Priyanka Paul is not just another 17-year-old.

While so many of her ilk are on their way to completing their studies and just starting to gain an understanding of how the world works, Paul raises the volume about women's body issues, the stigmas surrounding menstruation and shutting down the patriarchy one drawing and poem at a time. Wise beyond her years, this artist and poet has made 2016 the year of calling for change.

The Bombay-based Paul and I chat about her Instagram username @artwhoring, feminism and why it's important to speak up.


You are an artist and a poet. What's your definition of art?

My definition of art is anything that makes you feel strongly about something and brings about waves of emotion. Art to me is human voice, in its most subtle, yet pure sense. Art's supposed to make you feel, make you think and most of all, make you speak.

As an artist, you use drawing as a way to raise awareness about women's body issues and Indian culture. What made you channel your voice via drawing?

I believe visual art is an instantly captivating medium. In today's age we all have opinions and there are issues -some highly sensationalised, some that are never talked about in mainstream media and I believe art helps in making a strong case and causing awareness about issues. I believe art has the power to cause revolutions and bring about real change, I'm just doing my small part.


I remember you did a goddess series where you reimagined them as modern-day millennials. Where did you get that idea from and what made you reboot their image for the modern-day audience?

The modern day goddesses were inspired by the poem 'Pantheon' by Harnidh Kaur. The poem talks about these modern day feminist goddesses who are strong and bold and unabashed like their mythological counterparts and use social media to raise their voice, are part of movements for female liberation and are proud of their sexuality and individuality. I'm also highly influenced by pop culture. As a teenager, these are what we'll be known for: iPhones, selfies, facebook and tumblr and hashtags and hipster clothes and I don't mind celebrating all of that. The last generation had their own things to cherish, the millennials have theirs.

While you are on your way to being a woman, how do you relate to these goddesses?

As a woman, especially because I'm from a country like India, the patriarchy is so directly embedded in our roots, you can see misogynistic narratives at play everywhere. I see women and peers dealing with sexism every day and other problems and we've been told to not talk about these things or that there are more important issues. It's funny how when you say there's a problem if I'm not allowed to dress the way I want to, but someone will counter you with something like "Oh, but there are girls who aren't allowed to go to school in the villages. They need feminism, you don't." We all need feminism, because oppression doesn't affect just a particular stratum of society. It's multi-faceted and in different forms. No voice should feel invalidated.

All voices are important and all voices should be heard. And as a girl, growing up to be a woman, I find it so important to speak out, or do something whenever I see injustice. That's something we're not doing. We're not teaching our girls to be the first to go out and do the right thing. My goddesses are warriors with strong minds, making choices for themselves, who take no direction from anybody (let alone the patriarchy).


I can see that you've got a pattern of putting poetry and visual art together as seen on 'Body Bazaar', which happens to be one of my favorites! What made you include poems alongside your drawings?

Thank you! 'Body Bazaar' is one of my favourite personal works too! I think I've been writing ever since I started drawing and I've always been very natural at rhymes. But it's sad that poetry fails to get its due attention, at least on social media. People are less prone to read a long poem. However, when you mix two art forms like poetry with illustrations, you provide so much depth to a poem. Visual art will captivate your attention and when mixed with poetry, it's almost magical. I love mixing poetry and visual art, I'd like to call it Visual Poetry.

Let's chat about your Instagram username, @artwhoring. Who/what inspired your handle and why have you decided to launch your work via Instagram?

My instagram username (just popped into my brain some day but I find it relevant to my belief in feminism. Words like whore and slut are degrading towards sex workers, and that's something that belittles their labour. Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. It was practiced in India, without the unnecessary stigma. It's looked down upon and sex workers aren't given the required government attention that they need because of our inclusion of western ideas of morality into our culture. Art as a career choice is also looked down upon often. Artwhoring to me signifies dignity in labour. I use the word because more than often words like 'slut' and 'whore' are not used to refer to the profession but to women who choose to not conform or dress promiscuously or have sex as much as men do. And as Albus Dumbledore said, "Fear of a name increases the fear of the thing itself." And I truly believe fierce, non-conforming, bold women should be feared.


As a teenager living in one of the world's most socially conservative countries, how did you become interested in feminism and when did you realize that you wanted to raise awareness about it?

My mother is the most strong and opinionated, unabashed woman I know, and she's a feminist and I've always been influenced by her thoughts. She's never shied away from her speaking out her mind and that's what she thought me. From time to time, we have our little feminist discussions, though we don't always agree, the freedom of thought and critical thinking and voicing out for those who can't, are some of the most valuable things my mother has taught me. I also studied humanities in high school, and it just led to a greater understanding of human societies, culture and politics and how we as human beings are dynamic beings, we can't afford to be dormant, we need to talk, express and change constantly.

Asides from feminism, you even discussed the stigmas surrounding mental health, which is still rampant across the globe, in an interview. What made you want to share your thoughts about mental health?

I see so many of my friends battle depression every day. I think I battled it for the longest amount of time. And again, we don't talk about it. We keep hushed about mental illness. We keep silent about what's troubling us and it just piles up inside. I really want for people to recognise how huge an issue like mental illness is and how it's ever so important to seek help, to talk. If you know people with depression, help them out. We all need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to hear us out. I hope spreading awareness about mental illness, helps people who need help instead of being told to get out of this 'phase'.


I've noticed that you received so much attention from top-notch international publications like The Fader to Rookie. How do you feel about being noticed by the public outside of Instagram?

It's obviously this warm bubbly phenomenal feeling. Being appreciated for your work surely is the best feeling. It makes me very happy, that my work has connected so much with people from all over the world, has started new discussions and just ultimately contributed to this amalgamation of human voices. Social media is such an amazing platform for like-minded people to come together and appreciate, ideate and create. I've learnt so much from other artists. I'm constantly inspired by all that's happening around me and I'm also motivated by all the love I receive on social media, or when other amazing humans want to work and collaborate with me. It makes me feel amazing when people come up to me and tell me, that my art helped them feel more confident about their body hair or how their body looks or how my work has helped them see a particular issue in a different light. It makes me happy that I can spread positivity, even if it's just a little bit, in this world, we've otherwise considered to be a dark evil place.

What can we anticipate next for 2017?

I'm not a very planned and organised person. But for 2017, I hope I continue to make as much art as I did in 2016 and spread awareness and talk about issues we've conveniently wrapped up in cashmere shawls and hidden in our cupboards. I'm currently working on a number of projects/ series' that deal with menstruation taboo in India, African-American society and racism and urban poverty in India. Hopefully, they'll turn out to be strong works that tell stories the world can learn from.

View more of Priyanka's work below, and be sure to check her out on Instagram.