Movies, BRB Gone Viral, Pop Culture, Interviews

Meet the artist bringing brown girl power to beloved pop culture icons everywhere

Competition and comparisons are pointless and unhealthy. The more South Asian artists there are getting recognition online, the merrier.

This artist is fueling the internet with brown girl power, pop culture and

Anu Chouhan’s hilarious, well-observed comics and beautiful images of reimagined pop culture icons have won her a huge, loyal following and it’s not hard to see why.  Her work tackles the issue brown under-representation in pop culture head-on, reimagining icons like Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman and Zelda as women of color.  The Tempest spoke to her about the motivation behind her wonderful work and being independently artistic in a fiercely competitive environment.

The Tempest: Your art combines brown girl power + pop culture in quite an effortless manner. How important is the need for brown representation in art and culture to you, in the present context?

Anu Chouhan: I feel like we have definitely come along way from even five years ago, but there definitely needs to be more brown representation in pop culture. Our culture is multi-faceted so we need different kinds of South Asians out there doing awesome creative work.  

 In this fiercely competitive society, where the focus is on the technical and commercial jobs as the preferred occupations – what kind of difficulties have you faced pursuing your passion and creativity as a career?

I’m fortunate to be working as a game artist as my day job. It’s an industry I love, but it was definitely not easy to get there. Creative industries are incredibly competitive and do require a lot of hard work and dedication to pursue, but it’s well worth it if you’re willing to give it your all. I would love to see more South Asians working in this field, particularly South Asian women!

That said, the work that I have been sharing on my page, Anumation has given me some awesome opportunities. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure anyone would dig my South Asian-focused work…It was almost a full year before I hit 1000 followers and got recognition from other bloggers, despite the fact that I had been posting pretty regularly. But I didn’t give up because the art I was posting was an expression of my personal interests, I could only hope that some people out there would appreciate it for what it was. I also think that first year of posting my art online was an important time for me to try different things and determine the route I wanted to take with my art. It’s been very hard to balance my job and my labor of love, but I’m proud of how far I have been able to take it. I’m honored that so many people have found my page and can relate to some of my content. I am excited to see how far I can push my personal work! Working with major brands who value my style would be a dream come true. 

To what extent is your art based on your personal experiences?

  A lot of my work is based on observations I have made growing up as an Indo-Canadian, but also from things my friends and family members have experienced. I also try to challenge our societal norms and cultural expectations through my work, based on my own beliefs. 

Do you think the internet can be a safe space for brown artists, especially women?

It is a bit of a double-edged sword…the internet, namely social media, is what has allowed so many of us creatives to put our work out there and gain recognition, but of course, there will always be very ignorant people out there who have nothing positive or progressive to say. But honestly, you’re not creating for those people…you’re creating art for yourself and the people who follow you can either appreciate your craft and support you or move on. I like to follow other WOC artists and keep an especially close eye on my fellow South Asian artists so we can all build each other up and offer support. Competition and comparisons are pointless and unhealthy. The more South Asian artists there are getting recognition online, the merrier.

As an outspoken woman of color who expresses her values on the internet through art, do you deal with slander and/or critique? If you do, how do you handle it?

 This is thankfully something I don’t have to deal with on an ongoing basis, however, in the latter half of 2017, I noticed I had received some negative comments on some of my more popular posts. In each instance, the comments were simply hateful and troll-ish, which made it clear to me that these people were just being haters and refusing to understand the underlying message of my work. At first, I was very tempted to defend my art and the message behind it, but I soon realized there is no point, commenters like that usually just want to get a reaction out of you. So now, I simply don’t bother and focus on positivity and constructive feedback when I ask for it. There are better things I can be thinking about!

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Ladies and gentlemen, aadmis and aaurats, may I present…RAJKUMARI ZELDA Swipe for detail shot. This is something I’ve been meaning to draw for almost two years now, but the reason it took me so long was because I am a huge Legend of Zelda fan so this had to be JUST RIGHT. When I was younger, I wanted to cosplay as Princess Zelda for a local anime convention, but I talked myself out of it because I figured I’d look silly as a brown girl dressed as a white elf princess. I definitely came to learn that I do not need to accept these dumb, invisible restrictions that I placed upon myself (also came to terms with the fact that I can’t sew to save my life). So this is an illustration of what my kind of Zelda would look like. I have started, erased, and re-started this illustration countless times, so it’s very rewarding to have finally completed this! No aspect of her outfit is arbitrary; I carefully considered the “look” of Zelda’s outfits throughout the games, current Indian fashion trends (I’m definitely not a professional fashion designer!!), and a bit of my own personal touch Ultra geeky breakdown of this design: I drew inspiration from Zelda’s outfits from Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. The triangles in her jewelry are references to the #Triforce and the blue stones (especially the one right at her chest) are meant to resemble the Zora Sapphire/Crest of Wisdom (The colour blue also correlates with Zelda’s own Triforce of Wisdom). The symbol on her skirt is based on the Eye of Truth. Her pose is demure yet stern, kinda like a #Sabyasachi model. The cape is connected to a large necklace which was inspired the upper body armour/harness she has worn in previous games . I hope you enjoy this as much as I did creating it! . . . #zelda #legendofzelda #princesszelda #hyrule #ocarinaoftime #twilightprincess #breathofthewild #indianprincess #indianbride #desibeauty #lehenga #lengha #indianartist #indianjewelry #fashionillustration #fashionillustrator #indianfashion #indiangamers @kotakudotcom @zeldauniversetv @polygondotcom #pax #paxprime

A post shared by Anu Chouhan (@anumation) on

Last but definitely not the least, you’ve bravely trodden upon the topic of South Asian women embracing their sexuality (through your art), and considering what a taboo that is in SA societies, how has the whole process been?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve always been pretty shy about approaching the topic, and some of that had to do with it being taboo but also with feeling insecure and having low self-confidence in the past (because so many of us are taught to be ashamed about showing our bodies, etc). I’m glad I got over these feelings over the years, but I think our society still has a long way to go, hopefully, my art is able to help start some productive conversations.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.