Her unrestrained works explore themes of sexuality, intimacy and body image. Her weapon of choice is her drawing pen. Ever since she stepped into the Indian art scene in 2015, artist and curator Tarini Sethi has been on a mission to challenge the status quo. When her work was declared “too bold” for Indian sensibilities, she together with her graphic designer friend, Anant Ahuja founded The Irregulars Art Fair in 2018— an anti-art fair offering a platform to budding, independent artists. Far from being a conformist, she’s charting her own artistic path, while also supporting new talent. In a freewheeling chat with Shweta, Tarini discusses everything from her journey as an artist to life in lockdown.
Text: Shweta Vepa Vyas | Photography: Gorkey Patwal
Sun sign: Scorpio.
What do you do? I’m a fine artist and curator.
City you presently live in: Smog city, New Delhi.
If not an artist, what would you be? I would own a caravan and sell ice cream out of it.
Your current favourite...
Beauty products: I’m a basic b**** when it comes to beauty; I love my Himalaya hair cream for days when my hair is misbehaving, (which is really often).
Self-care rituals: Fortnightly face packs and Sunday champis are my go-to to make myself feel extra spesh.
Instagram handles: @tarinisethi @theirregularsartfair @studiokhirki @workinghourscollective
Podcasts: Stuff you should know, The Pitch, Heavyweight, The Journal, Without Fail and new fiction by QCODE.
Films: Haven't seen a move in a long time, so I can't think of anything right now.
TV series: Obsessed with I may destroy you, Insecure and Better Things right now—and also every reality show ever made!
Favourite recipe: My lockdown go-to has been spicy Pad Kra Pow with a crispy fried egg on top.
Does that count?
India and international artists or designers:
Heather Benjamin, Tara Booth, Zio Ziegler, March Librizzi, Sophie Canter, Moshtara Hilal, Zuhra Hilal, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Salman Toor and so many more!
In India I admire the works of Mithu Sen, Rithika Merchant, Nalini Malani, Jogen Choadhuri and Rithika Pandey.
Book: Harry Potter, every day!
How do you describe your personal sense of style?
Thrifted mix ‘n’ match.
What's the most special piece of jewellery or clothing in your closet and why?
A silver band (ring) that I bought myself with my first salary and bright purple Issey Miyake bubble pants.
What first comes to your mind when you think of Lune?
From the sky.
DESIGN EDIT | Opinions/musings about the following:
Did you always want to be an artist? Tell us a little about your journey.
I know it sounds like a cliché but yes, I've always wanted to be an artist, ever since I was tiny! Throughout school, it was also the only ‘subject’ that I was actually really good at and excited about—which made the decision to do it professionally, easier. I graduated from school and (for some ridiculous reason) got a BA in Political Science. Those three years were really formative for me as a person—following them I went straight to New York to study Fine Art. I was there for 5 amazing years and came back to Delhi in 2015 to figure out how to become a real artist in this country; I've been figuring it out ever since.
How would you describe your artistic style? How has it evolved over the years?
My work is extremely surreal in nature with hints of cubism and dadaism mixed into it. I'm a ‘drawer’ which a lot of people don't understand, because in our country, drawing is seen either as doodling or as a sketch for a painting and not a finished product. But I'm really passionate about the physicality and performance of drawing on paper, and how each line and dot can say something without the need to add any colour to it at all.
Through my art, I explore themes of human intimacy and sexuality. Ever since I started drawing, my work has, in some way or another, constantly revolved around the idea of utopias. I draw inspiration from folk tales, architecture of cities and stories of kings and queens alongside twists and turns of modern day politics.
You studied at the Pratt Institute in New York. What have been your learnings from your time in NYC? How did it contribute to the artist you are today?
It seems like a lifetime ago but there are so many things about my time in New York that have made me both the artist and curator I am today. When I first moved back to India, I mostly got rejected from gallerists and curators who told me that my work was too sexual in nature and that no one in our country would want to hang it in their homes. The way New York functions is that people manage to do a lot with not very much; people are curating shows in their backyard, painting on city walls, on the trains and basically taking over every surface there is. That’s why I realised that I don't need a gallerist to tell me whether my work is good enough or not; if I want to exhibit it, I can just do it myself, and that's basically how I got started. The one thing I'm adamant about (and it’s definitely something that being in NYC taught me) was that I shouldn't bend or change for the art world.
What prompted you to set up The Irregulars Art Fair? Tell us a little about the process.
It honestly started with the rejections I was talking about above. One day I just decided that instead of changing the kind of work I make to suit the art world, I'm going to try and change the art world or break it in some way, because it needed some shaking up. So, I started curating small shows at a graphic design studio and called the shows ‘Pond’. They were open to anyone at all and we would display the work ‘salon’ style (based on the Paris Salon) where works are hung from floor to ceiling—covering every inch of the space! After that, I was invited to curate a show as part of the annual arts festival at The Indian International Centre, and from there, a few months later, The Irregulars Art Fair was born. I had been visiting the IAF for years and knew that anti-art fairs exist all over the world, running parallel to city art fair, and I just kind of went for it. There's no other way to say it—our first edition was conceived and produced in the span of two months, with our own money and a bunch of friends and we’ve been doing it ever since.
Does art need to have a purpose? What would be yours?
Definitely not; I think many times, art can just be. A lot of my art, for instance, is made because I have an itch to create. I just make something that’s hidden under my mattress and never seen by the world.
What are your thoughts on censorship in art?
I think art is a very true and honest form of expression, far from fake news and valueless content. For this reason exactly, art should be promoted and artists should have a safe space to create.
LIFE IN LOCKDOWN
What are your thoughts on the new normal? What's keeping you positive these days?
Honestly, I'm not hating it! I’ve had the chance to slow down and take into account what’s important to me. I’ve also been watching a lot of reality TV, so I've really been enjoying these few months of lockdown. My boxing sessions, my time with my dog, mini squabbles with my parents, long sweaty runs in the evenings and avoiding any semblance of Indian news is what’s keeping me upbeat.
If you'd like to talk about it, what has been your lowest point during the lockdown? How did you come out of it?
Thankfully, there hasn't been a specific time when I felt particularly low, but, usually when I start to just overload my head with thoughts or getting anxious, I just remind myself to slow down. I also do a quick 5-minute meditation on Headspace.
What is your daily routine like nowadays?
I start my day with a really intense virtual boxing class, eat lunch after and then start drawing. In the evening, I either go for a run or play badminton and then have a drink or two, eat dinner and finally watch some Netflix in bed.
I spend the weekends at my boyfriend's house where we lie on our faces and do nothing for two days except cook indulgent dinners and watch movies—a nice break from the routine.
Are there any learnings from lockdown that you'd like to share?
Take time out for yourself and go outside more! I forgot how important spending a few hours outdoors really is.
Has the pandemic inspired you to create new art?
Yes! It was quite slow in the beginning and I was having a really hard time being productive (in the first two months), so I started doing really basic college-level nature studies. This forced me to sit in my garden for three hours straight with no distractions which helped me form new ideas for future drawings.
What are your thoughts on the future and the way forward for art?
It's an interesting time for art-making. Much like before, when artists did not have a platform to showcase work, they focused on social media like Instagram. We are doing the same thing now, but what's fantastic is that galleries and spaces universally are moving their exhibitions online. This new virtual space means that people from all over the world are getting exposed to art and artists that they simply couldn’t afford to see earlier. On another note, curators are getting connected to artists from different cities and countries and collaborating with them to curate new online shows. It's a whole new world and it's brought about a kind of togetherness in the art world that otherwise couldn’t have happened in such a short span of time. Another important thing that I've noticed is that (now that everything is online), people are actually getting more gutsy, curating shows and making art that they would normally be scared to in our political climate.
Tarini layers our Gold Vermeil necklaces; Hail pearl choker, Mie and Homecoming Dear Paisley necklaces along with the Short Plain Viper earrings and Gold Tone Signet ring.