Don’t Fit In, Stand Out

Don’t Fit In, Stand Out

While we would like to call Jasjyot Singh Hans a non-conforming, conscious artist, he doesn’t like the baggage that comes with the word ‘artist’. So, illustrator it is for him. His art is a celebration of the human body as he tries to explore and uncover subjects such as queerness, gender, sexuality and self-love. Beginning his career with designer Sabyasachi, Jasjyot has worked with Péro by Aneeth Arora, Manish Arora as a print engineer and Suket Dhir on illustrations for his Woolmark Prize pitch. Shuttling between India and the US, Jasjyot has emerged as a formidable voice for inclusivity. Edited excerpts...

Growing up, how did you see the world? 

As a kid, I guess you just see things as they are. The instinct is to think that the fault lies within us, and that we need to change. As I have grown older, and come into my own and my sexuality, I realise my point of view is unique, valid and important. I embrace and celebrate that, even in moments of self doubt. The way human body is portrayed in pop culture is problematic, especially bigger bodies. They’re always there for comic relief. I didn’t find that funny even as a kid. 

When did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?

There were never any moments of doubt. I always knew I wanted to be an animator. The idea of doing something around art was 
very exciting.

You grew up in Delhi. How did the city influence you as an artist? 

I loved observing people. I was surrounded by the most wonderful and crazy bunch of people. We lived in a joint family... three families on one floor. Since, there was never enough private space, the people, especially the women, influenced my art. I also visited the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, which was like entering a magical space. I drew there during summer vacations, in the outdoor space, sitting by the sculpture garden. I saw rooms full of Amrita Sher-Gil’s paintings, nudes and Jamini Roy’s luscious tempera work.

What reactions did you get for your illustrations when you started out? 

The reactions have always been positive, and that outweighs the negative by a landslide. Over the years it’s only been more positive reaction. To keep that in check, I always tell my close friends to call me out or criticise when I need it. 

Last year, we did a beautiful photo shoot with members of the LGBTQ community. In the interviews, they said that it really helps (and matters) when the family is supportive of their child’s gender and preferences. Do you agree?

Yes. My family has been fiercely supportive of my sexuality, and my public voice as a gay man. But, at times I felt that I had to take a step and let them see that I was getting nothing but support, to strengthen their support further. 

The sketches and moodboards that we usually see have skewed sense of human form. Do you consciously challenge these?

Over time I have become more conscious of what I’m drawing. When I started, it wasn’t to be radical or different. It was just my point of view and what I wanted to see as a part of fashion imagery. It has now become a way to actively revolt normative beauty standards. 

Tell us something about your book, To Babes, With Love.

It is a 48-page comic book that I worked on as part of my MFA thesis at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It focusses on my relationship with my father, and how things changed (or not) since I came out to my parents. It was a difficult process to dig through past experiences (sometimes really unpleasant ones) and make it live in a compelling way.

Do you think Indians have let go of prejudices or at least trying? 

We have a long way to go, but we’re definitely on our way. Colonial damage left us with a borrowed European beauty standard, something we continue to live up to. Inclusivity to me is better representation of people of all sizes and skin tones in popular media. Meaningful content centred around these bodies is something we still don’t see much of, and I think that would be a good place to start. I want to see bigger brands hiring diverse models instead of being fixated with popular Bollywood names.

What are the projects that you are working on?

I’m working on a series of editorial illustrations for Columbia Journalism Review magazine. I will be working on new zines, printed by Tiny Splendor in California, US.

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.