Self-portrait by Prachi. She is playing a ukelele and sitting on a couch. Behind her is a large painting  of a person holding a flower.

Prachi Dhase: Finding Beauty in the Mundane

Prachi Dhase is an Indian Canadian artist that bridges cultures, champions inclusivity and finds beauty in the everyday. She is working toward a career as a children's book author and illustrator who inspires young readers with colourful characters and captivating narratives.
Photo of Prachi sitting down in the backseat of a moving car looking at the camera.
Photo sourced by Prachi Dhase

"My name is Prachi Dhase and I'm an Indian Canadian artist and illustrator. My favourite themes to explore have always been centred around mythology, history, spirituality, and psychology. I love to do still lifes and portraits and explore my immediate surroundings. I think there's a lot of beauty in our day-to-day world."

In what ways does your family support and influence your artistic vision?

Growing up, my mom was always very creative with little projects that she would give to my sister and I. She would always give us printouts and colouring pages and we would make paper dolls.

We would find cardboard that was recycled, cut it into shapes and splatter paint on it. We would make decorations for our rooms and things like that. So our lives were always very artistic, without us knowing that as kids. And then we kind of fell in love with it as we got older. I guess kids see the world in a more magical and fun way. So we were like, oh that rock looks like a canvas, let's paint it.

My sister and I always did stuff together. She's older than me and has always helped me with my creative process throughout my life. So when it came time for us to go to school, I followed in her footsteps for creative pursuits. She went to an art high-school before I did, and then I joined her! Then the same thing happened with university. She went to OCAD for graphic design and then I went to OCAD for illustration.

There had been some concern regarding our academic choices from relatives, and also our parents at first. They didn't exactly see art as a great career option, just because they hadn't seen a lot of people in our personal lives who have been successfully pursuing it. They just weren't familiar with that kind of thing. But, my parents have always been supportive of our creativity, and I think once my sister convinced them to let her go to art school, they saw that there were a lot of cool, unique opportunities within the art and design realm. My parents really value education, and they believed if you could get a design degree, you could do a lot of things.

Photo of artwork Prachi made of her sister. She is holding her face and gasping while looking up. There is a red background and she is wearing a white t-shirt and headband.
"Portrait of Sister" by Prachi Dhase
Photo of artwork by Prachi. It is a still life painting. A black vase with painted flowers is in the middle but there are no flowers in it, only leaves that are drying out. On the white tablecloth there are two oranges of the left and several grapes scattered all over. The grapes are spilling out of a mug that is turned onto its side. There is a knife in the middle of the painting, in front of the vase, facing the oranges. The background is pink.
"Still Life Painting" by Prachi Dhase

During our conversation, you touched upon your visits to India to spend time with family, particularly your uncle who lives there. Could you expand on the significance of these visits and how they have influenced you personally and artisically?

When we would go to India, it was always kind of a visual culture shock - in the best way! There was always so much happening in the places we visited, and there were so many bright colours everywhere— in people's clothing, the food, and the buildings. Even the trucks in India are painted in really cool colours and patterns. It's always very striking and intriguing. I think that was super influential now that I think about it too, with my colour palettes. 

My uncle who lives in Mumbai is very big on reading. He also wanted us to learn about our culture. So, he showed us some of the books that he showed his children. They are comic books called Amar Chitra Katha, and they're about Indian history, Hindu mythology, spirituality, and things like that. So, there are a lot of stories about different saints, warriors, kings, and the Hindu gods, and I really enjoyed them growing up.

Photo of Amar Chitra Katha Vol  501 | 50.
Photo of Amar Chitra Katha Vol 501 | 50

How did your multicultural background shape your identity and experiences in Canadian schools?

At first it wasn't too hard to fit in, because there were a lot of South Asian people where I grew up. So there were people we could relate to in a lot of ways. But, going into high school in a different area definitely was a big culture shock just because we didn't really see a lot of people of colour anymore. A lot of the kids at that school also reacted to us in a strange way because, I guess, they weren't used to seeing people of colour either.

Sometimes we would get ignorant comments. There was just a lot of, you know, turning up their noses to our food or things like that. It was a little bit uncomfortable. It's because of these experiences that I wanted to shed light on the beauty of my culture and religion.

People just didn't know a lot about it and would make judgments based off of something they had seen or heard somewhere without any basis in reality. I always wanted to tell the stories of my culture and other minority cultures whose stories haven't been told before. 

I started working on a little comic book during a sequential narrative class. It's about a little girl who goes to school and gets bullied for the food that she brings for lunch. The story is about how that affects her, and how she grows to love her food and herself, and stands up for her culture. I hope to complete it soon!

Painting by Prachi of Krishna scooping icecream into a full bowl that a little girl is holding up toward her. Krishna is sitting inside of the freezer,
"Little Krishna" by Prachi Dhase

What inspired your exploration of Hinduism and its integration into your artwork? Is there a specific story that has resonated and impacted your work?

My mom is the reason that I got so into all of this. Growing up, she would tell us all the stories of the different Hindu gods. We follow a lunisolar calendar, so she would always tell us what auspicious day we're celebrating and go into the background of all of it, including which God or celestial being or event is about. That way, we would understand why we're celebrating or praying, why we're doing certain rituals, and making specific foods.

She would always tell us these stories in a very playful and fun way; teaching about the gods almost as if they were characters or superheroes. That gave us the perspective that God is in everything; in our food, our art, and everywhere we go. This idea made us feel supported and protected.

My mom would make the Gods seem fun and sassy, and smart and colourful. It was always interesting and I felt so intrigued and wanted to learn more about them.

Painting by Prachi of Indra laying down on his side on a rain cloud. He is holding a watering can and is watering the vegetable garden below him. There is a picket fence behind the garden.
"Lord Indra" by Prachi Dhase

How does your art address the nuances of everyday life for the middle class, as described in your thesis; Mundane Interventions?

There's a lot of beauty in the mundane. Like looking outside and seeing the lake or seeing people's shoes that they picked out for their outfits. I think it's really nice to appreciate simple things. Like how people decorate their homes; if they have flowers or artwork, or what kind of table they choose to put in their living room. I think it's just really nice to appreciate different people's aesthetic choices and the everyday things that we see in front of us.

We're not always going to look at art galleries and beautiful architecture and things like that. I think it's really special and acessible to paint normal things that people can relate to and for people to appreciate their surroundings more. It doesn't always have to be something extravagant. You can kind of do that yourself by composing specific lighting, pairing items together in a still life and complementing colours and textures.

My mom always said to me that there is God in everything and all that we do - large, small and mundane.

Still life by Prachi of two stacked books and a wine glass on top. In the centre there is a vase of pink flowers. To the right there is a burning candle.The background  and surface is white.
"Still Life Painting 2" by Prachi Dhase

For example, one of my thesis illustrations is about the god Hanuman, who is the god of strength. He's also known to be able to fly and contort his body because he's the son of the God of wind. A lot of people from my culture, and within my family specifically, believe that he's the god that takes away fear and anxiety. So, anytime we're on a plane, we will pray to him to keep us afloat and safe throughout our journey. So, my "Mundane Intervention" in this illustration was him lifting a plane over turbulence. The way that this mighty god might help in a really simple, common problem was really fun for me to imagine and paint.

Painting by Prachi  of Lord Hanuman flying sideays underneath of a passenger airplane. He is wrestling with the clouds of the storm and holding the plane up with his tail.
"Lord Hanuman" by Prachi Dhase
Painting by Prachi of three children playing in a snowbank.
"The Snowbank Illustration" by Prachi Dhase

Can you walk us through the technical aspects of your creative process, from conception to completion?

I like to be able to actually touch and physically feel the textures of the creative tools I'm using. The media that I use the most for my work, at least recently, has been acrylic paints and acrylic media. I also really enjoy mixed media work. 

My professor recommended to me when I was working on my thesis project to start off with traditional media, scan it or take a picture, touch it up digitally, and then use the new digital version as a reference to fix my original traditional piece. The idea is that you can finish that piece and keep all the beauty of the surface textures, but the digital version helps you to get the colours or perspective right - which has been a game changer.

Palette in Prachi
Photo by Prachi Dhase

Can you share an example of a recent project where your technical process was crucial in bringing your artistic vision to life? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?

When I was in my first year at OCAD U, I found critiques could be pretty soul-crushing. Everybody's at the same level and is really, really good, in different ways. But, I think over the years, once I realized what I was interested in, I became focused on that instead of other people. I've gained a lot of confidence with drawing and painting, and with learning what and how I like to draw.I started to feel a lot more inspired. That made me excited to get people's critiques and ask my peers and professors how to improve so that people could digest and understand my work. It was still very difficult to hear when people didn't like something I was proud of working on. But then, it always ended up being a big learning process, and I only benefited from it.

"I want to make a difference and have little kids be able to share themselves and their culture with their friends."

What motivated your decision to focus your future on creating children's illustration books, and what themes or values do you aim to communicate to young readers?

Growing up, I loved to read. But I didn't often see myself in the books that I was reading.

To think that someone from my culture could be a main character was something I never expected to see. I think, especially living in such a multicultural city like Toronto, that it's important for kids from all walks of life to be able to see themselves in the media they consume. Starting that young is really important because that kind of gives them confidence and makes them feel important too.

I want to be able to share the stories of all kinds of people from all over the place. Different cultures, foods, clothes and lifestyles and all of that. I want to make a difference and have little kids be able to share themselves and their culture with their friends proudly.

Photo of Prachi standing in front of her work from Toronto Outdoor Art Festival in 2023.
Photo sourced by Prachi Dhase

"Art is a huge form of activism and advocacy."

As we come to the end of our conversation, what message or insight would you like to leave with our readers about your art and the journey you've embarked upon?

I did my thesis project on my culture and religion because I personally hadn't seen it portrayed in a very effective way before in North American media. Or at least, accurately or playfully. I feel like it's always very serious and unapproachable, and that people make assumptions based on a few images that they've seen here and there. They just don't really know a lot about it.

I really wanted to shed light on that through my work and have people gain curiosity, even if they don't necessarily know how they feel about it at first glance. At least they've looked at it, and they've seen it in a colourful, fun, light way, and it might make them want to learn more and hopefully do their own research and ask questions.

I would love to continue teaching, learning and using illustrations and children's books as building blocks for more conversations.

Self-portrait by Prachi. She is playing a ukelele and sitting on a couch. Behind her is a large painting  of a person holding a flower.
"Self Portrait in Acrylic" by Prachi Dhase

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