Art of Reya

Illustration for a summer collection by Studio RIGU

Art of Reya

The Artist
Calcutta based illustrator and architecture student Reya Ahmed has been inquisitive and a painter since childhood. It was only in 2015 that she was introduced to the world of digital media, and that year an illustration of hers made it to an anthology of short stories. Since then, there has been no looking back for her. Inspired by something as mundane as conversations she holds with friends, to something as complex as politics, she uses her art as a means to channel her emotional conflicts. She further adds, ‘I think I am inspired by almost anything. I try to look within myself and express a response.’

Art of Reya

The Process
Nothing exists in vacuum. Any piece of art, be it digital or otherwise, is rarely ever devoid of a context, which defines the artwork and aids in the process of meaning making. Such is Reya’s creative process too. Depending on the premise and the brief given to her, she starts with a mood board. She has a succinct outlook on how she gets things done. Design for her is a problem that needs solving. She elucidates, ‘If it's a portrait or culturally specific piece, there is a fair amount of research and references involved in the process. However, when it's an illustration I'm working on for myself, it usually starts with an image that gets stuck in my mind and then I spend the rest of the time recreating it. I also deconstruct particular political scenarios when I am attempting to make a statement.’

Art of Reya L: Femme and Feline; R: A Clouding of Judgement

L: Femme and Feline; R: A Clouding of Judgement

The Aesthetic
More often than not, female representation in the mainstream is marred by the male gaze, rendering such portrayal barren of any authenticity. A lot of Reya’s vivid work features female protagonists dealing with the duality of their existence. They may be soft but at the same time, revel in their strength, without compromising on either of these characteristics. She further explains, ‘I always say that art is a dance-off between exposing one's vulnerabilities and the desire to conceal. I want people to, above all, think about this antagonism that women often go through but also understand the delicate balance that it can bring.’ 

Her portrayal of women doesn’t just stop there. As a student of architecture, Reya is also equipped with the perspective to view her thoughts and ideas in more than two dimensions. Exploring the gendered design of the cityspace and women navigating through such structures, she often places her female subjects in urban spaces. Her theoretical knowledge feeds into her art. She further explains, ‘I am currently working on my architectural graduation thesis that is a reimagination of Indian Masjids as gender-inclusive public spaces. One of the aspects of the project is me illustrating a lot of reference from existing miniatures and Mughal paintings of men in mosques, and trying to figure out how these sacred spaces would look like with female occupants.’

Art of Reya L: Women in Masjid; R: Intrusion

L: Women in Masjid; R: Intrusion

Change is the way of the world. One thought gives rise to another and that is how we continue to develop and view things around us. Reya defines her work in a similar manner. Her design aesthetic is always ever evolving and ‘extra’. Her narrative isn’t singular and she wishes to get across multiple details to her audience. She doesn’t wish for her design sensibility to be stagnant or ascribe to a particular artistic style. Her aesthetic varies from project to project, and she likes to play around and reimagine contexts. 

The Pandemic and beyond
The pandemic has given rise to a lot of questions about the why and how of things, but especially about the new normal. There’s a consensus about how the world operates may never be the same again, and a need to reorganise ourselves. Reya also recognises that this truly is a crisis and we need not burn ourselves out, participating in the rat race of productivity. Furthermore she adds, ‘People are really getting creative in the way they communicate with others and that will obviously evolve even after the crisis. Apart from these personal changes, there will ideally be a drastic improvement in the way our cities function. Hopefully improved public spaces, more accessibility to healthcare centers and maybe just a call for better design.’ 

Text Unnati Saini

Art of Reya Illustration for Pride Week 2019

Illustration for Pride Week 2019

Art of Reya

"I'm sinking"