Interview: A Ground-Breaking Visual Artist in Her Own Words

The Homegirl Project chatted with Deepa Paulus about her work with the Metropolitan Museum, her journey with art, and music.

interview by Rachel Sampson

RS: When did you first become passionate about art? Is there a specific moment that made you passionate about this? What moved you to calligraphy later on?

DP: Drawing and using my imagination started it really. I think that’s what all kids do, and it’s great to not take yourself seriously to create art. When I was 13, I entered Laguardia for high school. I was always into art, but this really shocked me. It was intimidating at first, but over the 4 years, I figured out how to do art. It is important to represent as an Indian girl and a New Yorker, and I knew people could relate. I believe everyone has a story to tell. Calligraphy happened randomly actually, I got a set of markers from Staples, and I taught myself at 11. If I’m feeling stressed, I don’t have to think when I do it. There’s so much history behind it that I don’t know, but I feel connected to the past. It’s a new concept to displaying wisdom.

RS: What does it mean to be a WOC to you and how does it impact you on a daily basis?

DP: It’s something very enriching and beautiful, especially when I see my sister. We have a lot of love in us [WOC], and it means a lot that our parents went through a lot to get us to where we are today. A lot of people can relate to the obstacles and sacrifices made. Within the museum space, it is encouraging other Indian people to join me and work with me. I feel proud and the rich history makes me. It is important to think for yourself! Not everyone will encourage you. Why are you doing what you’re doing?

RS:Who inspires you in life?

DP: My younger sister is pretty inspiring to me. Her positivity goes well with mine and our bond is incomparable. Also, Janelle Monae, all her work and music she’s been putting out is amazing. Chloe and Halle are also big to me with their album and music. Music is a language to communicate with in my opinion, so it inspires me on a daily basis, so that’s where most of my inspiration comes from.

RS: Can you tell us about your journey getting involved with the arts (Calligraphy, Music, Imaging)? How did that bring you to the MET?

DP: It started with dance. Drawing was something I was born with. I learned tabla because I wasn’t really into the keyboard. As a matter of fact, my teacher was a woman, Sejal Kukadia, which inspired me a lot. Without her, I wouldn’t be as talented and as inspired as I am now. In high school, I was able to do a lot with dance and music, although I was there for art. By the last two years, I needed to get ready for college. My dad suggested taking the digital media class. I loved it so much, I took it again senior year. That’s what set the path for my college major.

I learned more of the 3D art programs, like MIA, painting, and many other key skills. In college, my major was the most difficult at the school and we never left. I ended up getting an internships in gaming, TV shows, and advertising all junior year. The industry of animation is very broad, but I wanted something else. So, senior year, I made the first 360 degree film (VR) for my school. It was about a Hindu goddess named Hinda. I didn’t want to do the “cookie cutter” way. I knew I could push mediums and display what I loved, like dance and music. That’s what prompted me to apply to the MET. They saw that I valued culture and the art. I guess that’s why they hired me and I didn’t even expect it! It happened pretty quickly.

RS: The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?

DP: In our day to day lives, I feel like if we encourage each other more, the world be a much better place. Sometimes, it feels like people are waiting for you to mess up. Life is hard enough and girls are so beautiful. I don’t know what I’d do without my sister or my mom. Believing in yourself is the first step. Having someone to look up to is also awesome. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did! Knowing that someone has your best interest is amazing. I appreciate girls so much more now that I’m older. It’s scary though.

RS: What is one issue that you want to change about the world?

DP: I’ve been learning more about India lately and being a darker skinned Indian girl myself. I’ve been called things before and we’ve been taught to hate ourselves in darker skin. I want to show that beauty doesn’t have a specific look and it’s not about the surface; it’s all about what’s inside. Colorism is a major issue. There are people in the world that look just like me who think they’re not beautiful. Everyone deserves to feel that way about themselves. I’ve seen it get to the point where people actually bleach their skin to feel comfortable with themselves. Also, the Caste system in India is a major issue in society today. It’s still something people still follow regionally. You can tell by names which caste someone belongs to. Even if you converted, people still abide by these rules for some reason; people still know who’s untouchable or not. People also have to state what castes they’re in on forms, which is something I’m not taught here in the states. People here, too, still recognize it and marry within their castes. You should be able to have hope in this lifetime. It’s crazy people think they’re born and believe they deserve what they have. I just wanna change the prejudice about people like me. Why do we have to hate ourselves?

RS: Do you have any advice for young activists/girls of color?

DP: It’s important to care. It’s easy to get distracted by the events in world, but it’s okay to care. You don’t have to not pay attention because it might hurt if you don't. It’s better to know the truth about these events than ignoring it at all. Pay attention to the people around you, cause there are people who are not okay.