New Delhi, Sept. 2011: Princess Pea's art is her life, dramatically heightened by her intriguing performed persona (whilst we corresponded, she was often taking her ‘beauty sleep,' much to Agent Bob’s chagrin) and outrageous and surprising body of work.
I emailed her asking if I could interview her for ArtSlant. Here is the response I received:
The Princess is in Tokyo right now; amazed at the speed of the trains. She wonders why peple make high rises what they do all day sitting there. She tells this to me while applying hand cream. She says she will be happy to answer you on emails and would love to meet you soon.
Anyway, listen to Lullatone, it is her favorite music (though it makes me sleepy).
The tone of the interview was set with this email. There's a gravity and thoughtfulness that permeates her playful view of life. It’s like she explains below: she is searching for a deeper balance between the mundane and the profound. We think this interview is testament to that.
Princess Pea's recent shows have included: "Dolls" group show at Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore, March 2nd - April 9th, 2011, and "Dolls" group show at Rob Dean Art in association with Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore, 3rd June-9th June 2011.
Princess Pea, Bani-Thani, 2010, Natural pigments on silk, 25 cm diameter; Courtesy the Pea family and Rob Dean Arts, London
Himali Singh Soin: So what's the story behind your name?
Princess Pea: It’s a pretty long story that starts when my sister and I were really young. We were always questioned about our appearances. I, being the thinnest, was always thought of as 'perfect.' I used to call my sister 'Pumkin,' so I became ‘Pea.’
HSS: Where did you grow up and what is most important to you?
PP: I grew up in India, in many places thanks to Pa being in the Indian army, and had an opportunity to live close to nature where I had many creatures who were my friends. I learned the meaning of hard work very early on, and how to behave and respect. Three things are still really important to me: self-discipline, being straightforward and standing by your words.
I always loved drawing, and was determined to do something creative.
HSS: And of course, some sort of sorrow or concern in our personal lives always leads us to create art. How did you come up with your signature form of a pea for a head?
PP: I definitely felt displaced having a large head amid all the banter of Hollywood and its fashion magazines. So I created an alter ego and transformed into Princess Pea.
My world is satirical; I've put myself on the cover of Vague magazines, featuring news about the pea girl dating Brad Pitt. I've made formula tables and fact sheets about ideal pea shapes and perfect facial features--transforming nature into science, a wild chaotic and subjective perception into an orderly, robotic one. This is all to expose and parody the culture of celebrities, anatomy, beauty culture and emotional cores.
Princess Pea, Subscription for a year - Vague series, epson inkjet print on archival paper, pasted on a magazine. 27.5 x 21cm x 2 cm; Courtesy the Pea family and Rob Dean Arts, London
HSS: Its incredible how there are two layers to this--literally and figuratively. The pea not only hides your insecurity, it also creates this new character that rejects society's prison of appearances.
PP: Yeah, it also banishes the myth of the perfect princess fairy tale.
HSS: What's your favorite fairy tale?
PP: There are many but right now Ottoline is my current favorite; I love how Ottoline and Cecily slurp their tea.
HSS: While you dismantle the perfect fairy tale, I think you become a kind of fashion icon to look up to. What advice would you give to a ten-year-old, an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-five-year-old girl today?
PP: Ten-year-old: be honest, it will become your habit.
Eighteen-year-old: time to learn and stand by your dreams.
Twenty-five-year-old: time to fly, get your priorities right, and don't look back.
HSS: Your work deals with fashion, stereotypes of beauty, anatomy as well as femininity. The way in which the tradition of the miniature interacts with the princess is fascinating, because through form, you're telling women today to reconcile their contemporary selves with their roles of the past.
PP: Yes, Beauty really is my inspiration! I like it when it’s left to a person's opinion; I hate how we live in a world where everything has a comparison, everything has a condition and everything else is not considered. The soul is invisible: all that matters is the objective!
HSS: I love how the self is both central as well as completely erased. How would you describe an artist's relation to the self?
PP: Actually I see through my closed eyes; the world looks much quieter, simpler and easy. It’s like meditation; I can see inside and talk to myself. While being the protagonist of the act, I still escape to my stories and often get lost in the other world.
Princess Pea, Nayika Sringar, series by Bob I,II,III, 2011, natural pigment on silk, 20 cm x 30 cm (with frame 30 cm x 37 cm); Courtesy the Pea family and Rob Dean Arts, London
HSS: When you look in the mirror, who do you see?
PP: I see both actually, the person I am in real life as well as the alter ego. I try to live as much as I can through the Princess' wide eyes, and try to observe and react normally to my real life. It’s hard, gets much harder when I am with real people in a daily mundane routine; it actually challenges me. But I have lived it for almost three years, and I am getting better balancing this.
HSS: So you're in Tokyo right now. There's obviously a an Indian girl at the centre of all your work, but how does your clear fascination with anime figure in?
PP: Manga is daily shower and Miniature is the diet. It effortlessly blends together and becomes a daily routine.
My origins are very Indian and I think the play between old art forms in India and Japanese manga or the impressionist paint style all make this issue of beauty a global one. A satire runs through them all.
HSS: Describe your current work at the Exhibit 320 show [on view until September 30]. Was this one of your first animations? In which direction do you see your work heading?
PP: These works are inspired from my agent's vision and how he perceives Princess Pea.
It’s the first of a series through Bob’s vision where even the mundane daily routine becomes interesting.
There are no goals set but rather it is an on going process which I don't question, with time taking its own shape.
HSS: We never see the face behind the mask. Will we ever?
PP: I rather prefer to be in the studio, and see the world through my closed eyes.
HSS: And lastly, how often do you take off your pea mask?
PP: It's more of a state of mind; the head gear is not on physically, but it is subconsciously. Things get really beautiful and issues get solved when I think like that. It gets very simple. I am not a fan of thinking too strictly; I get bored of it very soon. So may be this becomes my space! Or may be denial of the present time! This belief is getting stronger and there is no looking back!
ArtSlant would like to thank Princess Pea and Agent Bob for their assistance in making this interview possible.
--Himali Singh Soin