Artist We Love: Nimisha Bhanot
Nimisha Bhanot is a visual artist whose oil paintings explore the female gaze by critiquing and challenging the socio-political role of women and femmes from an integrative bicultural perspective, accepting and rejecting aspects of South Asian and North American culture. Through juxtaposition of cultural signifiers against tropes of sexual liberation and heteropatriachal defiance, Bhanot aims to empower women and femmes by encouraging individuality, protest and talking back to the status quo. By painting the public-private dichotomy of the lives of South Asian women, she materializes something often swept under the rug into a real tangible object – taking away the shame and making it into something the public/society must confront. Bhanot received her BFA in Drawing and Painting from OCADU in 2013 and has been pursuing an independent practice since. Her work has been profiled by Buzzfeed, BBC, Huffington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and CBC Arts among others.
Your work is very empowering and continuously challenges the socio-political role of women from a bicultural perspective. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from my own life and the lives of the people around me. Sometimes it’s through personal relationships; sometimes it’s from other art that I’ve seen whether it’s film, music or visual art. I think what’s unique is my take on my surroundings. I’ve always been uncomfortable with how women are treated and perceived and have wanted to do something about it. Painting allows me to materialize my thoughts and imagination.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as an artist?I operate a small business where I sell reproductions of my work and also sell originals throughout the year. In the beginning I knew nothing about basic bookkeeping, how to market myself, how to price my work etc., I really wish learning basic entrepreneurial/accounting skills was mandatory in art school because you shouldn’t have to scramble to learn all that once you’re out. Negotiating artist fees is not easy, I’ve had two book illustrations and an opportunity to have my work displayed as a prop in a cinematic production not go through because I asked to be paid a fee (based off CARFAC recommendations) that the publisher or set designer couldn’t agree with. The biggest challenge has been learning to cope and manage when I see my work being used without my permission.
Do you still face these challenges or have you managed to overcome them? If so, how?
I’m very lucky to have support from people that are very business-savy, have helped me come up with a plan for my business and taught me a few things along the way. With regards to managing unauthorized use of my work, I’ve had to seek the advice and services of a lawyer to get matters resolved in the past. I still get upset every time I see my work being used without my permission but I think these are the challenges of our time being at the beginning of art’s integration with the Internet and I’m hopeful that artists of future generations will have better tools to navigate through them. With regards to negotiating fees, I still face resistance at times but I know I have a right to negotiate, I never ask for more than what my time is worth (even though I can) and if they want to work with a feminist artist it shouldn’t come as a surprise to them that I want to negotiate in the first place.
Has your practice changed over time? Who has influenced it? Were any of them women?
I’m still producing figurative oil paintings but I’m exploring deeper narratives and always trying to do more with every painting I put out. I am my toughest critic and am always assessing my work for improvement. I have thought a lot about expanding my practice, working in new mediums and taking on new skills but I want to sit with painting a little longer before I do. Artists that have inspired this thinking include Sarah Maple, Divya Mehra, Mickalene Thomas and Katarina Grosse.
Do you have any new upcoming projects?
I’m working on Volume 2 of the Badass Bahu series and just trying to be present with this body of work as much as possible. These paintings are very detailed and are taking double the amount of time as my previous works did but they are challenging my skill set in every way possible. I’m using brushes I haven’t touched in years, mediums and techniques I haven’t utilized since I was in school. This body of work is going to be larger than any other I’ve done before so I’m giving it the time it deserves. I’m doing background work like making notes, collecting sources and archiving interesting material and will start producing new projects later this year.
How important is mentorship for an artist navigating the art world?
Mentorship is so important. The art world can be very pretentious and intimidating and having guidance from older, more experienced arts professionals can give you the skills and confidence to really put yourself out there. I have sought mentorship and provided it and can tell you that both the mentor and mentee benefit from the relationship, there is always something to learn.
Who are your favourite female artists?
Some of my favourite artists include Sarah Maple, Divya Mehra, Rajni Perera, Yayoi Kusama, The Guerilla Girls, Helen Beard, Mickalene Thomas, Vivek Shraya, Alsona Guevara, Frida Kahlo, Rinny Perkins, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Cindy Sherman, Chella Man and Monica Kim Garza.