The Indian Artist – American Dhulan

When I mention the fact that my parents had an arranged marriage people look at me like I’ve stepped out of an 18th-century melodrama. At a young age, I never understood the semi-shocked looks or the elongated replies of “Ohhhhh interesting” that I would receive. Each one of my aunts and uncles had an arranged marriage along with all of my grandparents and their parents before them. It seemed like a normal thing that I was expected to partake in as well when I was ready to get hitched.

However, growing up in American society, and over time, veering away from the strict traditions of my culture, I have found myself torn between following in the footsteps of my ancestors and creating my own path. This is an aspect that I choose to discuss heavily through my art, the culture that I was born with versus the culture that I have grown up amongst, and the difficulties that come with being pulled constantly in different directions. As I am sure many kids growing up in an immigrant family with diverse backgrounds can sympathize with, this dichotomy, this constant battle between sticking to my roots while wanting to experience beyond the uber-traditional and what is “expected”, has proven to be more than challenging.

How about a little background before we dive in too deep? Both of my parents were born and raised in north India, coming from families that had strict ideals and followed tradition to a T. They were set up, married, and came to America for their educations, to start a new life, a life of promise and opportunity for their children. When my brother and I were born here, we were also raised in similar ways and held to the same expectations that my grandparents had set for my parents. Along with these expectations and all of the rules came the unspoken belief that I would one day grow up to blindly marry a man of my parents’ choosing. The mere thought of falling in love with whomever I chose, a man of any race, was something that wasn’t dared to be entertained.

The piece that I have shown represents this internal struggle and discusses some of the challenges faced by many children in strict traditional families. I chose to title this piece American Dhulan, once again representing the dichotomous relationship between my Indian upbringing in American society.

In Hindi, “dhulan” means the bride. This piece, done in various mediums ranging from watercolor, colored pencil, fabric, and gold leafing, is a rendition of a traditional Indian bride decorated in intricate ornaments and clothing. In the drawing, all of the jewelry has been removed in place of different scenes. Her necklace symbolizes the destruction of true love as two hands reach for each other but never meet. The earrings, nose ring, and forehead decoration are each whited-out. Instead, they are replaced by images demonstrating different modes of stress and mental health challenges many children face but are oftentimes overlooked.

As time has gone on, I have come to find solace in my culture while continuing on my own self-made journey. I have chosen to accept the very traditional parts of the Indian lifestyle and the difficulties that may come along with it as another part of the otherwise beautiful culture. However, now I choose what I want to be a part of my story.

In the following posts, I will dive into other aspects of my culture and how it has molded me into the person that I am today. If anything that I discussed in this post stands out or if any questions arise please comment and share your thoughts!!

Looking forward to next Sunday!


~ Riya


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Riya A

My name is Riya and I am currently a Junior at U of M studying Molecular Biology with a double minor in Art & Design and Sociology on the pre-med track. Art has been a huge passion of mine from a very young age and in this revamped column, I look forward to sharing my passions as they connect to my culture, medicine, and art.

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3 Comments on "The Indian Artist – American Dhulan"

Rhea R
2 years 10 months ago

Hi Riya! I’m Rhea! This piece is so incredible and creative. It really makes me wish I could make art like this. I can definitely relate to some of the themes you talked about but I’m lucky in that I have pretty untraditional parents who don’t expect anything from me regarding marriage. If you ever want to talk about this or something completely different feel free to reach out!