Home Entertainment Canada-based artist Jessie Sohpaul’s art is inspired by Gurmukhi

Canada-based artist Jessie Sohpaul’s art is inspired by Gurmukhi

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Canada-based artist Jessie Sohpaul’s art is inspired by Gurmukhi

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Graphic designer Jessie Sohpaul with his artwork titled Motherland
| Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Canada-based artist and graphic designer Jessie Sohpaul’s love for his motherland, Punjab, is unmistakable in his art. The word ghar nestled in curlicued Gurmukhi script, forms the foreground in one of his famous works with the same title. In another, he borrows the title of Dalit Punjabi poet Lal Dil Singh’s poem Motherland, and distorts the letters until they fill his canvas in sighing remembrance. In another animated piece, he twirls and mirrors the Punjabi word for butterfly — titli — until it resembles the winged insect so closely that it may fly off the page.

Titli by graphic designer Jessie Sohpaul

Titli by graphic designer Jessie Sohpaul
| Photo Credit:
SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

For Sohpaul, home is everything. His works reflect a sense of longing and belonging. Born and raised in Vancouver after his Delhi-based father and Jalandhar-based mother left the country 40 years ago, Punjabi and the script it is written in remained cloaked in mystery for him for many years. “The newspapers my grandfather would read were indecipherable to me. I couldn’t read a word,” he says, adding that he vowed to learn the language when he turned 18.

At 32 today, Sohpauldraws heavily from the Gurmukhi script and Punjabi cultural motifs to create his brand of sprawling, monochromatic art. “I read somewhere about a decline in the usage of Punjabi in its written form. I had initially started using the script in my art as a way of practising how to write it. Eventually, it turned into my way of keeping it alive,” he says in an email interview. His work has apparently spurred an interest in Gurmukhi as well as other mother tongues among the immigrants.

Vancouver-based graphic designer and artist Jessie Sohpaul

Vancouver-based graphic designer and artist Jessie Sohpaul
| Photo Credit:
SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“My intention is to create a sense of comfort, home, and familiarity through my art , for those who can and can’t read the language,” says Sohpaul. There is a strange, peaceful symphony in the delicately juxtaposed letters straddling his canvas.

It isn’t just the text Sohpaul plays with. “I get a lot of inspiration simply by going through my mother’s closet,” he says. The use of textile motifs in his art stems from the many different styles his mother has collected over the years. The Phulkari (traditional floral embroidery of Punjab) patterns feature prominently in his work, in his inimitable bare-bones style rendered in perfect symmetry.

Artwork titled Phulkari by Jessie Sohpaul

Artwork titled Phulkari by Jessie Sohpaul
| Photo Credit:
SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Apart from drawing on his roots, Sohpaul also tries to leave an indelible mark with his works. “I am trying to create and use my own symbols, too. I use the asterisk a lot. It represents the third eye. To me, it means ‘there’s more to it than meets the eye’. Most of my work is in black and white; that is intentional. I think there exist dark histories within South Asian culture, so I deliberately stick to a limited colour palette and try to focus more on form,” he says.

Recently, he exhibited his works at the Burrard Arts Foundation in Vancouver, is a show titled The Past is Calling. He has a mural titled ‘Kohinoor’ displayed as public art in Vancouver and has also designed artwork for a bus stop in Surrey, Canada.

With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, Sohpaul says that his art is a way to give back to the Punjabi immigrant community in Canada. “These symbols are all I ever knew while growing up, so it is only natural that I referenced them,” he says.

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