In Conversation with Manuja Waldia: Creating WOC Sisterhood Through Domesticity
Manuja Waldia is a vibrant, young Indian artist, and illustrator that currently resides in Portland. Her illustrations draw from her experience growing up in India; and it shows with the rich tones and bright colors she uses in her work. Waldia is interested in depicting WOC engaging in different aspects of domestic life, eating food with your friends, drinking a chai tea on a rainy day, showing the warmth and community that these interactions can create. Her works have a narrative quality to them, allowing the viewer to imagine that maybe they are depicting a story that only Waldia is privy to, purely visual means. Waldia shares what cultures and memories influence her work, being a commercial illustrator, and what’s next for 2019.
Alexandria Deters: Your artwork is heavily influenced by your early upbringing in India, and you currently reside in Portland, Oregon. How has living and working in Portland entered your work?
Manuja Waldia: I’ve only been living in Portland for over a year. I am so inspired by the beautiful natural beauty here!
In each piece you create a community with the women and narratives you depict; whether they are gathering food, setting a table, conversing, etc. Can you expand?
In my work, the figures are sometimes just existing, which in itself can be such a powerful thing for WOC—who are almost exclusively either mined for trauma, or have to ‘prove their worth’ to get any space in popular culture. I love drawing food! Every culture celebrates both good and bad times with food. Chai and cake has always made bad days a bit more tolerable for me, a constant in an otherwise evolving life. Some of my fondest memories growing up are of simple yet delicious home cooked lunches, my young parents cooking mutton curry and fried fish, chatting away in our tiny kitchen. Even now, little get togethers with my family and friends helps me decompress.
I’m not freelancing much, so I might take down my personal website. It’s possible to have a thriving art career without a website, you can use your social media as a portfolio. I like having a simple template-based website and Instagram, otherwise I would take ages to show new work. I want to make art based solely on my creative instincts, but keeping an eye on the business side of things makes sense financially, especially if you are just starting out or not financially stable yet.
You have created beautiful illustrations for the cover of books, such as The Pelican Series (2015-2018). What is your favorite part about illustrating someone else's story?
I haven’t been doing commercial illustration for a while, but when I did, I enjoyed having clear direction due to the constraints. Sometimes endless possibilities lead to indecision, and having the content drive what I am going to draw can be a relief.
So what can we expect next from you in 2019?
I’m working on creating ten large canvases, and an assortment of objects with fabric and clay.
“In my work, the figures are sometimes just existing, which in itself can be such a powerful thing for WOC—who are almost exclusively either mined for trauma, or have to ‘prove their worth’ to get any space in popular culture.”
Follow Manuja Waldia @manujawaldia