One of my favorite things to photograph has always been doors. I am not sure why, but they are always interesting and colorful objects that speak not only for a given culture or place but also for an individual. Here is a collection of my favorite doors from around the world ūüôā



The Indian Artist: Welcome Back!

Hi everyone! I hope that you are all doing well and have had a good start to the semester! I’m sure that I can speak for the majority of us in saying that I am very excited to finally be on campus and have some semblance of a social life once again!

For those of you that are new and do not know me yet, my name is Riya Aggarwal. I am a sophomore in LSA Honors studying Molecular Biology with a double minor in Art & Design and Sociology of Health & Medicine on the pre-medical track! Art has been one of my greatest passions for my entire life, and in this blog, I share my love of art through discussion of different aspects of my Hindu culture.

I invite you all to take a look through my past blog posts on arts, ink. to get to know me and my voice a little better. In my blog, I will be discussing many aspects of Indian culture and customs as well as my own experiences growing up in a traditional household. I love to recount ancient Indian mythology, explain the meaning behind my culturally rooted artwork, and share aspects of my heritage that I have grown to love and cherish. Apart from that, I love spreading the word on some of my favorite artists and the people that have influenced my artwork as well both technique-wise and conceptually.

The goal of my column is to open up conversations about different cultures and religions. Each Monday, I will feature an art piece that demonstrates my experiences growing up in a strict Indian family, simple technical pieces, or whatever seems to tickle my fancy that week! These posts will not be limited to conventional forms of artwork such as drawing and painting. Being a henna artist, I love to showcase henna designs as well and hope to begin making video lessons on how some of the designs can be replicated.

I am truly excited to start my second year of writing this column and to share my love for art with all of you! If there is ever anything specific that I mention in a post or any questions regarding the topics that I discuss, please feel free to leave a comment!

Looking forward to next Monday!


~ Riya


Personal website:

Meet the Indian Artist

To be completely honest, I have never been much of a writer. Sure I dabbled in my fair share of started diaries that would get tossed aside mere days later, the odd poem here or there, or even small soliloquies, detailing my intensely foreboding thoughts. School essays and papers? Simple. Right up my alley. But deciding to apply for a position as a blogger for arts, ink? Never something that I would have done on a whim.

Instead of writing, I express myself through my artwork. From a very young age, my art was where I found my solace, my home, and my cathartic release. I grew up scouring over the work of my favorite artists, trying to replicate them detail by detail. I got my start through observation and replication. As time has passed, I have found my own style, using mixed media to portray my Indian culture and tradition. Through my art, I demonstrate the most elemental parts of me, the parts that I wish to share with people, and the parts that I keep completely to myself. This blog is something that I wish to use as an avenue for sharing my past and current work. I hope to be able to open up conversations about diversity and equity, culture and worldly perspectives, and even mental health and racial disparities. 

So to all, welcome to my column: The Indian Artist!

A little about myself. My name is Riya Aggarwal. I am currently a freshman in LSA Honors majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology with a minor in Art & Design. Amongst all of the crazy that 2020 has been, I am learning remotely for this semester. I hope that through this column, I can immerse myself in the arts on campus and find other students who share the same passion, learning about their experiences as well. Art is a powerful force. Being a conceptual artist, I am very attracted to the way that different people can take away different messages from a piece of artwork, the fact that a single painting can speak to so many people in many ways.

The goal of my column is to have a place to open up conversations about different cultures and religions.¬†I plan to write about specific aspects of Indian life that I portray through my art. Each Sunday, I will¬†feature an art piece that demonstrates my experiences growing up in a strict Indian family, simple technical pieces, or videos detailing other cultural aspects. Much of the artwork I will write about has a cultural background and demonstrates Indian traditions, explaining it in detail and showing the intricacies of another culture. These posts will not be limited to conventional forms of artwork such as drawing and painting. Being a henna artist, some weeks will showcase original henna designs and video lessons on how some of the designs can be replicated. These step-by-step videos and demonstrations would hopefully spread an appreciation for the art of mehndi. In order to keep a worldly perspective for this column, I will dive into the work of other artists as well, how they use their art to portray deeply rooted traditions and their own unique cultures. Maybe I’ll even throw in a bit of dance and singing just to shake it up a bit.¬†

I think that I have said enough. I am truly excited to get this column started and to share my love for art with all of you! If there is ever anything specific that I mention in a post or any questions regarding the topics that I discuss, please feel free to leave a comment!

Looking forward to next Sunday!


~ Riya


Personal website:

Understanding Abstract Art

abstract art ‚óŹ art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures

Abstract art gets a lot of biased and unnecessary criticism from popular culture; ask anybody, even people who don’t care or know anything about art, about their thoughts on the abstract art movement and I’m sure they’ll give you a strong opinion that they believe is 100% fact. I’ve had personal experience with these types of people many times, and they always say something to the effect of “this doesn’t make any sense”, or “how is this in a museum, it isn’t even good”, or the worst and most common phrase, “I could’ve made that”. To the last one, put bluntly, obviously you could have, but you didn’t, just like anything else in life. When you see a surgeon perform brain surgery, do you say “oh, I could’ve done that”? Obviously not, because although you hypothetically could have trained and went to school for many years to be able to do that, you didn’t. There is an element of respect involved that abstract artists just don’t seem to get. It has become popular to invalidate abstract artists and dismiss their art for no logical reason, and that’s an absolute shame. I would instead argue that the abstract movement has resulted in some of the most interesting art pieces in recent history, and that the movement as a whole is doing something that has never been done before.

Piet Mondrian
Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow РPiet Mondrian, 1929 

When confronted with a piece of abstract art, the impulse is to turn away; it’s unfamiliar, daunting, and complex. In essence, it’s a challenge to the viewer, an attempt to make them work for something, to truly examine what defines art. This is what I love about abstract art: it goes beyond the shallow world of reality and travels into the world of form and feeling. You don’t just examine it like a photograph, in a methodical and information gathering way, but instead must approach it as something new and conceptual, not just seen, but examined thoughtfully. For example, when I first see an abstract painting I often ask myself questions, such as “what do I feel?”, “what colors are being used and how does that define the aesthetic of the piece?”, “what are the subtle undertones of the painting? Is there tension, freedom, chaos, or something else?”. These types of questions often reveal something that I didn’t see right away, and help me understand the piece in my own unique way. That’s the other great side-effect of abstract art: there is no right answer and everybody can interpret it differently. It makes the piece feel personal, like it was made for you, and that relationship with art is something entirely unique.

(Header Image: Convergence, 1952 by Jackson Pollock –¬†

The Buried Beauty of Butoh Dance

You are standing still. Close your eyes. Imagine an ant crawling over the bones of your left foot. It finds a nest in the space between your toes. Then, more of them appear. They surround your feet, tracing their shape…and then, they start the ascent. Trailing up your legs, between them, up your belly. One tickles the thin skin on your wrist. You swat it away only to find two more have replaced. You are swarmed with them. This has become a full-on infestation. The ants with their furry feet and beady abdomens journey across the map of your face, your hilly nose, into the depths of your ears, until they disappear into your hair.

Feeling a bit disturbed? This, says the dance instructor, is how you should always feel when you perform Butoh.

This semester, I’m taking Asian 200 – Introduction to Japanese Civilization. It is just that – an overview of each major period of Japanese history from the Heian Era to the Meiji to World War 2 and today. As we near the end of the semester, we have just begun our discussion on the 20th century. Because an entire course could be dedicated to World War 2 and Japan’s role in it, we have focused more on the effects of the war on the people, the economy, and the arts.

One of the most innovative arts to come out of the post-war era in Japan was the avant-garde dance called Butoh (which literally translates to “dance which steps on a political party”¬†or any dance that is not sanctioned by the Japanese government).¬†

Hijikata Tatsumi performing Butoh; Image via

Created by Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo in 1959, butoh strove to become the new¬†Japanese dance, which broke away from both Western modern dance and traditional Japanese dances. Especially after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there wasn’t a time when nationalism was more necessary to unite the country after tragedy. Butoh was the catalyst for young Japanese artists and intellectuals of the early 60’s to reject the status that Japan had been reduced to by Western superpowers. They wanted to subvert the sense of “alienation, ¬†dehumanization, and loss of self-identity” (¬†Klein, Susan Blakeley.¬†Ankoku Butoh. Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Papers, 1988: p. 9) that had been assigned to them.

Through the performance of Butoh, the dancers embrace a grotesque beauty – where they often make their expressions as revolting as possible, yet move across the stage with a paradoxical grace of controlled spasms. In a way, the more alienated and dehumanized the dancers become on stage, the richer the social critique.

The emaciated (and often naked) bodies of the dancers are covered in a thick white powder, highlighting ribs muscles, and especially the facial features. The dancers are enrobed in a mist macabre and their movements further unsettle the audience. We watched a few videos in class and had to define our emotional response to them.

Classmates answered “confused,” “creeped out,” “disturbed.” I think this comes from how weak the dancers appear (which of course is all an act). We feel awkward watching extreme suffering (even if it is fake) before us. The dancers become hyper-human in their ability to decompose and waste away. They become an alternative form of the humanity we thought we knew.

But how do they do it? Understanding that such a foreign dance would be difficult to talk about without experiencing it firsthand, my professor brought in a Butoh artist/scholar named Dr. Katherine Mezur to teach my class real exercises that are used in professional Butoh troupe lessons. We were instructed to wear loose, moveable clothing and white, cotton socks (though it was ambiguous which was more important: the whiteness or the cotton-ness). We were given the option to sit out if we ever grew uncomfortable. While I promised myself that I wouldn’t let myself sit out, I was pretty sure that at least one person in our class of strangers would feel shy or embarrassed, and gratefully accept the role of observer.

But no! Everyone participated. One of the first exercises after getting loosened up was the immersive imagination scene I referred to earlier: the one with the bugs. Because we had our eyes closed, we were all embarking on our own experience, yet we shared the energy of everyone in the room. We then learned a shuffling step, which provides the base for all Butoh movement. Moving around in the same space, we had to be aware of each other’s persons. We became each other’s obstacles. To complicate things even more Dr. Mezur would yell out an animal or a kind of material (glass, steel, wood) and we’d have to internalize these properties and incorporate them into our basic movement. This exercise was to teach us to realize the materiality of the body.

The most bizarre, and most striking, element of the Butoh dance is the facial expression. Dr. Mezur taught us to roll our eyes back (Exorcism-style),  cover our teeth with our lips, open our mouth, and draw in your neck like a gobbling turkey.

Image via

Luckily, everyone else’s eyes are turned up to the ceiling too, so no one could make fun of how ridiculous we looked.

Not only did I feel extremely ugly, I felt an internal pain from imitating the appearance of suffering. And that’s just the cherry on top of the revolting body image of Butoh. It’s about experiencing all aspects of being human: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The dancers of Butoh seem to say: ‘Not only are we humans who die and kill and begrudge and heartbreak and destroy. We are also humans who can turn the scariest, saddest, unexplainable parts of our stories and create something hauntingly stunning and beautiful and emotional. We connect with you through a shared fear that we might not make it through this performance. But we always do.’