Storytelling school

Henna Bakhshi on storytelling through art and underrepresentation

Henna Bakhshi is an emerging British Asian artist working to redefine the artistic landscape.

The artist, who tells underrepresented stories through his creations, dabbles in fine art prints and commissioned illustrations.

Through her one-of-a-kind pieces, Henna takes a narrative approach to thinking about social justice issues prevalent around the world.

Plated on canvas, Henna Bakhshi does not lack progress.

So, to better understand her art and the importance of storytelling, we caught up with Henna Bakhshi to learn more about her background and perspectives.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Kent, UK. My mother is from Afghanistan and Kashmir and grew up in East Africa. My father is from Pakistan. I live in London with my husband, two children and our dog, Bruno.

I loved art as a child and some of my happiest memories are of the wooden classroom where we learned about art in elementary school.

In my memories, the weather is always sunny, which reflects how happy I was rather than the weather in England.

My parents were hard-working immigrants who wanted their children to have financial security and a stable career.

Art did not offer this and so it quickly fell by the wayside. Decades later, I picked up a paintbrush and haven’t stopped painting since.

I am motivated by making a difference. This has always been my driving force, throughout my career as an English teacher, working in the charity sector and now with the police watchdog.

I love food, family, friends and finding pleasure in life. I don’t like eggplants, waiting and injustice.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

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I am inspired by my experiences as a second generation immigrant and by social justice issues around the world.

My mission is to tell underrepresented stories. There is a story behind each of my paintings.

A news article, an experience someone shares, a social media post, an injustice, an issue with no coverage or awareness – if it makes me feel anything, I’ll paint it.

I have a lot of faith in humanity and I believe that a lot of what is wrong with the world is not because people don’t care, but because they don’t know or they don’t. not know the full picture.

I want my art to show people that they are not alone, that there is always hope and that change is always possible.

Whatever our differences, there is so much more that unites us and we are connected in so many more ways than we realize.

Can you tell us a bit more about your artwork ordering service?

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I use art to tell stories and commissioned artwork does just that.

If you want a photo turned into a painting, I’m probably not the artist for you. I want to tell stories. Your story.

It could be a milestone in your life, an obstacle you’ve overcome, a piece that reflects your pride in your heritage or being different – whatever is important to you. The artwork becomes your story.

It’s a unique creative process to work with someone to capture their vision in a bespoke piece of art that is completely unique to them.

It’s a privilege and an honor to hear people’s stories and if I can empower and celebrate them through art, that makes me so happy. And it’s a piece they can cherish forever.

Art has healed me so much and commissioning art is a great way to share that experience with other people.

How do you experience your own process of healing through art?

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That’s such a good question. When I started painting it was January 2020 and we had no idea our world was about to be turned upside down by Covid.

When the confinement arrived, I suddenly had more time to paint. It became a way to take time for myself and disconnect from everything.

At first, I painted whatever I felt like – a field of lavender, the northern lights, a landscape at sunset. George Floyd was killed a few months later and, like many of us, it hit hard.

I was having conversations with my friends and family that I had never had before. My mom told me she thought racism was just something they just had to accept. I told my friends about the racism I grew up with.

Terms like microaggression, colorism, and white privilege gave many of us the language to describe our experiences. It was such a tumultuous and powerful time.

It was then that I had the idea to paint about my childhood experiences of racism, which became Brown Girl Art’s first work.

It was inspired by a photo of me as a young schoolgirl and the racist comments I was hearing.

You’ll see my bangs and my red glasses, but it could be any Asian kid growing up in 1980s England. This story isn’t just mine, it’s shared by so many others.

It is from this shared experience that my art draws its inspiration and brings me comfort and strength and I hope it will be the same for others too.

How can we use art as a force for social change?

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I think the power of art is that it speaks to everyone. It can spark conversations about tough topics, connect people around the world, challenge people’s mindsets and assumptions, and inspire people to take action.

I have experienced all of this firsthand and in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, finding channels of communication is even more important.

The art is there for you to take what you want. He asks nothing of you.

It doesn’t matter if you hate it, don’t understand it, or love it. The art is fair, allowing you to assimilate it without pressure or judgment. There is something special about it.

Which of your fine art prints are you most proud of?

It’s so hard to answer! My first piece will always be special because it launched me on this journey.

But every room tells a story, so choosing a room is like choosing which story is more important, which is impossible.

What advice would you give to budding South Asian artists?

Embrace what makes you different and unique. Look at the work of other artists for inspiration.

Experiment with different mediums, get messy and enjoy the process! Last but not least, find your voice and don’t be afraid to use it.

What makes you different from other Instagram artists?

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My technique has improved over the years, but my fundamental style has always been bold colors, clean lines, faceless portraits, and art with a message.

As an artist, I occupy a space not traditionally occupied by South Asian women, especially those who are second generation immigrants.

There is a generation of young South Asians who are proud to embrace their heritage and culture and I am incredibly grateful to have such strong role models for my daughters. But the second generation seems much less represented.

I hope I will somehow represent their voices.

Historically, the UK has produced some fantastic South Asian designers. Household names like Shezad Dawood, Inkquisitive and Chila Kumari Burman have flourished within the industry.

The celebration and upward trajectory of British Asian artists is more important than ever.

And Henna Bakhshi is a figure that is clearly paving the way for other budding South Asian artists.

See more of Henna Bakhshi’s fantastic pieces here.