Student artist Raina Pahade wants their art ‘to question expectations’

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Artist Raina Pahade (junior) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 25, 2022. Kawena Jacobs/The Occidental

With its bright colors and ornamental details inspired by their Indian culture, Raina Pahade (junior) said their art is able to say things that words cannot. Pahade said that while art started off as a hobby for them, it has become an outlet to express their passion for both creating and for social issues.

“I would like to think that my art has an activism component, even if it’s more interpersonal,” Pahade said. “I think a lot of my artwork brings up discussions for my own family members and other people to question things.”

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Photo Courtesy of Raina Pahade

Their family is often a point of reference for them when it comes to looking at their culture, they said. Pahade’s grandma, who immigrated to the United States from India, had a job in engineering, a field then dominated by white men.

“I feel like a lot of my art practice is interested in how people in the South Asian diaspora break and twist certain norms of gender, sexuality and other expectations,” Pahade said. “I think there’s a real importance of just making art and taking up space for identities that aren’t really represented.”

Pahade said they initially started making art about beauty standards because they were bullied growing up, and they were taught that appearance defined their worth.

“I never really saw people like me,” Pahade said. “I didn’t understand why so many of my family members, that I thought were beautiful, weren’t appreciated in the mainstream media. There’s a real beauty to our culture when it is not taken advantage of by colonization.”

Pahade’s friend, Jaiyenan English (junior), said that although she does not relate to all the aspects of Pahade’s art, there are universal messages of inclusivity and finding one’s place in the world.

“We all can relate to coming of age and reckoning with who we are, where we come from, and what that means,” English said. “It’s just that experience of trying to figure out who you are.”

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Photo Courtesy of Raina Pahade

Along with art, Pahade has explored other modes of expression like Bollywood dancing and Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian storytelling dance that they said provided them with another connection to their culture. Additionally, they said they choreograph for Occidental’s Bollywood dance group.

“Dance is an art, and the music has a lot of meaning to me,” Pahade said. “I can still hear my dance teacher yelling the steps to certain songs. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, [but] there’s comfort.”

According to Pahade, their understanding of the traditional dance and their appreciation of the aesthetics have informed some of their recent art pieces, including a sculpture of a Bharatanatyam dancer wearing the head jewelry and artificial braid associated with the dance.

Pahade is also the creative director and outreach coordinator for Occidental’s South Asian Student Association (SASA). They said that as soon as they came here, they knew they wanted to be involved in the school’s South Asian community. The leadership aspect was something they said was very important to them because they wanted to make sure everyone was welcomed.

“I want to make it as inclusive and notable as it can be,” Pahade said. “I’ve met really lovely friends from SASA and I want to be inviting for [first years] and stuff because I know it can be intimidating.”

Pahade’s roommate and close friend Siana Park-Pearson said that Pahade’s efforts to be welcoming to all are a major part of their art and personality. Park-Pearson said this care is something that makes Pahade enjoyable to be around and live with.

“They put a lot of thought into the process of creating all their work and really everything that they do,” Park-Pearson said. “They just want to share their work with people, they really enjoy talking about it. I definitely feel like it’s a welcome space.”

Pahade said they plan to continue exploring their passions for art and inclusion, specifically as they merge their Critical Theory and Social Justice (CTSJ) major with their Studio Art minor. Pahade said they are unsure about where they would like to live and further their work. Pahade grew up in New Jersey before coming to Occidental, and that is where their family still lives.

“I think there’s plenty of opportunity anywhere, and I am really open and excited to see where my art takes me,” Pahade said.

You can follow Pahade on Instagram to see more of their art at @rainapahade.art.

Contact Kawena Jacobs at jacobsk@oxy.edu