“Instead of looking for comfort in people I always seek it in my illustrations. Art is always there to listen, whatever your craft is.”
Art heals, art empowers and the practice of it transforms one’s life into an artwork! I often say that when life gives you lemons, squeeze them hard and make great stories out of them. Annu creates illustrations out of pain, love, and out of the simple beauties of life that any person can relate to. She includes you into the stories of her strips. The art work is then no longer bigger than life but instead becomes a mirror of it.
Annu is a traveller and an inspiring old soul. Originally from Gurgaon, a town just outside of Delhi, Annu has been on the road since she entered college. She moved from Gurgaon to Mumbai and is currently freelancing and living in an eco-community in Goa.
The bonfire of her passion for making art has been burning high her entire life. While doing a course in Fashion and Communication at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Mumbai, she found it hard to express the depths of her imagination. While higher education can be enriching, art classes tend to be limiting and filled with judgments. In the end, no one can teach you how to create what your heart desires to create, it is your own task to find your voice and your own personal stroke of the brush.
“Art teachers give us a generalised assignment, we get a deadline, then a mark in return. It goes like that in a cycle. Crossing boundaries can be dangerous, you aren’t free and you can risk your degree. Every form of experimentation will cost you something if it doesn’t fit the university’s requirements. I personally believe in art practice outside of the classroom. Life gives you all the space to explore and grow as an artist.”
During her third year of studies, Annu had to do a design internship in Worli where she worked for 2 months and made quite a few acquaintances in the professional world of graphic design. While creating for a big company, Annu did not feel satisfied by the fact that her name was overshadowed by the company’s name. She then decided that freelancing is a better option for her. At that time, Annu also went through a phase of never-ending celebration. Stuck in a cycle of working and partying, she was searching for herself in people and on dance floors. When the Creatress shared her stories with me, I saw a reflection of my younger self, but living in a different city on a completely different continent.
“I lost quite a few friends to a lifestyle of partying. I feel ashamed of it at times but this was definitely a wake up call for me. After a few unpleasant experiences I realised that I was wasting my time. This is not who I am in essence and so I started focusing on my work. I was investing all my energy into my illustrations and people started being interested in my art, some even requested me to draw digital portraits of them and this is how everything started.”
Annu’s parents did not even know that the young woman moved cities to do her internship. Fully independent, Annu managed to provide for herself, pay rent and freelance for extra cash. We spoke of life realisations and the change that occurs once one transitions from being a teenager to adulhood. Annu told me a special story of hers: how one evening at home, she experienced something otherworldly, something that resembles a spiritual epiphany. That out-of-body experience influenced and changed her in every way.
“After that experience I woke up and realised that I wasn’t the same person anymore. I got so many answers to all the questions that I’ve had for years. It became clear to me that I needed to stop escaping my true purpose and stop being afraid to live. I knew from that day on, that my longterm project became MYSELF. I had to do everything I could to become a better person in every aspect of my life. I was in a trance-like state for a couple of days after the out of body experience and it felt like magic in a way. I still don’t know how to define this altered state I reached. It changed me completely.”
Being an introvert, Annu has always struggled with the social aspects of life and I, in that matter, can fully relate to her. The peer pressure to come out of one’s shell and make new acquaintances can be frustrating and energy-consuming. We agreed that introverts are the ones who are more prone to addiction than extroverts. We grab the bottle just so we can speak, go to a party and force ourselves to socialise. Most of the time during teenage years this comes easier with alcohol. I personally hate to say it, but the parties I went to as a teenager have shaped me and transformed my introvert nature into a hybrid personality of having a bit of both: introvert and extrovert tendencies. However, I wish our culture would have better means of helping out teenagers in their struggles of being misunderstood.
“When I started drinking at the university it gave me a bit of a push to open up. It showed me a different version of myself, a slightly different realm of my consciousness revealed itself to me. It did help me, but later I realised that this is not the right way of exploring myself.”
The most difficult part in one’s late teens is the act of accepting oneself, going with the flow and most importantly letting OTHERS accept (or not) the real you. The constant fear of rejection dominates our lives as teenagers and it can be challenging to understand that some people will relate to you and others won’t. The more you live authentically and find the true expression of your inner self, the easier and sooner you will find your tribe and they will love you for all that you are. Annu managed to eventually find that peace of mind.
“I am still an introvert and my work requires a lot of alone time that I spend in front of a screen. But whenever I am out and about and I see someone that I want to talk to, I just do it and I no longer hesitate. There is nothing to lose in the end.”
Travelling formed an important part of her journey of self-discovery. Annu would follow the practice of doing one thing that scares her everyday. She would set out to solo trips to nearby towns. She would walk the unknown streets and observe the people. Sometimes she would approach them and start a conversation. It takes an extra push at times to get out of one’s comfort zone.
The art of self-acceptance was not a given for Annu, it has been a whole adventurous, bumpy ride that got her where she is right now. Especially because as a bisexual woman, she had to undergo a lot of moments of confusion. In India, no one usually addresses the topic of sexuality. In schools and colleges experimentation with the same gender occurs but it is taken lightly and is simply labelled as a “phase” that women go through.
“No one ever told me that there is such a THING as to be attracted to both men and women. I was familiar with homosexuality from the films I had watched but bisexuality specifically, was something completely foreign to me. Of course I was convinced that there was something wrong with me.”
In Mumbai, the sexuality talk was slightly more evolved than in Gurgaon and Delhi. Annu’s new environment taught her that sexuality is fluid, that people have preferences and that it is perfectly natural to like both, men and women.
“Once I told my friends in Mumbai about my bisexuality it was such a relief. No one judged me! Unfortunately my parents are still clueless about it.”
Annu is currently living and freelancing in Goa. Her love for the state of Goa started the moment she did her internship for the Museum of Goa (MOG) in 2016. When she saw the installation called “Fishermen and the Ocean”, she was fascinated by the simplicity of the art work and realised that one can be inspired by anything and make art of everyday life.
“All my past experiences have shaped me so much. I am who I am today because of all the good and bad things that happened to me. I have learned from every city that I lived in. Right now, I am even considering writing a graphic novel. I want to use dark humour and empowerment as my main themes in it. It is still just a lingering idea but I feel like slowly, it is starting to take shape.”
While I was mostly interested in Annu’s journey as an artist, I was also curious about her thoughts about India because it is essential to contemplate the space that one works from.
“India has to work on itself A LOT. Now is the time for it to progress a little bit more in terms of accepting the LGBT community, providing sexual education and understanding that we are all humans, whether gay, bisexual or straight. I am constantly trying to delve into those topics in my art. As a child I did not get this exposure and so I remained confused about my sexuality for a long time. I don’t want this to happen to future generations. Our society needs to generate a healthy stance towards sexuality.”
Driven and hard-working, Annu is the kind of Creatress whose life will be poured into her art. Her work, however, is not merely for the pleasure of the eye, it is also destined for the heart. Eager to empower, to inspire and to raise awareness collectively, her illustrations carry important messages for today’s world and for India’s evolution.
Annu uses Instagram to share her work and to collaborate with other artists. I suggest you have a look and dive into her world yourself.