Pixel Prodigies: 5 South Asian Artists Re-Programming The Canvas With A.I.

From panoramic dreamscapes to vibrant commentary on eco-feminism, delve into the world of South Asian A.I. art. Meet five visionary artists igniting the digital realm.

  • 18 Apr '24
  • 12:44 pm by Virender Singh

Social media feeds and NFT marketplaces are awash with panoramic dreamscapes featuring sword-wielding mercenaries and anthropomorphic sea otters rendered with Vermeer-esque finesse. Yet, amidst this surge, South Asian A.I. art is undergoing a profound decolonization of storytelling traditions. Mimetic, larger than life, and controversial are some ways to describe the flotsam of AI-generated imagery drifting up from the nether regions of cyberspace into mainstream consciousness. From Hashim Ali’s unique take on Disney Princesses retrofitted with Mughal decadence to Namaah Kumar’s exuberant commentary on eco-feminism, a swirling metamorphosis is in flux all across the subcontinent. Here is a curated list of five high-octane visionaries firing up their image-to-text generators with clever wordplay and charting new landscapes that push the envelope. 


Also read: Six Influential South Asian Women Artists Making A Global Mark

#1 Hashim Ali — Calibrating South Asian Heritage From Disney to Desi

Through his captivating portrayal of Disney princesses, Ali offers a compelling vision of the lives these iconic characters might have led in a South Asian context (Image Credits: Hashim Ali)

Exploring the A.I. generator tool Midjourney, Lahore-based art director and production designer Hashim Ali experienced a revelation. How might Disney princesses be reimagined from a South Asian perspective? Punching the prompt in, his jaw dropped at what the datasets threw back at him.

Departing from Western minimalism, Ali embraces the lavishness of pre-colonial dynasties (Image Credits: Hashim Ali)

“I always want to see the entire world through the lens of South Asia, what we are and what we were and what we lost,” Ali confides to DP. Eschewing Western minimalism for the unabashed lavishness of the Maurya dynasty, he embarks on a transformative journey to reclaim the essence of South Asian identity in the digital age. With a profound appreciation for the bejewelled tones and intricate zardozi embroidery that draped court officials and maharanis alike, Ali salvages the lingering traces of this region’s vibrant history 

#2 Khyati Trehan — A Dynamic Approach to A.I. Video Production

Infusing authenticity and soul into the text-to-image model, New-Delhi-based graphic designer Khyati Trehan embraces a dynamic approach, seamlessly weaving between traditional and AI tools. “It takes spending time on a piece, sleeping over it and tons of iteration to take it to a place where it reflects me just as much as it surprises me,” explains Trehan. Venturing beyond static images, Trehan seems to have found a true calling in the realm of generative video, offering a glimpse into the infinite possibilities of AI diffusion. Trehan’s experimental mini-music teaser for the song ‘Affection’ is a glimpse into what’s possible with no budget, limited resources and a world where Generative AI technology makes artistic expression that would otherwise take substantial production effort, well within reach. Each set is designed to allude to a dreamlike romance and made using Adobe’s generative fill with parts made to move using RunwayML’s motion brush. 

#3 Namaah Kumar — An Odyssey of Empowerment and Astrological Intrigue

‘The Earth Laughs in Flowers’ series has been inspired by a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote (Image Credits: Namaah Kumar)

Namaah Kumar finds eternal wisdom in colour, weaving emotionally charged narratives of femininity and the allure of nature, forging instinctive bonds with their audience. Summoning their prowess as a creative director, Kumar’s portfolio is rich in themes of sisterhood and slow living, each piece following a distinctive colour scheme that imparts an unmistakable identity to their style. Using a mix of royalty-free resources, open-access generative A.I. and digital painting, their latest obsession with astrology is giving birth to floral mise-en-scenes where young women and queer folk are challenging the patriarchy with effervescent abandon. Like the dandies and flappers of yore, each artwork in the ‘The Earth Laughs in Flowers’ series honours the virtues linked with every zodiac sign. In a world where no one has time to stop and smell the roses, this artist fosters an environment of shared jubilation, where deliberate self-reflection wages a sweet battle against the rigid societal mores of our time.

Through generative A.I. and digital painting, Kumar creates floral scenes where young women and queer folk challenge societal norms. (Image Credits: Namaah Kumar)

#4 Ari Jayaprakash – Plunge into the Depths of Occult

Through both A.I. and traditional outputs, Jayaprakash goes deep-sea diving into the darkest corners of the human psyche (Image Credits: Ari Jayaprakash)

Embark on a journey into the realms of terror and the unknown with Indian artist Ari Jayaprakash, whose oeuvre is culled from a kaleidoscopic tapestry of unsettling narratives. Paying obeisance to filmmakers from David Cronenberg to Stanley Kubrick, his eerie visions of sari-donning alien nobility and beastly incarnations from the Hindu pantheon are laced with body horror and absurdism. “I aim to immerse audiences in unsettling atmospheres, challenge their perceptions, and tap into the universal fears that resonate deeply within us all,” Jayaprakash surmises. 

On a daunting expedition into the Indic underbelly of Aghoris, Tantra, and Dasamahavidya canons, his artwork is a dichotomy of life-giving and life-negating forces. Relics of ancient civilisations like the Toltecs, Mesopotamians, and Mayans seem to have been resurrected, pillaging our busy suburban lives and wreaking havoc upon our jaded imaginations. With a penchant for Japanese horror, French New Wave Extremity, and arcane graphic novels, Jayaprakash dredges up a visceral iconography that is hard to look away from. 


Also read: Three Global South Asians Using Identity to Have Generative Conversations

#5 Harsh Jani — On Transcending the Ordinary

‘Faceless’ challenges the notion that great characters or subjects are necessary for perfect art (Image Credits: Harsh Jani)

When the visual artist and filmmaker Harsh Jani first encountered the high-precision realism delivered by the image generator Leonardo AI, his feeling was unbridled wonder. From the confines of his studio, amidst a symphony of pixels and algorithms, Jani began forging new paths in the ever-evolving landscape of AI art. Phantasmagorical, effervescent, and even slightly spooky, his creations defy genres.

‘Cosmic Bride’ aims to suggest that individuals from another planet might possess a unique beauty of their own (Image Credits: Harsh Jani)

Faeries wearing insect masks, a cult praying together, mystical shrouded figures waiting for a messiah — at the heart of his artistic practice lies a deep reverence for the cosmos and its mysteries. With an unwavering commitment to innovation, he challenges conventional notions of beauty, constantly pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable. Through the lens of AI, each image he conceptualises becomes a portal to distant galaxies. As we journey alongside him, we are reminded that the true essence of art lies not in the medium but in the ever-growing imagination of the artist.


Also read: Indian Artists Exploding Onto The Global Scene