Chapter 1: Anjali Chandrashekar
Anjali Chandrashekar is a New York- based designer and artivist. As a graduate from the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn with a Bachelors in Industrial Design she is passionate about the intersection of design, tech and social innovation.
Growing up in India honed her creativity and empathy and developed a passion for problem solving. In an age of increasing technology, she hopes to exploit her optimism and harness her potential as a designer to humanize these experiences one product at a time.
Anjali is also the Founder of PICTURE IT. A global social project that uses art to raise funds and awareness for various health, humanitarian and environmental causes. As an artist she believes in the power to initiate, influence and create change and this has also led her to speak about it while being chosen as the youngest participant at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
To our launch our new interview series, we spoke to Anjali about her creative process, her journey as an artist, and the role of art within social impact.
When did you first begin to sense the intersection between art and social change?
I think there are several ways to make a difference. I was lucky enough to find a passion and subsequently realize that I could use it to voice issues that were much bigger than me.
I have been painting since the age of 4. My grandmother ran a trust for children with multiple disabilities in Bangalore, India and growing up with them from a very young age made me realize how lucky I was to be what people would call ‘normal’. When I started getting really into art, I realized that I had this really powerful platform where I could talk about issues that I held close to my heart. That's when it all began.
At the age of 10, I founded Picture It, a global social project that uses art to raise funds and awareness for various health, humanitarian and environmental causes for many national and international organizations which include several campaigns affiliated with the UN. My works have been published by the UNEP, UNESCO, FAO and more. Picture It has raised thousands of dollars to buy insulin for children in developing countries and also funded dialysis for poor patients at the Kidney Research Foundation in my hometown of Chennai, India.
Your work was recently featured by the UN, could you tell us more about the pieces that were selected and the inspiration behind them?
In 2010, world military expenditures exceeded some $1.5 trillion. The need for a culture of peace and for significant arms reduction worldwide has never been greater. And this applies to all classes of weapons. While nuclear disarmament has been a tremendously difficult challenge, I think campaigns like these help lobby and bring us one step closer towards spreading a message that peace is possible, if we all work together towards it.
I believe that peace and security can be strengthened through nuclear disarmament although it is a long term ambition that requires patience and persistence.
The inspiration: The two posters use very simple imagery and symbolism of nuclear weapons and peace and juxtapose them to create a contrast that plainly calls out for nuclear disarmament. Nuclear disarmament is usually spoken about on such a high level and I believe that art has the power to humanize some of the most pressing issues that the world faces today and so I thought this was a great opportunity for me to show that a brush can be mightier than arms.
How can youth use their art for empowerment?
Art is subjective, but the good thing about it is that art and creative expression don't have boundaries. This encompasses music, dance, theatre and every combination thereof. So I think there are several ways to bring about change and the best part is to personalize it and make the journey your own. Youth can use it to raise awareness and funds through different initiatives.
I'm most passionate about work that provokes thought and dialogue, and evokes emotions through memorable interactions.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced as an artist and activist?
I think the biggest challenge for me was to be taken seriously as a young Indian female artist/activist.
That slowly but surely changed once more of my work started getting recognized internationally.
I think it's important to not let what people say break you. Constructive criticism is always good but you also need to believe in yourself and your art and draw inspiration and strength from it.
How have your experiences influenced your artwork?
My experiences have moved me profoundly. People that I meet everyday are really inspiring in their own ways and I use their stories and struggles to motivate me to work harder to spread messages of importance.
Can you describe the creative process involved in creating art for social change campaigns?
Most of the campaigns I work on are specific to causes and organizations and so I make sure they are deeply rooted in understanding. This is usually derived from research or talking to people who work in the field.
I also think about universal visuals and symbolism that art can take advantage of. I'm a huge minimalist when it comes to my style and echo the less is more ideology.
I think more of my work is evolving into that lately. I am obsessed with color and believe that it has a huge impact on the way we see and consume imagery. I end up sketching very intuitively and make several iterations before I feel confident that it is spreading the right message.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling to express themselves, what would it be?
To really just not be afraid to try. It might take a while to get it right, but it’s how we find ourselves in the process that makes all the difference.
Interview by Ahmed Badr, all photos courtesy of Anjali Chandrashekar.