Jasmin Sehra knew she was onto something when M.I.A. Instagrammed her work. “It’s amazing!” the London-based artist said of the thumbs up from the “Paper Planes” rapper. “Over the years I've had a lot them repost or acknowledge my paintings including M.I.A., even Bollywood stars have reached out.”
The painting in question, titled The Real Spice Girl, shows M.I.A. looking imperious against a backdrop of acid-bright rose petals, next to an all-caps slogan of “The Real Spice Girl Got the Power.” Think vintage Bollywood poster crossed with contemporary girl power messaging. In another poster from BollyHood, Sehra’s series of hip-hop portraits, she paints various incarnations of Missy Elliott floating in outer space, tucked next to the logo: “LOVE MY GUTS So Fuck a Tummy Tuck.”
When Sehra started BollyHood, she just wanted to pay tribute to her own diaspora roots and love of hip-hop. Though she was born and raised in northwest London, her family hails from Kenya by way of India and shares deep artistic roots: Her father and her uncle are classically trained musicians and her brother is a music producer.
“My family migrated to the UK from Kenya in the early 70s,” she says. “I remember records or cassettes were always being played and the living room was always the center point where jam sessions were held with classic Indian instruments.”
Her producer brother—who has credits on songs like “Classic Man” by Jidenna—was the one who first introduced her to musicians like Kid Cudi and Kanye West. “That's when I delved deeper during university into more old school hip-hop,” she says. “The lyrics and beats are what captured my heart.” At college, she produced a portrait series called Patterned Sound, featuring images of musicians offset by patterns of music she felt best illustrated their music.
“It was heavily inspired by Kenyan tribes and the idea of bead and pattern work being able to depict a story,” Sehra says. “I think from there I just continued to work on my craft as it was something I loved.”
BollyHood, she explains, was a way to unite all the artists she loved and her disparate sources of inspirations, like her parents’ collection of old cassette tapes. “The graphics and typography is what I loved,” she explains. “Even the idea of telling a story through a poster made me want to fuse all these inspirations together—inspirations that make up my identity especially as someone from the diaspora. The mix of east meets west is something I saw my mom do with her fashion style and everyday demeanor.”
Sehra’s plan is to continue the series indefinitely—she’s dying to paint Aaliyah, Kid Cudi and Erykah Badu—and expand BollyHood into a typography project with a focus on empowering messages. “A lot of the pieces stem from personal experiences and just things I tell myself on a daily,” she says. “I've received some really wonderful messages too, it's beautiful that people connect to my creations and it's so important to talk and create work that is relatable.”