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Mira Malhotra

Mira Malhotra

Meet designer and illustrator from Mumbai, Mira Malhotra.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a 35-year-old graphic designer and illustrator. I prefer to call myself a visual artist because I can be pretty diverse. I am a graduate from fine arts (in communication arts) first and then I studied graphic design at National Institute of Design Ahmedabad. My interests lie in Indian history, Indian folk art, feminism, alternative culture/subculture, electronica, hiphop, indie rock music, and DIY culture. I started my own little studio, Studio Kohl here in Mumbai, through which I’ve worked with some interesting clients. I am also part of a collective of graphic storytellers called Kadak Collective. The first decade of my life was spent in Saudi Arabia where my family and I witnessed the gulf war. Subsequently, we moved to India.

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

I live in Mumbai, a complex, linear city. Its the home of many migrants, so its comprised of many kinds of people and is quite homogenous. There’s a lot of middle-class people here, so I feel quite comfortable. Anyone can fit into this melting pot. It’s a hot, humid city. Commercially it’s a hub so freelancing isn’t difficult here.

 

I live in Mumbai, a complex, linear city.

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

The best thing is that it’s a relatively freeing environment. I like living here because it’s freer for women than many other Indian cities I’ve been to. However, traveling in it has always been awful because of its verticality.

 

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Busy, multicultural, fast

 

How did you start your career in art?

As a kid I was always scribbling on the walls, when my mother got upset with me I invariably drew on myself. I would credit a certain Cathay Pacific in-flight children’s book to my love for the surreal and my interest in the weird and fantastic. In my girls’ school, I was the only kid who was fond of drawing and lettering and I think I realized at that time what I should be doing and so it was a very clear cut decision for me. If I hadn’t done anything in the arts I would have possibly become a botany or zoology major.

 

As a kid I was always scribbling on the walls, when my mother got upset with me I invariably drew on myself. I would credit a certain Cathay Pacific in-flight children’s book to my love for the surreal and my interest in the weird and fantastic.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

Yes, I am grateful that they were very supportive. My dad was always intrigued by typography and photography. My mother drew a lot, mostly girls wearing fashionable things, and she’s really fond of singing and plays the piano so they didn’t mind at all when I chose this profession.

 

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

Personally, I’d like to get into more self-publishing with my zines, work on my illustration skills and style more, perhaps have an art exhibit and maybe even make my own music. I would like to achieve some sort of scale and impact culture in a bigger way.

 

I would like to achieve some sort of scale and impact culture in a bigger way.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

Grimes aka Claire Boucher. 🙂 I adore her music, her intellectualism, how she controls her ‘lore’ (brand) her sense of style and approach to her creative work, musically and visually.

 

How would you describe the women around you?

I think there are many sorts. I am still friends with most of the women I met in my college St. Xavier’s at around 16. I think they were the most diverse set of people I knew and we still keep in touch. I also look up to the women in my collective. Other than these I am more inclined to hang out with women a lot younger than me. I identify with them more than most of my peers because they’re more socially conscious, more daring and ambitious, more likely to stand up for what they believe in.

 

I am more inclined to hang out with women a lot younger than me. I identify with them more than most of my peers because they’re more socially conscious, more daring and ambitious, more likely to stand up for what they believe in.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

I really looked up to a certain graphic designer called Rabia Gupta and I had wanted to work with her. Other than that I didn’t meet or was exposed to female creative talent, mostly because I don’t think there were enough that were visible to me.

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

Definitely. When you’re bro-ing up with your boy’s club there’s a lot of insider info you get from them and it can boost or hasten success. I joined the industry in 2006 and at that time there were no real exclusive design outfits. Illustration was seen mainly as a gateway to 3d animation or to storyboarding and wasn’t taken seriously. Advertising was the mainstay and if you wanted a full time high paying job, it was the only avenue to get there. Advertising is a highly male-dominated industry where sexual harassment is rampant, as with the case of most media. This has been exposed during the last #MeToo. Since I didn’t have any interest in the advertising industry I stepped into design for music because of my interest in punk and alternative music and regretted it (or learned from my ‘mistakes’). Again this was a highly male-dominated industry and I witnessed a lot of it. Since then I’ve banded with more women as clients, as partners and collaborators and focused on the other punk aspect, zines and DIY culture, feminism, and I can honestly say I don’t miss the man-made drama. I think women who enter the industry now are far more likely to succeed because we’ve made space for them, there certainly is no dearth of talent.

I think women who enter the industry now are far more likely to succeed because we’ve made space for them, there certainly is no dearth of talent.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

My advice is to band together and work. Set up social structures where women can lean on other women for help. A lot can be achieved as women if we aren’t scared or divided.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Mira Malhotra.

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