Puer Deorum is a contemporary artist whose work is a testament to the beauty of intersectionality. As a non-binary artist, they challenge societal norms through their practice, delving into themes of mythology, magic, and love. In this feature, they discuss their inspiration, the influence of their Bengali background on their work, and the challenges faced by artists from marginalized groups. Through their art, they seek to create a world where voices beyond the elite gatekeepers are heard, and where the complexities and nuances of life are celebrated.
N: Hello ! How are you feeling and what inspires you these days?
P: At this current moment, I feel tired because I haven't slept, but I think I manifested this because I mentioned yesterday that I want to do a social experiment on myself, where I observe the difference between my mood and thought process versus when I have my regular sleep pattern, depending on the locality of where I am. I first had these thoughts in Berlin, where I was staying up late with a friend every night. Now here I am in Amsterdam with a completely different experience, less gleefully lucid. I think the main variable that affects me is the pace of my surroundings and the energies orbiting around me. Love and my fantastically weird and talented friends inspire me the most, but also sound, signs, patterns, symbols, and cosmic coincidences are generally things I'm constantly aware of in my surroundings. It's the reason I'm able to look and move forward, to find meaning in existence when I consider how relational everything is. But right now, I'm inspired by the upcoming tectonic shifts in the earth.
N: Can you tell me a bit more about how you started engaging with art?
P: I started engaging in art from a young age because I liked anime. Over time, I realized that everything can be art. I needed a way to express what was happening internally, which is when I found sanctuary in beginning to document the ocean of depth within myself and my feelings in flux.
This was after I realized that 2D drawn or painted hyperrealism wasn't the only medium. I didn't go to galleries until I was 16 and studying art full-time as a student because my neurodivergent brain could not handle structured academic studies and exams anymore.
N: How does your Bengali background influence your work and in particular your idea of beauty?
P: My Bangladeshi heritage, as well as the other intersections of my identity, permeate my art because my art is inherently a bearing of my soul in contrived, physically representative forms. Bengali/Bangla is an incredibly poetic language that highlights love and beauty in metaphors and analogies that the English language could never string together. I also think it's completely essential to make work that shouts out loud about my identity, Muslim/South Asian/Queer/Trans, because archives and documented history have worked harder than the devil to erase those before me who deviate from societal norms, who aren't cishet, white, and able-bodied/neurotypical through systems of orientalism and pathologization (as well as all the obvious -isms).
N: References to south asian mythology seem to permeate your practice. What is it that particularly draws you to these themes?
P: I watched a lot of Indian dramas with my mum and sisters growing up, which definitely subconsciously influenced me. There were always themes of magic, mythology, and metamorphosis, which I think are important gateways for queer and particularly trans people to see themselves existing as transcendental beings beyond binary societal norms and constrictions. Mythology is also the most honest way to convey the complexities and uncanniness of love and all the associated and polarizing feelings. I think its potential for explaining the unknown through magic and the supernatural prepares us for all the unexpected challenges life throws at us. My gravitation towards these themes is probably rooted in a mixture of watching Indian dramas, shoujo anime, and oral folk/jinn stories.
N: You have spoken out on the challenges faced by artists from marginalised groups, particularly in terms of being "othered" and having their work pigeonholed under this lens. What are some steps the art world should take to create an environment in which artists feel safe and where their work is valued beyond the confines of their background or identity?
P: I think a lot of people need to step down from their positions of power to really allow for a dismantling of hierarchies and restructuring of the system. People talk so much and forget how much space they take up because of their comfortability in upholding these structures. We all know the art world is inherently problematic and lacks genuine accountability, but there is little resistance from those with amplified voices and presence. There needs to be a collective adoption and embodiment of radical imagination to be able to let go of the ego and scarcity principles that uphold ableism, elitism, respectability politics, and tokenization. There needs to be a more pronounced and normalized sharing of resources and space, care and collectivity to counteract hyper-individualism and burnout. Political forms of art have become so sensationalized that art-washing goes unnoticed. We need to bring back punk and DIY culture because there's a concurrent narrative and visual formula of diaspora art that has become homogenized and perpetuated within communities, which erases nuance and intersectionality of experiences. The voices of those who are the most marginalized in societies are upheld, white supremacist ideals and narrow the margins for allowing space for a multitude of voices beyond the elite gatekeepers who may have worked hard, but I question to what extent and for whom or what?