Indian Diaspora Art: Global Canvas

Whether it is the distance from home or the displacement from the desi bubble, the Indian diaspora appears to be keener on preserving their Indianness, than those rooted on Indian soil. Their identity is easily misplaced amongst crowds of foreigners and they need to blend in. Nevertheless, the NRIs across the globe put a lot of effort into keeping their traditions alive.

Furthermore, they form communities and hold events not just to celebrate Indian festivals but even just to party, desi style! And, Indian diaspora art plays a big role in these communities.    

Artistic Expressions Across Borders 

Besides donning sequinned lehengas or 'imported' kanchivarams and dancing to desi beats, the Indian diaspora discovers and asserts their identity through various art forms. Just the way freshly brewed coffee can awaken the senses with its aroma, taste, and texture, similarly, Indian diaspora art creates a sensory experience through its visual appeal, symbolism, and storytelling. 

While art is a very personal expression of the artist, it shows the mindset of the society they live in. Subsequently, it helps them explore a wide range of themes that reflect the experiences, identities, and cultural connections of artists living outside India.

Let us look at some common themes:

  • Identity and Belonging -
    Oftentimes, artists delve into the complexities of identity, looking at questions of cultural heritage, dual identities, and the sense of belonging to multiple places.
  • Cultural Fusion and Hybridity - The fusion of Indian and host cultures is another important theme. This displays the mixing of artistic styles, techniques, and stories from different traditions.
  • Migration and Displacement - Occassionally, artworks may address the challenges, emotions, and experiences mixed with migration, displacement, and the longing for home.
  • Tradition and Innovation - Additionally, many artists are inspired by traditional Indian art forms. They introduce them into modern practices and experiment with new techniques and mediums.
  • Socio-Political Commentary - Sometimes, art can also serve as a medium for social and political commentary. It deals with issues such as cultural assimilation, racism, discrimination, gender, and globalization.
  • Mythology and Symbolism - Indian mythology and symbolism frequently find their way into Indian diaspora art, either to connect with cultural roots or ancient stories in modern contexts.
  • Globalisation and Transnationalism- Artists engage with the globalized world, reflecting on similar experiences, the impact of technology, and the interconnectedness of cultures.
  • Cultural Preservation and Revival- Finally, some artists focus on preserving and reviving traditional art forms. This contributes to the continuity and visibility of Indian cultural heritage in diaspora communities. 

Styles and Trends in Indian Diaspora Art 

Think about how there are many different flavors, smells, and sources for fresh coffee. In the same manner, Indian diaspora art includes a wide variety of creative styles, subjects, and materials as well. Both create a depth that engages the senses and offers a varied and vivid experience. 

These trends reflect the dynamic and changing nature of Indian Diaspora Art in Modern times:

  • Abstract Expressionism: Many Indian Diaspora artists are discovering abstract forms and gestures to convey emotions and experiences.
  • Mixed Media and Collage: Artists use various materials, textures, and objects in their artworks, creating visually layered and textured pieces.
  • Digital Art and New Media: The use of digital tools, technology, and multimedia platforms is on the rise. Thus, it helps artists experiment with new forms of artistic expression and interactive installations.
  • Narrative Figurative Art: Artists also include storytelling elements, often using representations, to convey personal stories, cultural histories, and social commentaries.
  • Eco-Art and Sustainability: Importantly, some artists explore themes of nature, ecology, and the impact of human activities on the environment. Focusing on environmental consciousness and sustainability in Indian Diaspora Art is central to them. 
  • Cultural Fusion and Hybridity: Furthermore, artists are combining traditional Indian artistic elements with modern Western influences. The resulting artworks reflect the complexities of cultural identity and the experiences of living between multiple cultures. 
  • Installation Art and Site-Specific Projects: Additionally, artists are creating specific artworks that engage with specific locations, contexts, and cultural landscapes.
  • Textile Art and Embroidery: Finally, artists are incorporating traditional Indian textile techniques.  such as embroidery and textile manipulation, into their artworks, creating intricate and tactile pieces.

Artists to Reckon With  

Thanks to the digital revolution's mass weapon social media, separating walls between cultures have come crashing down. As a result, Indian-origin artists across the world are now openly letting in their multiculturalism. Furthermore, they are expressing their creative inclination via explosive works of art.

Without a doubt, from bold street art to brazen streetwear, from progressive writing to visual art, the output is breathtaking.

To add to this let us take a look at a few artists whose work speaks volumes.

Aakash Nihalani 

Aakash Nihalani is an artist based in New York. He was born in 1986 to an Indian family. Subsequently, he earned his name for creating 3D illusions using tape. Nihalani employs bright colors and simple geometric shapes for his different styles of 'tape art' to construct intricate 3D art installations that transform mundane public spaces into spectacular optical illusions.  

What is equally important, is the repetition of isometric squares and rectangles in Aakhash's work. This makes his creations extremely engaging. In addition, it conveys a sense of movement and space through the placement of his bright and bold lines. And he does all this just with duct tape! Thus, it is simply amazing to see the way he builds each piece of 3D, finally upping the fun element by placing a live model right in the middle of it!

Chitra Ganesh

Chitra Ganesh is based in Brooklyn and has developed a large body of work rooted in drawing and painting. Lately, her artistic practice has evolved to animations, wall drawings, collages, computer-generated imagery, video, and sculpture.  

In addition, by using myths and story traditions, Ganesh brings important historical conversations into the modern moment. Further, Ganesh draws upon alternative depictions of sexuality and power, taking the accounts of female protagonists that have often been sidelined in favour of plotlines that reinforce majoritarian power dynamics. Her work actively positions women and queer characters as protagonists, shaping their futures.

Chiraag Bhakta AKA Pardon My Hindi 

Chiraag Bhakta is a diverse artist and roots his practice in objects and stories from diverse times and environments. Bhakta's artistic expressions use various mediums, including print-making, collage, photography, and assembling found objects. Since 2002, he has been creating under the pen name *Pardon My Hindi*.

Additionally, his work includes South Asian identity, history, race, multiculturalism, and pop culture. Through his art, he sheds light on the differences of these subjects.  

Picture credit: Artsy

Chiraag Bhakta gained attention on social media through his collab with Das Racist. He then created a significant impact with his hashtag #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, which led to an exhibition. In his own words, he describes this piece as a reflection of his relationship, as an Indian American, with yoga and its migration to the Western context of today.

Picture credit: Media India Group 

Babneet Lakhesar

Babneet Lakhesar, also known as Babbuthepainter, is an artist based in Brampton, Canada. Her commanding paintings, graphic drawings, and photography strongly reflect her powerful stance as a woman of South Asian heritage. Furthermore, themes such as perception, prejudice, identities, and their interpretation have been integral to Lakhesar's art from the very beginning. Noticeably, her work is deeply inspired by her own life experiences, stemming from her identity as a brown woman who struggled to relate to the pieces displayed in traditional art galleries. 

Seamlessly, Lakhesar combines elements of street art and hip-hop with the Indian colloquialisms she grew up hearing, allowing her work to resonate with a wide audience. However, it was her collaboration with pop artist and illustrator Maria Qamar of Hatecopy that catapulted her popularity even further. Their joint project, titled "Bad Beti," offered a satirical take on society's expectations placed upon Indian daughters. Additionally, Lakhesar's Umarao Jaan-inspired painted denim jacket became an epic hit, showcasing her ability to merge diverse cultural influences into her art.

Muthulakshmi Anu Narasimhan 

Muthulakshmi Anu Narasimhan, born in Southern India was raised in the Netherlands before finally settling in Virginia. She holds a bachelor's degree in studio art from Virginia Tech. As a student, the richness of colors and the immediate impact of pastels captivated her. Subsequently, this led her to dedicate herself to this medium.  

Narasimhan's artistic inspirations stem from her diverse upbringing and Indian heritage. The vibrant cultural history and colors of her birth country play a significant role in her art. Through her explorations of technique, color, and subject matter, she endeavors to harmoniously blend her varied experiences onto the canvas. 

Picture credit: American Kahani

Narasimhan passionately believes that it is the artist's responsibility to perceive beauty in the ordinary. While her subject matter varies, encompassing portraits and landscapes, her preference lies in highlighting and celebrating the beauty of everyday moments.


Nixon, a designer born in Arunachal Pradesh and currently based in Denmark, creates a collection that beautifully combines contemporary style with Northeastern aesthetics and values. The essence of the entire label is deeply rooted in the tribal culture of Arunachal Pradesh, which is evident in the company's ethical approach to fashion and sustainability. 

Picture credit: DforDelhi

NIXONBUI has always been at the forefront of cultural fusion, blending elements from Northeast India and Scandinavia. Each collection serves as a showcase of the rich cultural heritage of one of India's traditionally inaccessible regions. Interestingly, the Danish embassy has provided a way to raise awareness about Nixon's work and the cultural tapestry he weaves through his designs. Nixon's creations transcend boundaries, bridging the gap between cultures and bringing to light the untapped potential of the North East's fashion landscape.

Sheela Gowda 

Born in Karnataka, Sheela Gowda studied painting at the Royal College of Art in London in 1986. Gowda admits that she draws inspiration from her surroundings, particularly the vibrant and chaotic aspects of everyday life in Bengaluru.  

Picture credit: Vogue India

What's more, is that Gowda uses materials deeply connected to Indian culture. Items like human hair talismans, cow dung, kumkum (red turmeric), incense, and tar drums, are in her artwork. Using these materials, she creates large-scale installations and sculptures that mesmerize and engage with their surroundings. 

Furthermore, with meticulous artisanry, Gowda employs traditional craft techniques, shedding light on the importance of manual labor amidst India's ever-changing social and economic landscape. Her art looks at the hardships of a labourer's role in the creation of art and its broader implications in society.

Karan Singh 

Karan Singh is an Australian artist and illustrator who is now based in Amsterdam. Currently, he devotes his creative energy to visual arts and illustration. What's more, he is a self-taught artist and has found inspiration in graphic design principles and op-art minimalism. In addition, through his bold and dynamic creations, he interprets minimalism, emphasizing depth and dimension through patterns and repetition. 

Picture credit: People of Print

Utilising carefully chosen colour palettes that are both vibrant and restrained, as well as mesmerizing patterns, Singh explores and exploits our perception of depth and movement. Lately, an interesting highlight in Karan Singh's career is his contribution as one of the artists responsible for the eye-catching artwork featured at the 93rd Oscars. The artwork received widespread acclaim and admiration for its mind-blowing artistic representation.

Redefining Indian Diasporic Artistic Frontiers 

Through their art, Indian Artists abroad have not only spread the word on Indian culture but have also impacted trends in art itself, with their techniques. Noticeably, art born from merging two or more sensibilities is spectacular in its way. No wonder, in technique, texture, emotional response, and expression, Indian diaspora art has often pushed boundaries.

Although fresh coffee and art may belong to different realms, they both offer unique experiences that ignite the senses, promote cultural exchange, and provide opportunities for personal interpretation and to enjoy.