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Meet Akshita Gandhi, the Former Construction Worker Who Emerged from Miami as One of Art Basel’s Top Artists

She has strived to disrupt societal boundaries that currently exist with gender and culture, hoping to create a more peaceful atmosphere for all. She is the co-founder of the Dua Foundation which establishes empowerment for the less fortunate through teaching the foundation of finding sustainable income in India. Meet Akshita Gandhi, one of Art Basel’s top artists for 2019.

Showcasing her latest series ‘Let There Be Light’ at the Pulse Art Fair during Miami’s Art Basel, Gandhi’s determination in defying boundaries has led the former construction worker turned NY design artist down a culturally-enriching path, walking out of Miami’s Art Week as a festival-favorite.

Photo Credit: Sohil Lalani

Grit Daily spoke with Gandhi about her journey following Art Basel 2019.

Grit Daily: Before you were a full-time artist, you had another career path and journey. Spill the beans.

Akshita Gandhi: Before I was a full-time artist, I was working with a construction company full time and was an on-site project manager. I worked seven days a week and constructed one of Mumbai’s largest 4-star hotels. Because I was a major in finance and art was always a passion, a full time career in art was not an option.

However, there was a part of me that didn’t quite fit in with the work I did. I saw patterns in the steel pipes, went euphoric at the site of color and doodles incessantly. Being one of the only women on site, my staff didn’t listen to me the laborers whistled at me and were nonchalant about their work, because they didn’t want to take instructions from a “woman.”

I had the courage of conviction and albeit it took me six months, I finished constructing and delivering the hotel in record time. Only when I immersed myself in art therapy did I realize what I had shunned for such a long time; my calling was to create art and then there was no looking back. 

Freedom IV Mixed Media, Akshita Gandhi

GD: Let’s talk about your “Let There Be Light” showcase. What is the significance behind its creation?

AG: This was a more soul introspective theme. Light signifies the beginning, the fantasy wave that teleports you into a realm where space, time, gender, identity, caste, creed et al becomes irrelevant, because the artist’s soul is boundless and cannot be defined.

Light strikes the moment you embrace all of you – your sexuality, your virtue, your sin, your lust and your conformities. This show is an allegory of my soul denouncing hibernation and evolving, embracing the dark, the outcast, the bright, the good and ugly. The only thing that matters is you and your creation.

We live in a world wherein out roles and lives are defined and judgement engulfs us but an artist lives different lives, in and out of different realms and parallel universes, constantly seeking inspiration and living in transience. I am Akshita Gandhi and this is all of me, an artist whose soul has come undone.

Related: Kobi Karp: “Architecture is Arts, Culture, and Science Intermingling

Here’s a nursery rhyme I converted into a poem for this theme: 

“Half a pound of tuppenny rice, 

Half a pound of treacle, 

That’s the way the money goes, 

Pop! goes the weasel.

I am sans virtue and vice

No bound, no form, no label 

Into the quantum realm I go

To make love to my easel 

Conform or sin? I rolled a dice

I was tried for treason 

My soul embraced the artist’s prose

My brush became my beacon. 

Ascending I said, “Let there be light!”

Embracing all my demons 

Sigmund Freud and Aphrodite 

Shaman in hand with evil.

No caste no creed no gender no time

An artist of rebellion 

My wings and lust both epitomised 

Pop! Goes the weasel.”

Akshita Gandhi

GD: When most people pick up a camera, they capture “pretty” images. You veer towards slums and the cringe-worthy. Why that emphasis?

AG: For several years I flirted with themes like magic, escapism, fantasy, surrealism et al. I was coerced to study photography as an elective in art school and believed that photographs could not be a part of “art” because it’s merely reproducing what already exists.

Where was the originality in that?

When I was in Bombay that summer for my break, I went around photographing slums, quaint lanes and thatched roofs. I studied in Dubai, which looked like a pristine sterile laboratory. I wanted to take pictures of parts of Bombay only the locals knew about, which was a contract from Dubai!

However, when I took these photographs, I worked on them by using different techniques in order for them to look like it was part of a fantasy. When I went back to create my body of work for World Art Dubai, my dean had printed and framed my photographs as a surprise. The institute loved my work and those pieces sold out that year.

I wanted to show Bombay’s art, culture and heritage through my dreamy photographs because those places add immense character to the city and you hate it or love it, it is a vital part of the city’s legacy and history. 

GD: Explain the drive behind the Dua Foundation.

AG: The Dua Foundation was founded in 2015 as an effort to touch a thousand lives personally through various philanthropic endeavours. We began with trying to aid physically abled young adults achieve financial independence via their art and craft skills.

Post the eighth grade, these members have limited opportunities in Mumbai and depend on sponsors to complete their education. This foundation made these members not only believe in themselves but also gave them the scope to gain exposure and showcase their talent to the world. The foundation works as a platform to sell these products and the profits are re-invested for each member’s education.

One of our brightest members suffers from cerebral palsy and was passionate about animation. An orphan, he lives with his aunt and uncle and through the foundation is living his dream and pursuing animation from his dream college. This has given other members hope to dream big and realize their physical limitations is not a reason for them not to succeed. The foundation has also worked with young women rescued from human trafficking and we aid in their rehabilitation process.

Five of the rescued girls were able to overcome their trauma and wanted to get married and have their own families. I arranged an elaborate ceremony and since their parents refused to be a part of it, I gave the girls away during the ceremony and a year later one of the girls came to visit and put her baby in my lap. That euphoric feeling was indescribable.

We also organize musical events at the old age nursing homes in Bombay. We bring a band to play retro music for the members and they sing and dance with us reliving their younger days and dancing with nostalgia. We are a small foundation but are directly accessible. The process of donating to our foundation is transparent and have visibly made a substantial difference in such a short time span.

For more artwork and insight into Gandhi, you can visit her portfolio here.