Art and activism are complementary endeavours: Bhawana and Smish

Women digital artists talk about the inspiration for their political artwork and discuss how artists can do their bit in expressing dissent.


Art makes people think. Women digital artists Bhawna and Smish have certainly taken this notion to heart as their artworks portraying socio-political issues for India have taken social media by storm.



A post shared by smish (@smishdesigns) on


A Social Design student at Ambedkar University Delhi, Bhawna decided to take up political art after the attack in Jamia Millia Islamia University on December 15, 2019.

Bhawna said something inside her “broke.” She felt the walls of the ‘bubble’ she lived in where she could only discuss these issues with her friends and family members. Moreover, Bhawna had trouble finding the right words to illustrate her thoughts.

“I felt as if my voice could not reach anywhere,” she said.

To change this feeling of helplessness, she started expressing her political opinion through her designs as she had for women’s issues earlier. The result surprised her. She saw a shift in the people around her and her peers on social media.

“After I started making art, they started saying ‘Oh Bhawna, I didn’t know this!’ They even started following relevant news,” she said.

The response asserted Bhawna’s belief that artists can talk about such issues without having to use words. She also said that digital art helped spread awareness since it appealed to people in a manner different from words. The young designer assented to the argument that digital art is restrictive. However, at the same time, it can access places that were previously out of reach, like other people’s echo chambers, she said.

Bhawna’s saffron-and-red artwork can be well-differentiated from her personal designs. When asked about the colour scheme, Bhawna said she used saffron specifically for the political symbol it has become.

“I choose that colour to say that saffronisation is happening in our country,” she said.



The text used in the designs are lines that catch her attention while going about her life. After her work started getting her recognition, she made sure to research an issue properly.

“Once you put your artwork out in the world, you have a responsibility to depict it [the issue] the right way,” she said.

When asked about pressing issues in contemporary India, the first thing that Bhawna talked about were the many arrests since March and the lack of reportage regarding this issue. Bhawna expressed deep dissatisfaction with mainstream news coverage.

“Nobody knew about the arrests when they happened. My own family and friends who followed mainstream news had no idea this was happening,” said Bhawna.

During the Shaheen Bagh protest, Bhawna remembered the media fuelled fake news by investing in claims that said protesters were assembling on bribes.

“I feel this reinforces people’s biases. They forget to question authority. Even the people around me tell me that I am consuming fake, sensationalised and biased news without knowing what’s happening on the ground,” she said with much annoyance.

“How can everyone be misled barring a few? This argument is very arrogant,” she said.

Such incidents brought Bhawna back to the issue of online echo-chambers. She worried that such spaces make it difficult for people to listen to the other side of the discourse.

“Our circle of human concern has shrunk to the point where we think we should not concern ourselves because it does not concern us,” said Bhawna.

Bhawna hopes that her art sparks a discourse among people, even those who don’t agree with what she says. As her work gathered fame, Bhawna also began to receive backlash for her art in the form of abuses and threats. However, she said she will continue with her art nonetheless.

“People don’t seem to realise that people on the other side are also human. I have something to say. Why are you shutting me down?” she said.

Freelance digital designer who goes by ‘SmishDesigns’ conveyed the same sentiment when asked about online hecklers and abusers.

“Nowadays, it doesn’t affect me. I just block, report and move on with my life,” said Smish who has become conditioned to death threats and abusive language targeted at her artworks.

The freelancer began her political activism after the 2019 elections following which she gathered a huge fanbase. Some of her admirers used her designs at Delhi during the anti-CAA protests. Recently, her piece commenting on the Hathras case was also used during protests.

“That is where art truly belongs. It has a big role to play in society,” she said.



Yogi raj.

A post shared by smish (@smishdesigns) on


Her artwork focuses on contemporary issues that are either not covered or poorly shown by mainstream media. Much of her artwork includes politicians or people in positions of power as caricatures.

“When we draw these politicians, we try to humanise them because they’ve managed to become Gods for the masses through their propagandas. Humanising them enables people to make fun of them and criticise them,” she said.



Majority Appeasement.

A post shared by smish (@smishdesigns) on


Smish happily noted that a growing number of artists are coming forward recently to express their opinions. Her recent experiences changed her views about online activism as well. Smish used to believe that online activism doesn’t amount to anything. However, she saw how her art reciprocated with people and was convinced when they finally took her art for protests.

Smish said that art was a great medium to express especially in times of protest. In fact, she argued that “art and activism go hand in hand.” So naturally she felt it was great for Indian society as well because art is non-confrontational.

As mentioned earlier, the landslide victory of 2019 elections left Smish disappointed. Some of her friends had faced a lot of hatred online because of the oppressive environment. She felt a restriction of free speech. In light of all this, she thought about the next five years that were to come and decided to voice her opinion on what she felt about on-going issues.

When asked about pressing issues, she said the Dalit Lives Matter movement and the Hathras case, seemed the most important topics at present.

“Yogi government has been a complete failure. There are many instances where they tried to curb freedom of speech but the treatment of minorities is simply horrible,” she said.

She also encouraged discussions on women’s issues. In her own industry as well, Smish had seen more female digital artists only recently. She encouraged all to buy, share women designer’s art and work with them as well.

Being a person who could never tolerate discrimination on any grounds, her artwork focuses on marginalised people and women’s issues.

“I was just opining at first but eventually I started getting a lot of support,” she said.

When asked about future plans, she said she views her political designs as a “momentary thing” to express herself. However, she is glad that her artworks help people deal with their grief.



The preservation of a pandemic: Art under quarantine

IMAGE STORY: Art for Resistance

Watch: A searing protest song about the Migrant journeys

Horrific Police brutality on Jamia Students, over 50 injured



Related Articles