AN IMAGINED PARADISE & MIRAGES
Janine Shroff creates works of art that are inherent to her identity; in expressing these facets and nuances of her personality, Janine creates expresses through beings in diverse character. Her work is detailed, figurative and draws from Persian & Mughal miniatures and contemporary culture. Themes of her work are day to day life, gender, pregnancy & relationships. Janine’s work is figurative and occasionally surreal – utilising bright colours and humour with darker undertones. Androgynous bird characters and humans enact fantasy scenes, mostly in mundane and domestic landscapes. Her work explores a range of themes including birth, pregnancy, relationships, sexual identity and gender; from the worship of fertility, both historic and modern within the ‘Goddess’ series to the more dystopian set of both organic and mechanical in ‘the Queen’ and ‘The Breeders’. We explore her work in its thematic significance and understand the medium through which her message is translated, a self-advocacy and truthful perception of herself.
Janine Shroff is a queer illustrator and designer. She lived in Bombay for 18 years before moving to London where she is currently based. She works predominantly using mixed media, acrylic and ballpoint-pens on heavy-weight paper. Her early influences were miniature paintings and late 80’s comic books like MAD magazine. She completed an M.A. with distinction at Central St. Martins College, London in 2007, following a B.A. at Camberwell College of Art. She was short-listed for the Mercury Art Prize in 2007 and has exhibited in group-shows in London at the Rich Mix in Brick Lane, The Mall Galleries at the ICA & a solo show at Sitara Studios in Mumbai. In our conversation with Janine, she explained the themes behind her work that capture the essence of the exhibition ‘Fantasy of Having a Trailer Wagon All to Myself’, a tribute to Indian writer, journalist, critic and curator, Manoj Nair as well as discerning her own identity as an artist.
Q | What inspired your journey in the arts?
A | I have always been drawing and always loved visual narratives, with a lot of silent detail. (Comics, Mughal and Persian miniatures, graphic novels, botanical illustration). I drew on the desks in school, on my notebooks, inside my notebooks and all over my notes for class. I continued doing this during college until my parents realised I didn’t have the skills or interest in much else, and took me to an art school recruitment fair for the University of the Arts where I enrolled in a Foundation and then a B.A. at Camberwell college. I was lucky my parents really supported my passion but it wasn’t until I did my M.A. with my two favourite tutors Gary Powell & Andrew Foster (both also incredible artists) that I think I really got a grasp on what I wanted my work to be.
Q | Can you explain the concept behind your work for 'The Fantasy of a Trailer Wagon'?
A | Tatiana de Stempel, who curated the exhibition with Gallery 46 talked to me about Manoj and this tragic death. And we spoke also about excess and the trappings of it as a part of the themes for this exhibition. Some of those themes related to my work & ‘Lesbians Riding Ponies’ & ‘The Queen’ seemed to fit that in part.
LESBIANS RIDING PONIES
It’s a depiction of an idealised ‘Gaytopia’, in a fantastical land with unicorns, sex toys, crystals and cats - but even in Gaytopia there are clouds on the horizon. Meaning that even this is imagined paradise there are pitfalls on the horizon.
This painting is about motherhood, imagined as a decadent Queen, worshipped and lavished with luxuries by drones but simultaneously it is also a trap. In nature once a termite queen is fertilised by the male, she will crawl underground to lay eggs and will never see the sunlight again. They swell up to 4-5 times the size of the drone workers and are not able to move. If the termites need to flee the nest the queen must be carried by the workers. Her entire body grows and expands over time, to become this grotesque pulsating birthing machine. I wanted to represent this horror where simultaneous high elevation and trap were a single image. I used a lot of jewel-like colours that almost clashed, to reflect that opulence but also that are a little jarring to the eye.
Q | Would you like to tell us about any other themes that find their way into your work?
A | I’m currently re-drawing the tarot cards with my bird-characters and playing with the gender in them. It’s also been interesting to see what I want to include in each card or edit out as they are so rich in symbolism but some of which feels distinctly outdated: lots of references to the church or Christianity in the older medieval decks and a hotchpotch of Egyptian, Alchemical & Hebrew symbols in the Rider-Waite deck, as mysticism was very popular at the time the deck was made in 1909.) I’m also working on a new series of works that are larger and slightly different, focusing more on the female body as monstrous. An extension of drawings about gender and what it means to be ‘feminine’.
Q | There is a recurring theme of androgynous figures and dystopian characters in your work. Can you talk about the significance of these elements in defining the personality of your work?
A | Some of my themes like gender, relationships & population, pregnancy etc. have also largely remained consistent over time and spring from a sort of compulsive obsession with them. They also are such vast topics that there is a lot of exploration within them and because they do form a part of our everyday life, it’s hard to escape thinking about them. I’ve had a fascination with androgyny since I was a child, as well as feeling constantly stifled by how the genders are expected to represent themselves. i.e girls must have long hair and be like this, boys must be muscular and be like this and so on. To my great sadness, I do not look androgynous: I am unchangeably low-key femme. But I have never really felt ‘feminine’ I only know what the social expectations are of what feminine is. So a lot of my work deals with that. I wanted to create fantasy worlds and strange lands for my genderless, or androgynous characters to inhabit. The bird headed people specifically started as a way to visualise characters that challenged norms, were sort of detached and androgynous. They observe situations within the drawings and sometimes sit apart.
Q | What of Manoj Nair's works throughout his life are you most inspired?
A | I didn’t know his work well while he was alive but I’ve read his articles about art over the years and I’ve always enjoyed his irreverent style of writing and his seemingly dark sense of humour. ‘Fantasy of Having a Trailer All to Myself’ is an international group exhibition celebrating the life and work of Manoj Nair. The exhibition will take place from the 3rd of June to the 18th of June and will feature artists from diverse cultures and countries. An international selection of more than 20 artists from the UK, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Korea and Sri Lanka: the exhibition will include painting, photography, performance, film, sculpture, writing, music and digital artwork. Janine Shroff, an emerging artist among this incredible curation of artists, will showcase her work and present her works of art that depict fantasy landscapes and androgynous beings, conversing and discussing vital subjects as LGBTQ+ and engaging with the community. For more information on the exhibition and where to view it, visit http://fantasyofatrailerwagon.org/