MakersPlace had the privilege of sitting down with Simran Wahan, aka Samosa Rani, who graciously took the time during a hectic move from her hometown of Tamil Nadu, where she’d moved for the duration of the pandemic, to Bengaluru.
MP: Your work often comes with a 30-minute art therapy session. What have you learned from this exciting way of bridging artist and collector?
SR: People have been very excited about it. I’ve heard from many of my collectors that it’s one of the best NFT utilities they’ve come across. They get to meet the artist and have an interactive session over Zoom. We make art together, and hopefully, they learn something. It’s not just therapy — it’s art and therapy. One of my collectors bought my work because she wanted an art therapy session. I think people like interacting with the artist. They get a bit of mindfulness, a bit of therapy, and make some art. It excites people.
MP: What’s your background with art?
SR: I’ve been an artist since as early as I can remember because art runs in the family. My grandmother, my great grandmother, everybody would make art. So I’ve learned that from my mom. But of course, it has kind of matured over the generations. My mom used to do crochet and knitting, but I moved into more fine arts or abstract art.
I learned abstract art from my older brother. All my abstract colors and combinations — all of that comes from him. But of course, you kind of figure out your way. So now, when I paint Indian women, I put all those influences together.
I’ve also learned in my NFT journey. I finally figured out my sweet spot with work I can continue making for the longest time.
MP: Has digital art affected your physical art practice? And vice versa?
SR: Yes, because the NFT market is a very different market. I come from a traditional background. I still have a pen and paper. I make a basic skeleton on pen and paper. Most of them are hand drawn or painted on paper, watercolor, or acrylic on canvas. Then I transfer them into a digital image. On my iPad, I add little details. In most of my work, there’s a background texture of paper because that’s the actual image. I’m open to collectors. If they want me to ship them the actual piece, I’m open to that.
So I can’t let go of my roots because that comes easy. If I have to start drawing on the iPad, it takes me a lot of time. But it’s quick for me if I have a pen and paper or paint. And the iPad gets boring. I’m a traditional artist; I love the feel of paint and brushes.
MP: “Aranyani” is a new piece of yours that feels like a step in a new direction.
SR: This was an experiment. It was for a contest to make a derivative of a Bored Ape. The Bored Ape has a leopard print and green background. So I thought, “Okay, let’s try something new.” That’s why I did these Moroccan patterns, all of that Islamic geometry.
I gave her a leopard print. And then I said, “Okay, this is a little different. This is very bold.” Which is why she is the goddess of the forest. So the leopard print and the olive green just sit so well. The animals and the plants look up to her because she’s the forest goddess.
I do a lot of work for women in real life. I work with trans women and sex workers. I work at prisons and cancer foundations. When we talk about women’s empowerment, it’s about teaching a woman how to be empowered, which has nothing to do with the male gender.
When a woman says she’s a feminist, she’s automatically judged as someone who hates men. But that’s not true. Women empowerment is helping women to figure out their lives, and that has nothing to do with any other gender or sexual orientation.
Because I work at the grassroots level with Indian women, I have to portray a bold Indian woman in the NFT space. Women have been this bold in Indian mythology, going back thousands of years. But somewhere down the line, the equation changed. I want to put brown women out there in the NFT space. A different and true side of India where women are empowered.
MP: Does it feel like a new style that you’re pursuing?
SR: I do. I want to make strong women and have this little Indian touch to it. So I’m doing goddesses, I’m doing warriors. I’m doing just regular women. I have one that is inspired by my house help.
She has so much to do, so much work, and her husband is an alcoholic. She has two children to take care of. She works in five houses. And at the end of the month, she has just about $100. If she picks up a little extra work, it may go up to $150, or during festivals, then $200 because everybody would tip. It’s tough.
And then she has a smile on her face all the time. She says. “I can’t give up, for my children. I will do this for my children.” She saved up money and put her husband in therapy, and now he drives for Uber, and they’re a happy family.
These are grassroots stories that I have heard and seen around me. And I take that as inspiration for my strong Indian women. It doesn’t have to be a sad woman. It could be a happy woman. But the backstory could be something that will blow you off your feet. So the narrative is what’s happening in her life, but the image is beautiful.
MP: Can you tell me how your work intersects with the Indian literary tradition?
SR: I do a lot of research. I loved mythology since I was a child. If I’m looking at a particular goddess. I’ll go buy books about her. I just go into a zone reading and taking notes. Because I relate to her. It’s not just that I have to make art to sell. I relate to these women because… I am Sikh. And Sikhs are warriors. As a child, my dad used to tell me, “You’re a warrior princess. You cannot give up on anything. You have to fight it out.”
So that was in me as a child and now, even as an adult. I wonder why women would portray themselves as victims. You have to portray yourself as a strong woman. You shouldn’t portray the victim side of you because that will manifest.
So I used to read these books about, like, Frida Kahlo… I love Frida Kahlo. My aunt, who used to live in London, introduced me to Frida Kahlo very early in my life. She gave me a book on Frida Kahlo and the Shakti goddess, the Indian goddess Shiva, and Shakti. These are vital feminine energies.
Their only motive is to create and be happy and enjoy life. And that’s all they do. They don’t talk about negative things. So when I go back into my research, I find these things to bring back and put into my art.
MP: What does the future hold for your work?
SR: I want to make work for trans women, especially in India. So I’m working on a series of trans women, and I’d like to do an IRL exhibition. And I also work with the LGBTQ community in India. I want to do a series of cross-dressers.
So, of course, with the NFT space going haywire, I’m putting my work in both places, in IRL and NFTs. And I’m doing art therapy. I’m doing pranic healing and other forms of healing. When you buy my art, it’s not just the art. There’s a little bit of healing that I can help you with. If you want it or not.