We had the good fortune of connecting with Nirali Thakker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nirali, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was brought up by my very strong-willed and amazing single mother- Bindu Shukla. She instilled values of hard work, being self-driven, and self-respect. She believed in never taking no for an answer. Even when we were struggling, my mother always inspired us to think big, think ambitiously, and never mentioned finances as a limitation to anything we wanted to achieve in life. Her open-mindedness helped us think big. She did not really sit us down and lecture- she just showed us by example. In terms of my education, I studied for my BFA in painting at M.S.University, in India. I came to study painting at the Parsons School of Design, New York. I learned more from my peers than my professors at M.S.University. We constantly challenged each other to do better, to do more. When I came to study painting at Parsons School of Design, New York, my life turned upside down. Studying painting in the United States was so different than studying in India. There too- the city of New York, the beautiful museums and the people of the city inspired me a lot.
I earned my MFA from the University of Southern California- where I learned about writing, directing, and producing films. The training at USC was very rigorous and state of the art. I think whenever you work hard at your craft, you learn a lot from it and grow a lot as a person, regardless of the institution.
You can be a self-taught artist like Van Gogh, as long as you are driven and passionate, you are going to always feel alive.
Even now, as I get older, I keep reinventing myself. I always want to learn new things, create interesting projects that have a deeper impact on the community, as an artist, and as an educator.
I am teaching art at the Santa Ana College-Being a teacher, it is bliss to share your knowledge with your students and learn from them.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art is very eclectic, I draw from many varied influences in my life. I have had a very interesting path in my education. I studied graphic design at the National Institute of Design, India, painting at M.S.University, India and Parsons School of Design, New York and finally earned my MFA at the University of Southern California. I incorporate my learning of films, photography, painting, writing, and storytelling- all of that in my art. My art addresses issues of immigration, feminism, my experiences as a mother, and my experience as an educator. What sets my work apart from others is that I see things differently, I see beauty in ordinary things and want to portray my subjects with sensitivity, humor and respect. I want to show off their flaws honestly and yet show them as beautiful strong people. Being a person who has come up from a humble background in India, where there were times that my mother struggled to pay the electricity bills and school tuition fees to someone who has established themselves as an artist and educator in Los Angeles, the journey has been let’s say “interesting”. My path has been challenging, exciting, many times heart breaking and definitely unique. All of your life, who you are automatically reflects in your art. That is what makes each person’s art unique to them.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I am a museum geek. I would take my friends to downtown Los Angeles, to see all the beautiful museums our beautiful city has to offer. The broad Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art. I love to hike. Oh my God, California is such a great place- we are spoilt with so many choices that I cannot make up my mind. I would take my friend to hike in the Griffith Park in the evening to see the beautiful city from top view, to the super blooms to see the heavenly spread of poppy flowers if they arrive in Spring, to see the multitude of rainbows peaking through the misty waterfalls at Verner falls in Yosemite- We are so blessed to have so much beauty around us. Food-wise, I am more or less a vegetarian.
I love Thai food. The rich variety of Indian cuisine is what I enjoy the most- If we are in the mood for Indian , I would hit the streets of Pioneer Boulevard, Little India. I would take my friend to enjoy the warm naans and paalak paneer at the Ashoka restaurant, or take my friend to have the beautiful authentic Gujarati food at Rajdhani restaurant. Being in Los Angeles, we are so blessed to have so many choices.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I try to learn one new thing from each person I meet. Every human being has been sent to you in your life, at that moment to teach you something. I relish that inquiry: To find out what this person has to teach me. I had a fantastic art teacher at my school-Mr. Jasbeer Singh. His kind words and unconditional encouragement helped me so much to build my self esteem and confidence as an artist. I think more than critiquing- supporting your students and encouraging them unconditionally is the key to being a great teacher. Ultimately it is not about the art, but how art practice helps you build who you are as a human being, how happy you are, how you support others, that matters more than your art.
In terms of crediting, I would credit my alma mater college-Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University. The supportive environment at the M.S University helped me a lot to thrive as an artist and find my voice. When I teach my students at Santa Ana College and North Orange County Community College District, my goal is to support them see themselves as amazing creative artists and powerful human beings.
In terms of family-I would credit my husband Ravi Sinha, who has always been supportive, even though he doesn’t understand much about art. He has always been there for me.
Women are often conflicted if they can have it all-family, career and kids. I think if you choose a partner wisely, life can be very smooth, fun, and creative. I would credit my mother especially- Bindu Shukla, she was my rock and my inspiration. She instilled values of hard work, being self-driven, and self-respect. She believed in never taking no for an answer. Her words still stay with me- every step of the way. Growing up, in this world of self help industry, we see things that our parents could have done differently, had they known better- but without a doubt, I am who I am because of my mother.
Other: Here is my website with some of the film projects I worked on. https://sites.google.com/site/ravisinha5/nirali-thakkar