By Komal Samrow
Artwork by @bigfatbao
In this week's Artist Spotlight, we speak to designer, illustrator and Ambedkarite @thebigfatbao, as she tackles eco-justice, sustainability, and caste divide into her powerful portraits and captions.
Tell us a bit about you, the person behind the work we see.
I'm a designer, illustrator, and Ambedkarite. I'm also a lifelong learner who tries to share whatever I learn with everyone around me. After all, what good is knowledge if it's not spread widely and applied for a better future? My pronouns are she/her and I've been working as a designer for about 5 years now. I believe that any place with kind hearts and safe spaces is good enough for me to function and hence, I don't want to belong to a particular location. I'm currently working out of Mumbai.
My work focuses on eco-justice, sustainability, and caste.
What made you decide to start sharing your work on social media?
I got bored of trying to fit into the whitewashed aesthetics of Instagram and decided to switch from regular photos to uploading my work to talk about important issues. There are already many artists who post their work and processes on social media and capitalise heavily on it. A lot of this art emphasises aesthetics, beauty, composition, layouts, typography, colour, and more. But I always wondered who gets to decide what is aesthetic and what isn't? Who gets to decide whether something is beautiful or well-composed? After all, isn't design supposed to be democratic? My work is based on research, memories, and lived experiences as well. Through my work, I want to question people's choices and ideologies. I want to constantly remind everyone that privilege isn't just the presence of advantages. It is equally important to remember that impediments are absent within the multiple layers of privileges.
As a Dalit woman raised in India, how has your background influenced your point of view as an influencer/artist?
I'm definitely not an influencer. Based on the technical/conventional social media metrics, I don't get to monetize my social media numbers and interactions. But as an artist and an Ambedkarite, I observe things from a curious, analytical, and empathetic lens. My sense of gratitude always overpowers any sense of entitlement. I want to question all forms of authority, power and biases.
Your posts often include captions revolving around current events and history, blending news style elements with the artistic, creative side of the account. Was that always your intention?
It was never intentionally done. There are so many things that I wish to talk about and tell people but I only have 24 hours in a day. So purely out of convenience in terms of visuals, I began blending current events with history. I find it extremely painful that the history of marginalised communities was erased, manipulated, and systemically suppressed. I want to be the tigress, and not the trophy killer, who tells the actual story because almost all of mainstream media and history narrates events with a Savarna lens.
Almost all your portraits feature floral designs or patterns. Why is that?
Plants are magical creatures. They grow even in the tiniest of cracks in concrete/cement structures. The DBA community is like plants - we blossom wherever we're planted. Together, we're like a beautiful forest.
From environmentalism to casteism to political conflicts, you seem to address it all. What fuels that fire?
Casteism and environmentalism are linked. Everything in life is political anyway - from the water that we drink to the institutions, we study/work at. We cannot separate the anti-caste movement and environmentalism no matter what. Jotiba Phule had made it clear that development in India can only occur when the system adopts rural agro-ecological practices. It meant that we need to implement critical and inclusive frameworks that capture the impacts of climate change on the DBA community. It is evident that the effects of environmental damage clearly impact marginalised communities the most whether they live along the coasts of India, in the Northeast, or in the Central Indian Landscape. It is high time that we start holding Savarnas accountable for the damage they've inflicted and continue to inflict on DBA communities and biodiversity. The erasure of DBA communities and forests are a clear sign of Brahminical oppression.
Do you ever face backlash for touching upon caste and religion in your work, and if so how do you deal with it?
It has taken a lot of mental strength and courage to come out as a Dalit on social media. My DMs are filled with abuse, rape threats, murder threats, long essays justifying casteist behaviour, etc. It's a double-edged sword to talk about caste and religion because although I don't have the privilege to escape the abuse/violence, I cannot stop talking about it. I don't believe humans, who are the most evolved species, require a rusted and damaged crutch like religion to drive our moral compasses. My ancestors and our leaders like Savitrimai and Fatima Sheikh have faced worse and their life lessons and stories continue to give me strength. I want to fulfil Babasaheb's dream of annihilating caste because without that we will never be truly free.
What’s next for you?
I haven't planned anything yet. I hope to work on and illustrate as many foods that Dalit communities consume. All of my future works will continue to focus on annihilating caste and bringing eco-justice.
Follow the artist on Instagram @bigfatbao. All artwork featured in the piece belongs to the artist.
Artist Spotlight is a series where we highlight upcoming South- Asian artists in the creative space.