Visual artist Anusha Yadav is finding inspiration in iconic women characters — from Nur Jahan to Betty Page — for her ongoing self-portraiture project
A couple of years back, I stumbled upon an online treasure trove of nostalgia — The Indian Memory Project. For the project, Anusha Yadav (44), a visual artist-researcher sourced and curated unique photo stories from ordinary people. A National Institute of Design (NID) graduate, Yadav’s interests are varied — history, research, photography and design. And her latest art project is an amalgamation of all of them — a series of self-portraits through which she reimagines important women in the world and her life.
At her Yari Road apartment, we see a couple of studio lights on stand-by mode at one corner, some books on photography carefully placed on a shelf, and her cat, Oscar, observing us from one corner before settling down next to us.
Six months on, and six portraits old, Yadav shows us her photographs in which she dresses up like her grandparents and some iconic women, including Betty Page, the poster girl of ’50s advertising; Dutch courtesan Mata Hari; and Mehr-un-Nissa (Nur Jahan), one of the more popular consorts of Mughal emperor Jehangir.
“I have not recreated any of their iconic images. I hardly had any of my grandmother’s images. I conjured the self-portrait in my mind from the idea I have about them. It’s also my way of living in their shoes for those many hours of the shoot, and sometimes, a few hours after I am done clicking the portrait,” says Yadav, who got the hairdo and skin texture right with the help of YouTube tutorials and Photoshop.
All the portraits are recreated in her living room, and Yadav uses her own clothes for the shoot. In fact, she says she prefers being alone in the house during the shoot.
Like most of her portraits, Yadav’s self-portrait series, too, are not meant for any commercial purpose. A few years back, she confesses, she was struggling with her body image and that is when she took to self-portraiture. However, the way she perceives self-portraits has undergone a change. “I had taken up a short course on self-portraiture at NID. I realised that it was quite a powerful weapon. The process is almost therapeutic for me. More than anything else, I am curious about these women, and want to know what it felt like to be these women,” she says.
The artist swears to steer clear of iconic women who had the reputation of being “goody two-shoes”. Instead, her interest lies in unearthing the lives of controversial women. “I have thought of Indira Gandhi, but I don’t find her interesting. A Marilyn Monroe would be unique, though. These ideas come and go. I don’t have a checklist of personalities for the project, neither do I have a fixed number of portraits that I would want to do. It’s a spontaneous project,” she says.
However, if you have a female character in mind which you may want to impersonate, Yadav is more than happy to make the portrait for you.
For now, she is waiting for inspiration to strike her, although she feels she might sit down to rediscover fictional sleuth Nancy Drew, writer Jackie Collins and Maharani Gayatri Devi.
You can view Yadav’s work on anushayadav.com/projects/impersonations