I first discovered Aleesha Nandhra’s powerful slice-of-life comics in the pages of much-missed anthology OFF LIFE back in 2016. Last year I looked at Aleesha’s haunting Thinking in the Dark, a series of minicomics exploring “the thoughts and feelings that come to mind when you can’t sleep at night.” It was work that convinced me to include her in this year’s Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘.
Aleesha’s practice also encompasses illustration and printmaking and has seen her shortlisted in the ‘Design’ Category of The World Illustration Awards 2018 and contribute the April 2018 Google Doodle celebrating the 148th anniversary of Dadasaheb Phalke, the creator of the first silent film in India in 1913.
Today, as part of our ongoing ELCAF Fortnight of coverage I caught up with Aleesha to talk about her work to date, her ELCAF-debuting comic Local Angrej and what we can expect to see from her in the future…
ANDY OLIVER: You’ve been self-publishing minicomics and zines as part of the London DIY scene for a while now. To introduce yourself as part of this year’s Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ creators can you tell us about your artistic background, your wider practice and your entry point into comics?
ALEESHA NANDHRA: After graduating from the BA Illustration degree at Cambridge School of Art I have slowly built up a career as a freelance Illustrator. I guess I have always enjoyed comics and enjoyed reading. I was an avid Sonic the Comic reader as a child!… I started making my own zines/comics at University, and have continued to return to the format since.
AO: I first discovered your work in the free Off Life anthology a few years ago in a story about loss, noting then that your slice-of-life work has an often hauntingly evocative feel to it. Is there anything cathartic in working through those thoughts via your art as you do in your Thinking in the Dark comics?
NANDHRA: Definitely it is. To be honest with you, those comics you are referring to in particular were a way of processing my own thoughts through very difficult times. When I wrote ‘Grief’ in Off Life (below), I was definitely grieving. It was almost like creating a visual diary of my scattered emotions at the time. A way of putting them into a sketchbook, and hopefully leaving them there so I could move on. It was never my intention to then publish the comics and have them be read by others, but I have had really positive encounters with people that have read them and have gained some sort of comfort or understanding from them.
AO: Your zine Dark Masks deals with mental health from the perspective of the observer rather than the subject. What is it do you think about the language of comics when it comes to mental health issues that makes them such an effective tool for communicating both the themes and the experiences involved?
NANDHRA: I think putting text and image in sequence can communicate ideas very succinctly. All elements tie together to give the reader a clear representation of a subject matter or narrative, no matter how subtle all of the elements are. Particularly in the case of mental health (in my experience) everyone’s encounter with it is very different. I think by using a comic, and creating characters that have no clear resemblance to anyone in particular allows for readers to have a greater connection with the often complex themes.
Thinking in the Dark (left) and Dark Masks (right)
AO: Thinking about your wider zine-making and illustration over the years your influences have been wide-ranging, from music to life’s smaller moments like tea-making. What do you consider as the major inspirations on your practice?
NANDHRA: I think themes that I revisit in my work a lot are: Experiences, The Every Day, Travel, Food, Culture, Music, and Nature.
AO: You recently participated in ‘Creating Heroines’ in Nepal with the British Council (above). What were the aims of the project and how rewarding an experience was it?
NANDHRA: The aims of the project were to bring together female artists from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora to discuss and create work about being women, and all of the common issues and themes that surround women in their lives. It was one of the most rewarding, fun experiences I have had as an artist. I never thought I would ever get the opportunity to travel and work with such amazing, inspiring, talented creatives and I left feeling supercharged and inspired! I am continuing work with a couple of the artists (who are also my friends!) on some projects that I’ll be able to talk about later in the year.
(Read more about ‘Creating Heroines’ on Aleesha’s blog here)
Aleesha’s ‘Creating Heroines’ comic
AO: Your recent exhibition ‘Meet Me at the Market’ with Francesca Tiley explored your dual cultural heritages. How have you continued to examine those ideas in your new comic Local Angrej?
NANDHRA: After my trip to India in February, the theme of duality has definitely been something that I have been revisiting in current work, and would like to continue to explore. Local Angrej (below) looks at my thoughts and feelings as I travelled alone for the first time in India. It was a fresh experience for me, having only visited India once before with family. Travelling alone allowed for some very introspective moments and I kept a written/visual diary while I was there. I wanted Local Angrej to not look at my experience with rose-tinted glasses, but for it to encapsulate those few weeks in an honest way. I left all of my written thoughts unedited to (hopefully) convey this honesty.
AO: Can you tell us about your creative process on your comics? What do you work in? Are there any digital components to your presentation?
NANDHRA: I always start in my sketchbook, pen or pencil on paper and work things out. Sometimes I have all of the writing ready first, then have to begin the hard task of creating images that will do the text justice! Sometimes I work on the text and image at the same time, if I know the direction of the comic before hand. I work in mixed media, I use hand drawn elements and textures, and scan those in to then add elements, such as colour digitally. I also recently purchased a (insert famous brand here) tablet, which has sped up my process a lot! In terms of ideas I constantly write down things and come back to them later.
AO: You’re part of the Kadak Collective’s ambitious new anthology project Bystander. How did you become involved with that book?
NANDHRA: I was very lucky and very flattered to be approached directly by the lovely Kadak Collective artists to take part! I am looking forward to getting to work on my contribution to the anthology, and see all the amazing work from the other contributors.
Aleesha (left) with Francesca Tiley at the ‘Meet Me at the Market’ exhibition
AO: What can visitors attending ELCAF this year hope to pick up from your table? Are you looking forward to being a part of this year’s Broken Frontier Panel at the festival?
NANDHRA: I will have copies of Local Angrej for starters! I am also currently working on a couple more zines about my India trip, an inside look at a block printing shop, and perhaps a travel sketchbook zine. Thinking in the Dark #3 is on my desk at the moment too, waiting to be finished. Along with my zines and comics, there will be fun stickers/pins/prints too! I am very much looking forward to the BF Panel! After being unsuccessful applying to ELCAF for a few years, I feel a bit overwhelmed by suddenly having a table and being invited to speak, but I am really excited to meet other comics creators and check out/discuss everyone’s new works!
AO: What else can we look forward to seeing from you this year? Are there any other comics and illustration-based projects that you’re involved with in 2019 that you can tell us about?
NANDHRA: More commercial illustration work, and more comics for sure, but nothing I can tell you about yet I’m afraid 😉 Watch this space!
You can visit Aleesha’s site here, her online store here and also follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Aleesha will also be a guest artist at this week’s Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Drink and Draw.
For more on ELCAF 2019 visit the festival site here and follow them on Twitter here.