Baltimore-based artist Jasjyot Singh Hans has long been a TLC favourite for his body-positive depictions of women and his love for moleskin notebooks. In his latest project, he is drawing Sikh woman in super-fly outfits, and we caught up with him to find out more.
Are the women you’ve drawn based on anyone you know and/or whose style fascinates you personally?
All the women I have drawn are subconsciously women I’ve known all my life. Each one strong, beautiful with a lot on their mind!
You’ve styled together and also used very different brands in the drawings so far — Acne, for example, might be considered polar, both in terms of style and brand image, to Vetements. Was that accidental, and/ or based on clothes you might also want for yourself, and/ or a way to show how distinctions can make for interesting overall pictures?
They’re all definitely pieces that introduced me to new brands or made me look at fashion in a new way.
The Acne Studios Adriana sneakers are something I had come across on a website, and then saw someone in my cohort wearing. They were thus added to my when-I-have-money bucket list. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford them anytime soon.
Vetements made it into the zine, and that’s a brand that intrigues me, even though I don’t quite get all of it. Walter Van Beirendonck creates some delightful work, and his first show I came across made me fall in love with him. The cap from his Spring Summer 2014 menswear collection is in the zine as well.
Alexander McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis collection is a spectacle that will forever take me to a place where I feel like a sparkly-eyed gay boy trying to catch a pixelated live stream of the show (it broke the internet so I couldn’t), and to listen to the world premiere of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The iconic armadillo shoes stick out from the collection in particular. It is sad to revisit the show now that he’s gone. So the inclusion of the shoes is a silent salute to him, and the innovation he brought to fashion.
They aren’t necessarily clothes I’d want for myself (although I really would love those Acne sneakers), but there are put together/ styled in the zine in a way I thought would look interesting.
What prompted you to start the series? And do you have a particular number in mind for it, or will this be a recurring project?
I was going to be a part of a Sikh art focused show and thought it would be cool to have the women be Sikh, wearing some of the fashion I’ve been following. Apart from some Sikh street style blogs, there really isn’t much dialogue between Sikhs and contemporary fashion. I also like the idea of introducing more Sikhs in contemporary world culture, so more people become used to it. So this became my little way of opening that dialogue up, as well as paying tribute to Sikh women I know who share a penchant for fashion. I didn’t have a specific number for it, but I knew I wanted to start with a small zine. Who knows, maybe there could be three volumes of it someday!
This is the first time you’ve used names for the women you draw — why? and are any of these names of women who are familiar to you or plucked purely from imagination?
Yes, this was the first time I gave them names. It was something that really anchored the context, and made them feel like actual people. It was also a way of introducing people (in the States) to names that they might have heard but didn’t know were Sikh. These are of course all names I’ve heard and some of people I have known with the same names in the extended family, but for the most part were picked from imagination.
You’re known for giving your women pensive expressions. Is this a reaction to the usual question of ‘why don’t you smile?’ that women are often asked, or do the expressions reflect your own mood and psyche?
I’ve always felt a strong sense of failure personally, so these women are my way of doing things I can’t. They grow extra long bangs or veil themselves if I feel like I need to be left alone. They tie their hair in plaits because it reminds me of home. They shed their layers and are unabashedly proud of their bodies because it’s difficult for me to do that with ease. So in some ways the relationship with the women I draw is pretty direct, but in some ways it is more of a catharsis. I also works as a nice little middle finger to people who would ask women questions like ‘why don’t you smile?’, which I’m constantly aware of.
Why not also Sikh Men in Sick Fashion?
There is a page in the zine where I included thumbnail roughs for the zine when I was just thinking of it as a fun little idea, and that had a lot of men as well! I wanted to start with something that felt more familiar for me, which is drawing women and women’s fashion. But hopefully I’ll do a men’s fashion zine as well!
Are you thinking of expanding the series to all women or would you — why would you — focus on Sikh women?
As of now, it’ll just be Sikh women because otherwise, I lose my extremely clever title ‘Sikh-Sick’ wordplay! Besides that, I feel like Sikh faith in general is quite misunderstood in a xenophobic climate (atleast in the States), and this is just my humble way of normalising the Sikh identity and making it contemporary.
Your drawings are always body-positive. Does this stem from a personal belief and is it an unconscious message you want your work to put out to the audience?
I guess it stems from my own body image. I’ve always been big, and drawing women, and at some point, it only felt natural to draw them in the same body shape like mine. The continue to draw them because I don’t see many bigger bodied women in fashion/ popular media, so this is my way of making women of all sizes feel visible, fearless and beautiful, as they should!