THE paintings of artist Nanda Khiara were exhibited recently at a five star hotel in the heart
of Mumbai. The large canvases were showcasing her October Hues exhibition.

The journey that has led the talented artist and single mother to where she is today has been a remarkable one. Born and brought up in Kuwait, she moved to London to pursue an education in the creative space before settling down in Mumbai. Khiara has lived in various cities around the world in Asia, Middle East, Europe and Far East.

After a career in interior design and marketing, the devoted mother of two daughters found painting as her passion and is now establishing herself as a formidable artist opening up new horizons with large abstract canvases.

The five-year journey has seen her get a number of impressive achievements including a nomination at The Global Art Award 2018 in Dubai and winning collections of art works. She has been selected for the XII Florence Biennale in October 2019 and is a voice, which is growing louder in Indian art.

Eastern Eye caught up with Khiara to talk about a myriad of things from how she turned the heartbreak of divorce into an artistic triumph to other aspects of her unique work such as her inspirations and the healing power of art.

Tell us a little about your life before you picked up a paintbrush?
Following my BA in interior design, I created interiors in London, Dubai and Kuwait for residential properties, offices and retail outlets. I went on to further study for my Masters in business and landed a fabulous job at an FTSE 250 company for six years. I took a career break to raise my children. I moved to Hong Kong, back to London and I am now in Mumbai; the city which has most definitely been my founding stone for moving into the world of art. The culture, colours and city life that I experienced for the first time when I
moved to Mumbai inspired me to take my initial step towards fine art.

Nanda Khiara

What connected you to art and painting?
Art has always been part of me. The initial step was when I went to visit London at 14 with my dad; my first art-related memory is visiting the V&A Museum. I believe that was the defining moment when I learned to love and appreciate art. I was mesmerised by the art, sculptures, creative space, largeness and the grandiose style of the building and history. London itself was mesmerising and stunning. Coming from Kuwait, where everything is modern and simple – consisting of beaches and deserts – the contrast to London was
striking in every sense.

When did you decide it could be turned into something bigger?
Art became grander in my mind as I grew older. I knew I wanted to study art, but which area was not clear to me. I studied Applied Arts (AA Degree) and Interior Design (BA Degree) at the American College in London (ACL). During the courses, both my tutors looked at my use of colours, shapes, compositions as well as my understanding of the paintings, culture, art movements and so on. They highly recommended I move to
fine arts, but as ACL didn’t offer the course, I pursued Interior Design.

Following my divorce, I moved to India with my two daughters and debated my next move. I knew I wanted to work in a creative space and so started looking at all the options. The idea of creating contemporary art struck me most, so today I am working in the most amazing creative space I could ever have visualised.

How did you feel about putting out your first art collection?
My first collection was a real challenge. I started by showing it to family and friends who were all amazed that I had this creative hidden talent. I did get a little resistance and challenging comments. But when my parents walked into my place they were completely blown away, especially my dad and he gave me the courage to go for art as a career. I took on the adverse comments with a pinch of salt and focused on creating work and pushing myself forward.

How would you describe your works of art?
My works are bold and loud with strong colours and lines – each piece has a story behind it. My art reflects back to the viewer what my experiences have taught me. The constant theme in my work is change and travel. It tries to visualise humanity, culture, differences, similarity and innovations. I create a mini-series of five-10 paintings with stories that define various moments in one’s life. The stories talk about how one, individually, or as a group or as a community, find the changes and challenges in one’s life. So far my series include Eye/I, Phrenology, Time Travel, Transition, Humanity, Golden Five, Magnificent Royals, Perspective/landscapes and Thoughts. The Thoughts series is the only one with around 40 paintings.

Nanda Khiara painting

What drew you towards very large canvases?
That is connected to my first visit to London. I was amazed at the largeness of the art works at all the museums, galleries, buildings, high ceilings and so on. When I was creating works for my interior designing, the interiors always had large grandiose empty walls ready to be filled with art and other artefacts. It takes me anything from three to six months to complete a painting and sometimes, longer. I usually create the work and then the art goes up on the wall. The fine tuning comes after that. I keep on bringing the pieces down and re-touching the works or sometimes I have also completely whitewashed my works and
started fresh.

Your work is in demand, but is it hard to let go of the paintings?
It is an ambiguous feeling; both ecstatic and a little bit of sadness when it leaves my walls. I love when clients send in the images and videos of their interiors with my work – and they do really look stunning. I always leave positive messages behind my paintings, sometimes visible to the naked eye, sometimes hidden.

What inspires you?
The biggest influence is a perpetual mind map I carry from living in different places in the world. Nature is my second source of inspiration; I love walking and being in the nature, taking pictures as I go along. History is another inspiration and last but not the least, I also meditate.

What about your process?
My style of work is quite varied and mixed. I use all the traditional tools like brushes, palette knives along with creating my own tools. My art itself is layered and usually there are 10 to 12 layers of work done before a piece is completed.

How has art helped you as a person?
Art, with the stories I relay, is perpetually taking me back and forth from what I have achieved; the challenges, joys, laughter and moments I have cherished. I love Mumbai, but also find it chaotic at times and that is when I retreat into my art and find balance again. It’s like moving between chaos and calmness. The chaos inspires me, my work calms me.

They often say art heals, but has that ever happened to you?
Definitely. It has happened with the stories that I create. I see my journey as much as any person’s journey, similar yet different, with peaks, troughs and defining moments. In my work and stories, there is a universal theme and as such, the message can relate to anyone or all of us in different moments and times.

Nanda Khiara with Asjad Nazir

What are your futures plans?
With the 12th Florence Biennale approaching in October 2019, I am focusing on working on this. The theme for the Biennale is Similitude & Innovation based on Leonardo Da Vinci. Florence is Da Vinci’s birth and death place. Next year marks the 500th anniversary of his death, so the city has dedicated the Biennale to him. In terms of my work, I would like to introduce variations with installations and or sculptures, which will be the next big challenge, which I am looking forward to.

According to you, what makes for good art?
Art can move you in every sense possible – the beams, sadness, joy and five senses. Art can challenge you to think out of the box, especially abstract art. What one visualises can be completely different from what another person sees. What I love about art is each person’s individual opinion and can relate to their views in their own unique way.

What are your big passions away from art?
Walking and being at the beach are my two big passions. I’ve travelled far and wide to various beach locations worldwide. I can spend hours admiring the architecture, structures, museums, culture, colours and people.

What is your idea of happiness?
My idea of happiness would be to spend time with my family, friends and loved ones. Also to keep on creating new art pieces, which can challenge and take me to the next level.

Why is art important?
Art creates history and is an amazing way of narrating stories that can be shared globally.

And finally, why do you love art? 
Art lets me express as well as gives me freedom to create something unique. In addition, art has also challenged me to grow as a person and it is something I breathe day in day out. It’s my life, it’s my work.

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Your Voice: True empowerment is empowering others

With Reena Ranger.

WHEN Women Empowered (WE) started six years ago, it was supposed to run for two years
and hold six events. The idea was to bring inspiring speakers and stories to anyone who
wanted to hear them. It would be a place to meet like-minded people for friendship and
collaboration. It was to inspire and empower those in the room to do whatever that special
thing was, that made a difference to their lives. There was no prescriptive ideal, but to be the best possible version of yourself. And isn’t being the best possible you, true empowerment?

Six years and 19 events later, WE has connected more people than it is aware of and become the antithesis of that friend who doesn’t share friends. WE believes that when people connect and meet, the possibilities are infinite.

By connecting people, barriers are broken down and lives, thoughts and society can be
changed and, human bridges can be built to solve problems and helping others. There are
examples of large-scale empowerment and also simple ones that many people can be a part of.

By doing so, we can strengthen each other and go farther. In today’s world, the Internet
has revolutionised connection and collaboration. Who could have imagined something as
unassuming as a hashtag could unite people from all corners of the world and be a catalyst
for change. Brave souls sharing their stories have empowered others to speak and given faces to injustices. Even small gestures of sharing and bringing people together can have an impact beyond imagination.

Zamiha Desai, founder of Facebook group RecommendAsian, shared her story at the WE
event in October 2018. She spoke of accidentally founding the group when she wanted to share her delight at finding what she though was the perfect sari-pleater. Inspired, she wanted to connect people to amazing finds that would make life easier. Little did she know that the small action of connection and sharing would lead to helping a man in far-away Bali among so many others.

The RecommendAsian group grew linking over 60,000 people. One user recommended a
taxi driver who had been an excellent guide while on holiday in Bali. That one user recommendation led to many members of the group contacting him on their holiday. This enabled him to be his own boss and in control of his earnings. So a sari-pleating device in the UK positively impacted the life of a man half way around the world.

For the last three years, WE has collaborated with a charity called SWAT that distributes food to the homeless and those in need. Through our connections we have been able to sponsor one food distribution a month. When we asked our community and friends to donate their time, over 500 people volunteered to help about 6,000 people.

So, by collaborating and connecting in our own ways, whether big or small, we all have the
power to empower.

  • Reena Ranger is chair and co-founder of Women Empowered and a Conservative councillor. Visit Twitter: @Reena_Ranger & @WE_Empowered