Nidhi Mariam Jacob “dreams a garden, and wakes to create it.”
The talented Bangalore-based independent artist expresses her love for the natural world through her vibrant, fantastical art, “manifesting her dreams for a better world” into reality. Her “Fantasy Garden Series” indulges our eyes with brilliant explosions of nature from bud to flower, leaf to tree, grass to soil, and Lantana to Lotus. The “Breathing Canvas” series found the artist painting on women’s bodies and exploring a powerful medium of storytelling through painting on skin. Another art project close to Jacob’s heart is “The Orgasm Flower Project”, a series of “flower paintings inspired by people’s writings describing what they feel or experience during an orgasm.”
The artist’s life mirrors her work, expressing individuality through vulnerability. It is no surprise, then, as an outsider looking in, one isn’t simply drawn to Nidhi’s vivid and picturesque canvases but also to the artist herself. She lives with her partner Bhavana, her 2 children, a son and daughter, their cats and a couple of birds. Nidhi Mariam Jacob is the poster girl for individuality and living life on one’s own terms. However, she describes herself as a late bloomer, on a constant quest to live out her full potential, which has been a long journey.
We sit with Nidhi Mariam Jacob to talk about her art, her life and her aspirations for the future.
Where does your passion for nature come from, and do you remember when in your artistic career you decided to identify as a “botanical artist”?
I grew up around nature lovers. My mother and grandfather were avid gardeners, and we spent a lot of time outdoors, out in nature. I remember watching my mother tend to her precious plants in her garden for hours and hours, and she would educate me with the names of each species, how to care for them, where they grow best etc. I was always impressed with botanical names, and the words “Green Thumb” were so true of my mother! I would like to believe I have this gift too! These were all defining moments for me, I think. And that’s where my love and awareness for the natural world came from.
I never went to art school, I am self-taught, so I had to develop my own style and technique, which was a long journey. In 2016 I started working on a specific style, which you see in all my work now. I had to find a niche for myself in the botanical art space, and once I found that for myself, I could confidently call myself a “Botanical Artist.”
From “Breathing Canvas” to “The Orgasm Flower Project”, your art pushes boundaries and boldly disregards many societal norms for women and creatives. What inspires you to create such projects?
I was striving to get approval and love by conforming from a very young age. Growing up in an environment which was a mix of academics, free thinkers, conservatives, the rigid, the judgemental, the rebels, the hypocrites, the pretenders and everything else in between, I had a confusing childhood. I observed and noticed everything and wanted to please everyone!! I was a mishmash of all these ideals and values and was trying to find my way through it.
I was obviously a complete failure at pleasing everyone because it is not really possible to do or be that, and at some point, I realised that “people pleasing” was not my thing and I had to form my own set of values, or I would leave this world not knowing my unique individual purpose. Artistic expression helped me do that. It took years of personal work, exploring my core and being brutally honest with myself, to create art that was NOT for approval but to move people, to remind the viewer of beauty, freedom and hope and how each one of us is meant for a larger purpose. As simple as that!
You’ve spoken about getting a second chance at life, personally and in your career. As a middle-aged woman from a conservative family in India, how do you find the courage to live life on your terms? What role has art played in all of this?
We are put on earth to find our true purpose. I genuinely believe that. The choice is ours to find it or not. Finding it is more challenging, there is no easy way. The easy way is to ignore opportunities, signs and callings, but if you walk through those doors of opportunity to change, the struggle is entirely worth it.
I say second chance at life because the last 6 years have been a 360-degree flip of my life. I got out of a marriage, I worked so hard to create a standing for myself as an artist, I looked at sexuality as fluid, let go of what a family should look like by standard norms and most importantly, created clear boundaries with everything around me. I surrounded myself with the right people and did a massive letting go of everything from my past and present that was not serving me. My partner, Bhavana, has played a big role in helping me find my voice through my art. She would always tell me to believe that my voice was important and what I have to say is important. And with finding this truth comes courage and immense power. Everything else just falls into place once this realisation happens to an individual.
Does your personal life fuel your work or the other way around, or both?
Yes, of course! Art imitates life, and life imitates art! As artists, it is almost like we are creating history, a documentation of our times. It is so important that we do. One of my series called “Pods and Buds” was inspired by watching nature’s cycle of Death and rebirth. This was during the pandemic, when my family and I were locked down at our farm, when I spent large amounts of my time in silence, watching nature go through this process. Breathing Canvas also came from my need to explore intimacy in its many forms and create narratives with the human body.
How have you handled criticism for your art projects and for the choices you have made in your personal life?
It’s important to have cheerleaders in your life as well as people who tell you the honest truth with the absolute right intentions. I have both, and that gives me a lot of stability as well as reality checks. Every artist has an ego, however much we try not to have it, it is there. So it’s vital to take criticism well, acknowledge our weaknesses and use constructive criticism to our advantage to move us in a better direction if necessary. Learning to decipher between constructive criticism and criticism for the sake of it with no proper intention is so important! I am learning to ignore the latter!
What advice would you give to artists who are struggling to make a living from their artwork?
I would say to do the thing you love and make a living from it, it takes discipline and grit. Giving up should never be an option. There will be times when you have to do things you don’t want to do that might even bore you, but the steps that are essential to be able to do what you love finally. Discipline, discipline, discipline! I swear by it. As an older woman finding my way back to financial stability after a divorce with no financial knowledge and a family to support, I had to just put my mind to it, whatever it took!
I spent a few years taking art classes for children to make my rent and pay the bills, making art on the side, I took on any project that came my way, did things like packing, accounting, billing, running around doing the mundane work, driving around to meetings with clients if I had to, till I was able to delegate work to others finally. I had to be able to do the things that I would finally hire people to do myself first. There is empowerment in that. You learn to respect the people that work for you because you know what it takes to be productive.
Be a continuous student of your practice, whatever it may be. Watch and learn from successful artists. Don’t just wish for success but observe and learn how successful people succeed. There is no such thing as luck, but luck is preparation meeting opportunity. I think Oprah Winfrey said this once, and it stayed with me.
Any other “life lessons” you’ve learnt along the way that you can share with artists and creatives?
Discipline, self-belief, staying open to opportunities, continuous practice of your craft, constant personal work for mind and body and a very clear purpose is vital for any artist to make it. Each of these is as important as the other in my experience.
Are there any new projects you are working on or have planned for the New Year?
I have many ideas and projects in mind for next year. Creating authentic and honest work is super important to me. I want to focus a little more on giving back wherever I can, in any way I can, because I have been blessed with this life and success. I am so grateful for everything that I have received over the last few years.
And finally, how do you take your coffee?
I like coffee in all its forms! My comfort drink of choice would be a warm cup of Indian filter coffee.