'India can become internet superpower': Indian-American artist Elissa Patel Waverly talks about art, technology, and cryptocurrency

Dipthi BhatUpdated: Saturday, July 10, 2021, 04:20 PM IST
"And so for me, the headpieces specifically, I thought when people wore them and especially when I saw women together wearing them and we did either a dinner party or an event, it completely changed the environment," says Elissa. | Elissa Patel Waverly

Over the years, art and the way we look at it has changed altogether. As years passed, we evolved to a time when technology has completely transformed art, creating more creative space for artists out there. Indian-American artist Elissa Patel Waverly talks to The Free Press Journal's Dipthi Bhat about art, technology, the internet, and cryptocurrency.

Elissa is an artist known for her beautifully designed floral headpieces and loves music. And through her art, one can see how much she loves art. Speaking about what inspires her to pursue art, she says, "My favourite part about art is the idea of imagining the world that does not exist and a lot of what I do comes from the desire to get people be part of the art world and embrace creativity. And the reason I am so driven by that is that I am from Silicon Valley and I grew up in an environment that was very tech-heavy. The fact that I did not access to art and when I understood it, I could see the possibilities of what could happen if you took something like this with a creative mindset and merged with technology, was fascinating to me. I think when you unlock that in people, the world becomes a really interesting place."

A few years ago, Elissa built her own brand - East Darjeeling - which is now being rebranded and will be put under Elissa's name as a designer. Well, the story behind building her own brand is quite interesting. She says, "I had a friend who had a tough year so I went to give her a bouquet of flowers and instead of giving her those flowers, I took it apart and turned into a headpiece. I think that headpiece really transformed the environment from a not-so-good environment to something whimsical and magical. I sort of kept going and eventually ended up opening a studio, a store in New York, Manhattan, and displayed it there and everyone from Victoria's Secret supermodels to brides to event-goers would come in. I still have these headpieces in my studio. The studio still exists but I will be expanding that into household items, jewellery and some Indian fashion and it will be a creative house."

India is known for its cultural and traditional vibrancy and art runs through our blood. Elissa says that she tries to inculcate the Indian touch in her art. "In terms of art, its the vibrant colours that inspired me the most. You will see that in some of the headpieces that I have designed. Indians have inpired me through its hosting culture. I think we are known for something like that. So whenever I am releasing something, I always try to host something where I have a community. And a lot of it comes from the Indian culture. "

Elissa Patel/ Instagram

Speaking about her plans to venture into a business in India, Elissa said she plans to come to India and design clothes and jewelry soon. "That's like on my eventual trajectery and that's going to happen step by step. And hopefully in coming couple of years, I will be coming over to do that," she said.

When I first looked at Elissa's Instagram page, I found her art quite inspiring and unique. It looked royal and empowering. Upon being asked if she was intending to portray women empowerment through her art, she says, "Yes, I mean, the reason I do a lot of it because I want people to see different type of world and I think imagining unlocks that. Artworld unlocks that. And so for me, the headpieces specifically, I thought when people wore them and especially when I saw women together wearing them and we did either a dinner party or an event, it completely changed the environment. "

At a time when climate change is affecting every country on the continent, the pursuit of global sustainability is important. We saw how companies have failed to abide by this over the years, causing harm to the environment. When asked about how sustainable her art is, she said, "Sustainability is obviously always in top of my mind. But the way i look at it though is we live in a world where everything is fast...you've got fast fashion, fast food, fast basically everything. The conversation that we need to shift is this idea of artists and creators versus influencers. A lot of times these influencers are trying to sell fast lifestyles in way of advertisements. Creators are actually building things by hand which is, in my opinion, the new definition of luxury and really what is sustainable is by building things slowly."

She said that it is important to shift consumer's mindset to value creators, artists, small designers as a new form of luxury rather than luxury being a status symbol when people are posting something on the internet. "When I make something, I don't produce things at scale, I don't produce a lot piece of jewellery if i am doing jewellery. I'll do as per the order rather than making thousand pieces. Don't produce something if people are not going to buy. Don't produce so much."

Elissa believes that the internet opens doors to a new world and provides an opportunity to learn something new. "My biggest philosophy with keeping yourself afloat is that you can learn anything on the internet today. The way I see the world looking at the internet today is that it is a massive opportunity for anybody who has access to computer. The vast majority of people are spending time on the internet watching dog or cat videos when they could instead be learning a new subject. So my recommendation to people is that use the internet, use the tools that allow you to do anything today," she adds.

When one talks about the internet, data piracy, duplication of art, and other cyber-related issues are something we deal with quite often, and the artists are left uncompensated. Elissa opines that in such a situation blockchain comes into the picture for artists. "If you think about the trajectory of the media or the internet, artists and creators create a lot of content for free and publish it on the internet and these platforms are benefitting from us. We create interesting things and they go viral on the internet. One benefit of embracing other platforms or decentralisation or blockchain is by giving artists more power to control more of their finances behind what's happening so they are actually compensated for what they are doing. So when i think about the future and when I think about blockchain and what the trajectory is, I think, you first start with the galleries, basically by controlling the prices, the narrative, the image of the artist, and then moving into the stage where people have the access to tools to build their own audience. The next phase would be creators being supported by everyone who has access to internet and smartphone."

Speaking about creators in India, we have often seen that they are not recognised for what they do. We have seen that people still don't consider creating content as a full-time job and often disregard it. Elissa believes that if India embraces creativity, we can become an internet superpower.

She said, "That is something I have seen too and understand. I think you have to remember that given that a lot our jobs will be automated. Then on the opposite spectrum, you have got the idea of creativity and the tools of the internet. The most important thing is the ability to be creative. India is an interesting place in terms of creators and the internet and the future of the internet. But there are certain things about it and one of those things, I would say, is embracing the idea of creativity. If you can embrace creativity, India can actually become an internet superpower and the reason that I say this is because the future is global citizen. The idea of global citizen is that we all exist online and spending a lot of time online. In India, specifically, the country has so many people and every day they are onboarding more and more people on the internet. The fascinating thing about India is that it is English speaking and it is stem focused, so it's got two major bonuses and if we embrace creativity and if we had a way to minimise corruption, which you can do through blockchain technology, it could be fascinating place as a superpower online."

She adds, "You could argue that China or the US are going to become the superpower but the problem is China and the US are entering a bit of a cold war. China would never accept the idea of a global citizen because it mostly thinks of itself and there's too much self-interest and that's a turn off to a lot of people. America, we are battling ourselves on the inside. Wallstreet is fighting Reddit, media is fighting social media, basically, we are fighting each other. If India can embrace the blockchain which can codify some of the corruption problems, if they embrace creativity and have most people on the internet, it makes India the potential superpower."

In recent times, cryptocurrency has been the talk of the town. We have also seen some cryptos rising to new levels (thanks to Elon Musk's tweets). Millennials are getting on board with it and some investors saw it as a potential alternative. However, countries are skeptical and don't see it as a potential investment. Speaking about cryptocurrency and the crypto world, Elissa says, "My opinion on cryptocurrency is that it is our future. I think in the midst of becoming the future there is going to be a lot of noise on the way not everything that you see today is going to exist tomorrow. Like a lot of coins, you see today may not hold any value tomorrow but this idea of decentralization has already happened."

Upon being asked if she thinks that cryptos can help fight corruption, she says, "All this is so new, it's hard to say that, but if you do hold a proper transaction and if the ledger is tracking all the information and it is cross-checked, then to some degree it is eliminating corruption which is fascinating for India because it is one of the problems there. India could be a very interesting place for people to invest but it is also difficult place to invest because there is corruption."

"Not everything is good in this space and most NFTs are worthless. A lot the coins right now also are in the same category. A lot of that noise and speculative bubble that's happening in the crypto world is being repaired with some really interesting that can change the way we operate," she added.

Elissa says that it is new territory and it becomes hard to pass through and that she considers that it is still risky and not completely proven.

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