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On Representation and Expectations: Rediscovering the Beauty in Brown

By Komal Samrow

Loud and proud, Manasi Arya holds nothing back in her bold digital designs and one of a kind denim DIYs. Time after time her creativity and passion reminds us of the power of representation in dismantling the oppressive beauty standards that govern South Asian society.

Tell us a bit about you, the person behind the work we see (eg. how old are you, where are you based).

My name is Manasi Arya, and I am a special education teacher. I am based in Northwest Indiana but will be moving to New York very shortly. I am 24 years old. I just graduated with my master's in special education and will be continuing in the education field moving forward.

Your Instagram features a lot of DIY tutorials and experimentation with different mediums and surfaces. Where does that creativity come from?

First of all, thank you so much for noticing that I post many DIY tutorials and experiments. I believe that everyone can do art, and art is such a great therapeutic form of creativity that I think it's important to showcase that with all types of styles. I post a lot of those different types of tutorials because I want everyone else to see that it's really easy for you to do it, too; it just may look a little different than mine. I love to experiment with other mediums, like you said because I get bored with one thing. I try different things, and it's a great way for me to be excited and for my audience to be excited as well. That creativity comes from writing out lists and things that I want to do and it's also another way to keep myself accountable. I love Pinterest, and I get inspired by many things from there too. It's crazy because I saved pins from years ago and now start to do the DIY. Also, Tik Tok is such a great form of creativity where I find different trends that I want to participate in and use when I want to share a how-to version of that instead of just posting about it. People are a lot more open to working together and building off of a similar idea on Tik Tok and I am a huge fan of that. And lastly, my family, friends and my background give me a lot of inspiration.

Between grad school, a teaching career, and maintaining a strong social media presence, how do you strike a balance between it all?

So the balance part of it was a little deceiving, I think. I always did a lot more work during breaks, such as winter break and spring break, and I would kind of keep all of that artwork to post throughout the months. I always set a goal of doing at least one Tik Tok video a day if I had an idea, and if I didn't, I would do a bunch of Tik Tok videos in one day. Along with that, when painting I would just record a two-second video of the next step. A lot of my schoolwork was done for at least an hour or two a day, and then I also dedicated most of my Fridays and Saturdays towards school work. I really tried to have a work-life balance with my job, so I would try not to bring too much work home, but if I needed to, I would do that. I really wanted to commit to myself with my art Instagram, and so that's why I take up every single moment that I can. However, I dedicate half an hour to just sitting on my couch and watching TV and relaxing because I think it's important for me to take care of my mental health. Painting is the number one form of art that helps me take care of my mental health, so I do a lot of that, but I think every day is different and it can be really hard sometimes. I think it's really important to find your balance, whatever that means, and set goals. Once you establish those, it'll be easier for you to be able to do what you want to do.

In your artistic process, what comes to you first– the subject or the message/theme of the piece?

So for my artistic process, I think it just truly depends on the piece. I do have a list of ideas and a list of pieces that have not been touched and a bunch of half-done pieces, so I have a lot of art that is ready for me to start or finish. But I think it depends on the theme like if the theme is about drinking chai, I'll base my piece on that. However, if it's just a random cartoon character, sometimes I'll do the piece and maybe feel like I need to add a message or that it works with a certain message, and then I'll add it on top after that.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of social media for you as an artist?

The most significant disadvantage of being a social media artist is that you have to keep up with content and you are now considered a content creator. It is so weird to think that I have now evolved to become a content creator and an artist because people ask about my life and things that I do or what I'm wearing and all those things. It can also get extremely overwhelming because social media works so fast. There is a new trend every day, and it only takes a day to miss out. The desi community can be great but there is a lot of competition, and it is also extremely saturated.

The biggest advantage is that I have met so many amazing people, learned so many things, and have been able to make a sort of a name for myself. I know I'm an artist, but it is so cool to be able to showcase a portfolio of all the work that I've done on social media. I make all these videos, and I make all these pieces, and they're all living in one space, so I think that's really cool. Social media can also be a beautiful thing! It is easy to push a simple message and get people to support your work and your passion. There are soooo many people on your side from all over the country too! You learn so much!

Many of your pieces involve "Indianized" versions of popular western cartoons. Why?

I think representation matters so much. It is so important to see yourself on the big screen, tv shows, and everything. So my desi cartoon series is my way of showing younger Manasi cartoons that I love and look like me! It just makes it very nostalgic and also exciting to see the characters that I grew up watching look kind of like what I looked like when I was younger. I've seen so many artists do these, especially artists who are not Indian and have their own culture. So I wanted to bring in my own spin to it and do my own versions of them.

The definition of beauty has undergone many changes in recent years. How would you define beauty today?

Beauty to me is feeling beautiful inside and out and being excited about all of your flaws and the things that make you unique. I know beauty has changed, and there's so much societal pressure on how beauty needs to be, especially in certain cultures. But I think beauty just means whatever makes you 'you'. I believe every single one of us is unique, and I think that's really beautiful, but we can't all have a certain beauty standard that we need to uphold because of what society thinks. I think that confidence and the beauty of seeing your flaws, not as flaws is so important. Beauty is within, I really believe that.

What advice do you have for South Asian youth who may be struggling with the weight of societal beauty standards?

For a south Asian youth struggling with societal beauty standards, I would say find people who make your insecurities nonexistent. Whether that's on social media or in-person, find people that make you empowered about all the important things. For me, I love being able to find people on social media that make me excited about things that I was insecure about, like my pimples. There are so many influencers and artists out there that are there to help you. And also, on top of that, have those vulnerable conversations with people that you love and talk to them about things that make you insecure or upset. Having those conversations and knowing what's going on in your head will be a really great way for you to understand what you are thinking.

What's next for you?

Hopefully what’s next for me is more products and more pieces that I feel really empowered by. I would love to continue doing more paintings and having more denim jacket lines along with other products like phone cases and coffee mugs. But at the end of the day, I do truly take each day one by one because there’s always going to be changes and I think it’s important to embrace those moments and get excited for that.

Follow Manasi Arya at @artwithmanasi . 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.



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