At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
Jenny is an incredibly talented artist and muralist, whose work can be found adorning the walls of restaurants, alleys, and more around Chicago and beyond (IG: @jennyvyas). When she's not working on art, you can find Jenny reading (a lot), studying philosophy, working out (mountain hiking is a favorite) and traveling. Read on to learn about Jenny's view on her heritage, what inspires her art, and the one thing in her closet she can't do without.
On Her South Asian Heritage & Journey to Becoming an Artist:
What's your background?
I'm South Asian - more specifically, Gujarati Hindu Brahmin (originally from Baroda, Gujarat in India).
How has, or currently does your heritage play a role in your life? Did you face any obstacles with embracing it, and how has it impacted your art?
Being a private, introverted, person growing up, I always thought the Indian culture and community were highly intrusive. It felt like everyone knew everything about you and I often felt... judged. As I've gotten older, I’ve come to value the same as one of the greatest gifts of my Indian heritage. Our need for belonging is the true locus of understanding our insecurities and how they drive our responses to others. As loving as the Indian culture is, we aren’t taught how to manage emotional risk.
We’re a society where public opinion still holds a high value. As I became confident in my heARTwork and explored vulnerability and emotional risk (cornerstones of my art), I learned to not give much credence to those insecurities that made me feel judged. I now understand that the Indian community is more inclusive than intrusive. During the tougher times in my life, the same community of friends and family showed up with so much love and support and helped me move forward in grace.
Today, it is the same community that rallies to support me the most in my creative endeavors as an artist, and celebrates the power of vulnerability through my work. And its influence shows in my recent works. It’s such an honor to be able to celebrate my heritage and my culture in my ethnic Indian murals! It’s an homage to my ancestors; an experience quite antithetical to where I was when I first began painting. And I couldn’t be more excited to explore this further!
Your art is highly influenced by beauty in complex human emotions, and you draw from reality, personal experiences and memories. How have you grown and/or evolved as an artist over the past few years?
I embarked upon this artist journey to heal my broken heart and childhood wounds. It felt like an onslaught of emotions ready to pour out on to the canvas. My art became my means to catharsis from life experiences that I couldn’t unpack easily in conversation with others until then. It was the best gift I could’ve given my introvert hiding within.
Today, my work has evolved beyond my personal experiences and stories, and patrols the space between other people and their life experiences polarized between darkness and light. I enjoy inquiring into the darker liminal (transformative) space where growth happens from adversity and pain. A space I think I could only do justice to once I emerged and reflected upon it from a place of observance as an outsider. I hope to continue exploring human condition and the complexities of the fragile fabric of our individual life experiences... as a collective body of work over time.
What do you love most about South Asian fashion?
I love everything about South Asian fashion! I think it’s incredibly unique, bold, and celebrates life and beauty to its fullest. One of my favoriting things might be that South Asian fashion can be playful, graceful, elegant, sexy, sultry, cultural, and ethnic all at the same time. As a woman, no other outfit makes me feel more feminine and powerful as an Indian outfit does. My favorite outfit would have to be a sari. As a child, I would make my mom put on an adult sari almost every afternoon during my summer break!
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?
Single most favorite thing would have to be my fingerless gloves! For an outfit, I’m an all-black-everything, all-day-everyday kinda girl 🖤. My favorite outfit currently in my closet consists of: my black Citizen’s skinny jeans, black silk sultry blouse and favorite hunter green ranger hat from Free People, combat boots, and of course, my fingerless gloves. Gotta have the gloves.
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
Whiskey. Neat. Then comes beer.
What are you currently watching?
'Peaky Blinders' on Netflix. Obsessed with that show and its incredibly talented cast.
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho. It will always be one of my favorite reads of all time. I revisit it every 5-7 years, and it’s such a gift how it holds a different significance during different stages of my life.
Morning person or night owl?
Used to be a night owl, but as my circadian rhythm kicks in, I've become a morning person in the last 4-5 years. And I'm loving it!
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?
My morning quiet time. It's my personal gift to my introverted self, and I would be a mess without it.