In an Instagram story posted a few weeks ago, Karishma Naran, aka Kavi, is perched on a table in her Daytona studio. While the space is white and minimal, her artwork catches the eye: a mixed media from her Loot My Body series, a vibrantly-hued anatomical heart with embedded bullet shell casings.
This is the artist in her element.
Last week, the 33-year-old showed at Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles — a collection of multi-layered art that used diamond dust, wax and paint to explore the body, creativity and pleasure. The Florida-based artist says she is inspired by the imagery she sees around her, whether it’s billboard advertising, art on Instagram or an Indian fashion campaign.
She also revisits poetry of Rumi and Kabir (hence her name Kavi, or poet). “Working with different media [and methods like photo collage, painting and sculpture], my work emphasises texture by incorporating three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional spaces,” she says. “I also use my own poetry or words that I draw from the piece.”
Power to the woman
Reaching where she has today has not been easy. Moving to the US at a young age, she’d wanted to pursue art but her family believed a more stable profession would benefit her future. In college, while majoring in public relations, she began doing commissioned pieces for people who saw her artwork on social media. Eventually, after a stint as a realtor, she became a full-time artist over a year and a half ago.
Much of Kavi’s style revels in cleverly-placed political messaging. Acknowledging that it hasn’t been easy relaying the mosaical stories of migrating Indian women, who deal with pressures both external and internal, she says, “We are indoctrinated by subliminal messages of how to live. My work, like Gulabi Gang — which reacts to how women are instructed to sit, eat, etc — reminds us we should break the cycle.”
She also wants women to celebrate each other. Works from her Gucci series, featuring roses superimposed over women’s vaginas, which don’t serve as censorship but as reverence, are evocatively worshipful of the female form.
The artist, who showed at Art Basel Miami a couple of years ago, also has several large commissioned pieces to her credit, including a Sabyasachi Mukherjee-inspired mural at GupShup, a new ’70s Mumbai-inspired restaurant in New York City.
The mural has a personal backstory. Kavi used a photo she’d taken of Marine Drive, and incorporated it with the Kolkata-based designer’s campaign image of Russian model Eugenia Belousova sitting astride a sofa.
She recalls how people had ripped the image apart, disparaging the woman for being unladylike, but Kavi says she “loved how the model was unapologetic and confident in herself in that moment in time”. Having redone the photo in Illustrator, adding resin roses and graffiti-style print on the sari in glitter, the result is modern and, well, badass.
What’s next? “More commissions! I’ve also just signed my first contract to be represented by a gallery,” she concludes.