We had the good fortune of connecting with Dipti Kulkarni and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dipti, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
Born in an Indian family, I am raised across various states of India as my dad was an Indian Army Officer. I am currently settled in New Jersey, USA. Have learnt basics of painting from my mom who served as a Vice Principal in High School. Ever since my childhood, I was always interested in Art and won several art competitions. My mom used to teach me the basics of art. Intermediate Drawing exams were popular in my state (Maharashtra) and I had got “A” grade in it which was difficult to secure. My life has always been surrounded by art. I believe that everything can be perceived as an art. But usually in India, if you are good in academics, you normally tend to follow the trend. And, not to blow my own trumpets, I had topped my school and was a merit rank holder. So, I also decided to choose Computer Engineering following the trend. However, I never gave up on paintings. I used to pursue it in my leisure time. I must attribute the success of my artistic and women empowerment journey to my upbringing, positive mindset and the conducive environment my parents provided. I always had that additional confidence and exposure with my Army background. My mom has certainly passed me her qualities of organization, dedication and taking things to completion. Well, it was Dec 2012 when I had gone to India for my vacation. My inspiration to be an advocate for women’s rights sparked because of a 2012 Delhi gang rape case involving the rape and fatal assault of a 23-year-old woman in India. Deeply disturbed by the horror of the case, I wished to express her emotions creatively. With my one year old twins at that time, I wanted to do something powerful but something within my reach. The poor woman! She gives birth, goes through tough time in her pregnancy, she tries to fight on all fronts, she works hard towards well-being of her family, she has to be best in all her roles, she has to earn money and support her family too. She tries to keep quite if she is a victim herself of any of the social issues because she is concerned about her family and she is a weaker entity in this society. I decided to portray agonies of women and I decided to use bright and bold colors with heavy contrast. I didn’t want these works to be dark even though the topics are sad. I wanted Art to convey the message. My art series “Women’s Rights and Empowerment” was born! It had initially 8 artworks and then evolved to 10, then 15 and now 18. This art series highlights the social issues that a woman undergoes right from when she is in the womb throughout her life. I believe that an art has a great power of expression and can influence and hence I’ve used my art to bring social awareness. I want women to stand up, raise their voice and live with pride and respect. Laws are different everywhere, and everywhere women are experiencing these issues, just in different forms. However, the root cause is the same. These issues are globally present but present in different forms. So, I choose to focus on the general issue because it has greater impact. I started getting exhibit opportunities through word of mouth and my first two exhibition opportunities came in India which were very well-received. Then I started taking my artworks from India to USA back and forth several times. My husband really plays an important role supporting my (ad)venture and helping in all logistics. Btw, my dad is a very good writer. He has written collection of short articles which gained lot of accolades in his Army service. I certainly got an inspiration to write from him. I decided to make the works powerful by adding 20-liner poetry on each subject. Every year, I work on one subject and produce one powerful poem that can be easily understood globally. By grace of God, my poems won several awards and the series “Women’s Rights and Empowerment” started becoming more powerful and impacting. My art has been on cover page for several magazines. Since few years, university students in India and USA have started writing their research papers on my works. I do guide and mentor the students. It is a great satisfaction to see students getting an inspiration from my work. It gives immense satisfaction when someone tells that these works inspired them to speak-up. This is the most satisfying and best award for me!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am an IT Professional in Finance Industry by profession and an artist/poet by passion. I want this world to be a better and inclusive place to live. I strongly believe that, “Art has a great power of love and expression,” and so I use my artistic skills for women empowerment. I focus on using acrylics/oils primarily. Bold brush strokes, powerful expressions, vibrant colors with high contrasts and depth of the subject makes my art stand out. I have exhibited my works at various solo exhibits internationally and in USA. Aside from raising consciences about the social ills facing women, I strive to inform others about folk arts throughout the world, the Indian culture, and to encourage expression through the “language of colors.” MyTag Line says it all “…where Creativity meets Colors!” Well, I like doing new things and taking new challenges. I like to pave my own path rather than just following the paved ones. This helps me explore new things in life and help me see things with new perspective. Simply put, there are ABCs in life that I would like to share with you. A is for Attitude – I believe challenges are there everywhere. It is more important how we overcome them. Our attitude matters the most. We can always see things with better perspective if we have a positive attitude. If we are determined to do something, the doors automatically open for us and we find out the way to navigate. It is aptly said “where there is a will, there is a way!” B is for “Be the change you want to see” – I decided to pursue my career in Engineering/IT but always had in mind to use my artistic skills. I was fortunate enough to use these skills for women empowerment. I never had dreamt that I would ever be doing anything in Diversity and Inclusion space or for women empowerment. Things just unfolded themselves one after the other and kept evolving. Every success or recognition was just another realization that the work is not done but there is a long way to go. So, this keeps me going. I was awarded the most distinguished award by my workplace – 2019 Global Diversity and Inclusion award. Only hundred of them out of 205K employees and 3000 nominated receive this. It just feels amazing when the work is recognized. But the recognition is a pat on the back for me or an encouragement to take next step and effort. Recently, I was named in The HERoes Women Future Leaders Role Model List supported by Yahoo Finance that showcases leaders who are championing women in business and driving change for gender diversity in the workplace. This was truly an honor and indeed a way to say that we like your work. https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/yahoo-finance-involve-heroes-top-100-female-future-leaders-2020-230154154.html C is for “Community giveback” – I believe in community giveback and I certainly owe to my community and people who have been so instrumental in my journey. A journey is always interesting and easy if done together or with people rather than traveling alone. People are an important part of my journey. I never had imagined I would blend an artist and engineer within me for society’s betterment!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, my town, Robbinsville NJ has so much to do locally and around. Just few miles away in Hamilton NJ, there is a beautiful place called “Grounds for Sculpture”. This place is beautiful, serene, just picturesque at any time of the year. Huge sculpture garden with very creative sculptors on the sides of a lake cannot be ignored. This place is a good place to enjoy even in this pandemic. Great place for photography too! An entire day can be spent at this place and it has fine restaurants for dining too. The next day could be just a relaxed day exploring the small town of Robbinsville with a nice walk at Sayen Gardens, driving in the town, followed by cozy comfort food at home (I am a good cook btw😊 ) and then town’s popular De Lorenzo’s pizza in the evening. Ginger tea at my home cannot be missed!! Princeton NJ is another beautiful historic town that can be in the itinerary. Just around 10 miles away, this is a sweet town with great historic mansions, world-famous Princeton University, cozy streets to walk, lively music especially in Summer and great food places. The Bent Spoon Ice-cream place in Princeton, NJ cannot be missed. This place has a variety of great quality natural organic ice-cream flavors . It is never overly sweet and typically the flavors have a good profile. Cross-culture is a nice Indian restaurant in the area. In this pandemic, other option is experiencing Six Flags drive-through Safari. 15 miles from Robbinsville in the township of Jackson,NJ is the Six Flags drive-through Safari. A huge variety of animals can be seen here. Kids love this place. Of course, 1.5 hours of drive or train can always take you through the liveliest New Yok City. Sky is the limit here. Walk, explore, experience, music, food, streets, places, shopping…you just name it! This is the most inclusive place I have ever seen on this planet. One day is not enough here and so rest of the days can be just spent in NYC! Btw, I had one of my art exhibits in Indian Consulate in NYC in 2014 for 8 days. It was so very well-received and opened new opportunities eventually. NYC is definitely a land of opportunities!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There really are so many people that have contributed along the way. But I first have to thank my dad, Lt. Col. Dilip Kulkarni (Retd.) for instilling in me a strong set of values, confidence and boost independent thinking. I always got so much exposure due to his Army service. Of course, I have to thank my mom, Mrs. Vasanti Kulkarni who is a retired vice-principal of school. My mom taught me basics of painting and always encouraged me to pursue my passion. I learnt balancing work-life from her seeing her do that all the time. My parents always provided conducive environment to flourish which I think is very important in the development. In addition, I owe so much to my husband, Amit Deshmukh, who has been a big support in this journey and helps manage all logistics. I am so much thankful to my 9 year old twins who had always enjoyed my art events, exhibits, and behave like good kids. Now, they keep me active and motivated. I have to thank my sister, in-laws, and extended family in India for being there for me. I must thank my friends, teachers, colleagues, mentors, folks/organizations believing in me, providing me opportunities, and recognizing this effort. This journey is for the people and not possible without them.
Facebook: Dipti Kulkarni-Deshmukh