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Self Portrait in Migration: An Ode to the Things We’ve Lost, and the Identities We Built

By Komal Samrow

Self Portrait, Monisha Kumar, 2020.

The Australian Indian Digital Creative Festival’s ‘Expressing Resilience through Art’ competition saw over 350 written, recorded, painted, and photographed submissions from across India and Australia. The competition was launched by the Australian South Asian Centre in an effort to showcase emerging talent from India and Australia and provide them with a platform where their work could be recognised, appreciated, and supported. Ultimately three winners were chosen, with the first place title being awarded to 18-year-old Monisha Kumar from Wollongong, NSW, Australia.

Born in England and raised in Australia, Kumar’s lifelong exploration of the arts has long served as an exploration of self, and of the Indian roots to which she felt a lack of exposure growing up. As Monisha pursues a Bachelor of Fine Arts at UNSW in Sydney, she continues to deepen her understanding of her culture, and of art’s role in healing and shaping her own identity. Her winning piece Self Portrait reflects her immense talent, strength, and resilience as an artist and powerful voice in the Asian-Australian community.


What inspired you to become an artist?

Growing up I didn’t see a lot of people that I could relate to in media or art and it had a huge impact on the way I saw myself, my value and my agency. I see my art as a way to reclaim my identity and my culture. I want to use what I create to teach people and inspire others.

Brown Girl, Monisha Kumar, 2020.

Which of your own artwork pieces is your favourite and why?

I did this painting called ‘Brown Girl’ and it was a portrait of my younger sister as a child, she was wearing traditional Indian clothes and she had a big smile. There are these strange hands around her. I don’t think it's technically my best but it's my favourite because it's close to my heart. It was almost an ode to some of the things that my family and I had lost, through immigration, through growing up, through all the different experiences we’ve encountered.

Describe your artistic style in 3 words.

Figurative, earthy, and evocative.

What’s the inspiration, the thought process behind your winning self-portrait?

Self Portrait concentrates on the theme of isolation, coming of age and a struggle with resilience. My work becomes a mirror into the vulnerabilities of the inner child. It was in consideration for an assessment a while back on the theme of 'making your mark'. I learned to handle oil paint by practising self-portraits and this became one of the first paintings I did that I was really content with. This painting reminds me to be resilient, even when I don't want to be. I think Self Portrait really embodies a lot of my personal fears and anxieties around identity, around making art.

The theme of the AIDC’s art competition was “Expressing Resilience through Art.” What does resilience mean to you?

Resilience to me is having the strength to pick yourself up off the ground, especially during the times it feels most difficult. It means reconciling with your pain and teaching yourself to heal. I think that after struggling with my mental health, resilience is one of the hardest lessons I've had to teach myself.

Transcendental bodies, Monisha Kumar (2020)

How long have you been working on your art?

I’d like to say I’ve been working on my art since I could pick up a pencil. However, I’d say the past three to four years have been the most crucial in developing my practice.

As a new artist, how has COVID impacted your creative work?

The first serious lockdown and initial onset of COVID coincided with my last year of high school, so I wasn’t focused on any personal projects, just my Year 12 major works.

The media likes to idealize and romanticize the image of the lone artist, this is a perception I don’t fit into.

COVID added layers of stress and isolation to my mental health, which didn’t make me more productive.

Her body of work, Monisha Kumar (2020)

What is your dream or what do you hope to achieve from your artwork?

I want my art to become my full-time job. I want to hopefully someday travel back to India and see where that takes my work. I hope in the future my art will inspire people and shift the way people think.

Follow Monisha's work on Instagram at @moni_.sha


Introducing the Artist Spotlight, a series where we highlight upcoming South- Asian artists in the creative space. In today's edition, we speak to Monisha Kumar, an 18-year- old from Wollongong, NSW, Australia.



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