intersectional Feminism we can begin to work on making our communities more of a safe space for all.

Why is representation important?

Representation effects the perception of social reality, and development of self-image. So when representation is monopolized by one group, the stories and issues of the marginalized are never told and seem to become almost dimmed fictional figments.  With positive representation, minorities become less like physical stereotypes and more like real people, with real issues and real voices.

When you’re part of a minority group, there’s always this pressure to navigate and reformulate an identity that’s truthful to you in a world that’s constantly challenging you and trying to change you. One of my favourite journalist and writer, Noor Tagouri, recently spoke out about being tokenized as a ‘diverse’ voice and ‘activist’ just because she happens to wear a hijab rather than being highlighted for the authentic journalism work she does. In a similar way artists of colour are ‘given’ this box constructed by others, telling us what we’re supposed to be and the way that we are supposed to be it. Pressure to conform to preconceived notions of what a South Asian artist should represent and revolve their work around can also mean that once we step away from those ideas, our work is no longer convenient and relevant in their narrative of us.

Thankfully there are so many positive social justice movements emerging that encourage communities and individuals to celebrating in the richness of their backgrounds, heritage and culture.  Through this positive representation it gives individuals a space and platform for their voices to not only change and contribute to the conversation, but to create a completely new table and invite others to join in doing so as well.

How can people buy your artwork?

I am currently working on opening up an online store, so I am excited for that. But for now, people can email me at darsh.illustration@gmail.comor reach out to me via my Instagram which is @darsh_illustration

What are some of your future plans for your artwork/business?

I’m excited to expand and experiment with different mediums especially digital art, and would also love to learn more about animation. Also growing up, art programs were absent in most of the schools in and around my community so it has always been a dream of mine to organize exhibitions and events that showcase artistic talents within the community. And curate creative workshops that can provide a bridge between isolated emerging creatives and internships, mentorships and sustainable career options.

Why did you pick this specific piece? 

This was the first piece that I was confident about creating and putting out there. And for the first time I knew exactly the direction I wanted my art to take and the message I wanted to convey with it. I didn’t have a clear idea of how I wanted it the end piece, but I definitely knew what the message was behind it.

What are you trying to convey in this piece?

Well the idea for this came after seeing a model cast call on Instagram for South Asian girls with “fair skin and light features” for a local TV commercial, which was incredibly saddening however not surprising to see at all. Although it has many interpretations, the duality of this piece was meant to bring focus on the issue of depression which many not always appear on the surface. And rather than highlighting the things that tend to separate us, we should be turning our attention towards celebrating those differences, and our shared similarities and lend focus on supporting each other.

You can follow Darshini on Instagram: @darsh_illustration


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