This episode is a long, meandering conversation, the sort you would have with an artist who thinks deeply about art and life. Girija Hariharan spent a decade and a half in the IT industry before taking up painting full-time in 2015. She began her art career as a muralist, painting walls at the homes of friends willing to let her experiment, but these days she uses any medium that catches her fancy, including cardboard from discarded boxes. Her art conveys an intriguing mix of mythology and anthropology, often with clear feminist echoes.
In our conversation Girija talks about balancing the artist’s and the business-person’s sensibility — her right and left brain at work, as she puts it. What also emerges is her deep-rooted desire for social development and her inclination to stay grounded in reality. She speaks about the importance of going with the flow in both art and life, and about what separates a hobbyist from a professional artist.
This podcast is hosted on Buzzsprout and is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast players.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m going to start with simple and perhaps naive question. You have this website called 2flatbrush.com and your Instagram handle also follows the same name. What’s behind that name 2flatbrush?
It is a very quirky little thing. I usually have size 2 flat brush in my handbag since my college days — I’ve always carried it around anywhere. So when I was trying to keep a name for my business, I asked a couple of my friends and they gave some ideas like mural, something to do with the word play around murals, some very weird names. And then I looked into my handbag and I saw this brush, and I said okay it’s going to be 2flatbrush. Probably there is a reason behind why we have such keepsakes; this size 2 flat brush has been with me since 1997.
You call yourself an artist and a muralist, and your work spans different themes from mythology, feminism, nature among others. It also spans different styles: you are right now into abstract impressionism, you work also consists of realist portraits with abstract backgrounds, you’ve also experimented with word art, you want to do graffiti. Can you tell me what you are working on right now?
Yes, I am working on my current series called deka. It stands for 10 and is loosely based on Dashavatara — the ten avatars that Vishnu took to sustain or nurture the world through different stages of evolution of mankind. People equate Dashavatara with Darwin’s evolution; some people equate it with Noah’s ark. There are so many parallels between this Dashavatara and the history of the world. So I wanted to look at all of it from a feminist perspective because sustenance and nurturing comes naturally to women, and I wanted to hunt for these unknown figures in human history who have contributed towards nurturing the earth through different stages of human civilization. I plan to paint each avatar as a woman loosely related to the ten avatars of Vishnu.
For example the first one is Matsya, which is fish based and I am actually going to paint Ama divers. I don’t know if I am pronouncing it correctly, it is a Japanese name. Basically these female Japanese divers were the first pearl harvesters of the world and they did deep diving without any scuba gear or oxygen tanks. They do free diving and they bring all these oysters. They put a small irritant into the oysters and once they mature into pearls they go and harvest it and come back out. Apparently there were 6000-7000 Ama divers, and as little girls they are trained to expand their lung capacity in order to learn this kind of diving. Right now there are only 60 to 70 such divers in Japan.
So I want to paint these women as the keepers of pearls, it is a very metaphorical idea — if you know about the concept of Gaia, Gaia is our bhoomadevi concept which is very similar to personifying the entire earth as a woman, and the earth always gives and gives and gives, so Gaia also gives and gives and gives. This whole idea started out with my thought process around Gaia and how she is always contributing or offering something to the world like our earth. So all of these paintings will be based on an environmentally and ecological perspective as well. Currently I am doing a lot of research on feminist anthropology for this series. So far I have three paintings in my mind; I haven’t started working on them yet.
[In the meantime, Girija has finished Matsya (pictured above) is working on her next work in the series.]Continue reading “Girija Hariharan: From IT practice to the practice of art”