There's no-one else like Nikhil Singh and their intricate illustrated dark visions of the future. Their individuality stains their work in an eerie and pervasive manner making for an incredible multi-layered experience for the reader. Here we speak to them about their most recent work, dreaming and the tension between art and academia.
It was such a twisted pleasure reading Taty Went West. The stunning illustrations not only added to the story but also gave it a graphic novel-like feel. How did you pair the illustrations with the story? Did one inspire the book? Were they drawn after the story was completed? Or were they composed alongside the tale?
NIKHIL: Ti=hnx! Actually though, the illustrations were a throwback to books I read as a child – these often included woodcuts, prints or pen & ink drawings, often as chapter headings. For me, the drawings have little or no attachment/relevance to the book as pertains to the reader. Often, how my draughtsman brain read a character was at odds to how my writer brain imagined them, but in this way they both agreed to disagree. I encourage a reader to imagine/interpret characters etc in their own way, without recourse to my nostalgic illustrative indulgences.
A male writer writing a female heroine, while not unheard of, is unusual. In fact, some could call it career suicide and there is data to support this stance. What was it about Taty that made you need to tell it through her eyes rather than, say, Tau's?
NIKHIL: I’m not male, I’m Venusian. Your gender-bias, although not unexpected, is still no better than an assumption. Don’t judge me by your own limitations. Thanks! PS: I could really give a fuck about data.
Ah, my mistake.
Shortly after I finished your book I came upon the article, "The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women." It made me think of Taty who runs away to the Outzone, which, in its own way mimics the world wide web as a place of ultimate freedom that comes with the price of danger. It’s also drenched in misogyny which, in itself, can become an entrapment. It is in this perilous place, filled with advanced technology, that Taty bridges the gap between adolescence and young womanhood.
Cyberspace or the Outzone – what is it about technology, do you think, that amplifies violence and hatred, especially towards women?
NIKHIL: I think this is a ridiculous question loaded with presupposition and slanted by personal bias. ‘Guns don’t kill people – people kill people.’ Furthermore- I really don't see how the Outzone mimics the internet, lol :P, if anything I was getting all Victorian, by inventing my own personal, tropical Gormenghast or Dune – Whatever liberties the Outzone offers come at a price, that price is lawlessness. These sorts of lawless, anarchic worlds are rarely free of predatory misogynists, visit a prison, you'll see what I mean – I view my book as a species of feminist science-fiction, wherein a relatively normal girl falls into the firing line of the worst kinds of men, yet, despite this, survives and endures solely due to her strength of will and character. I don't see the point of sugarcoating the kind of hell a person might face if they fall into the worlds looming on the edges of polite society. Let's not be all Eloi* about what is essentially a Morlock* problem...
You mentioned in an interview that "We are living in a science fiction" and the key to coping with this new reality is to "learn how to process faster." Could you expand on this?
NIKHIL: Anyone who bothers to keep up with technological advances, news and world events etc, would understand what I mean by the phrase ‘We are now living in Science-Fiction.’ As for processing faster – well, a popular excuse for not dealing with escalated input is that one is quickly overloaded. Yet, in reality, synaptic thresholds are mutable. We can train ourselves to increase processing to cope with a surplus of data – iyou know, that whole evolution thing people keep rambling incoherently about...
You are involved in numerous creative endeavours that span many art forms. Yet in South Africa's curriculum the importance of the arts is downplayed and the grading and testing of children is heavily dependent on memorization. This limits the amount of thinking children are required to do in their learning process and it hinders exploring ideas creatively. Do have any suggestions on what needs to be done to counteract this?
NIKHIL: Firstly, you should know that I am %100 [sic] opposed to schooling and all academic systems. Myself, I didn’t even bother to finish high school and have remained uncontaminated by institutes of ‘higher burning’. That said: The problem with attempting to define and 'academise' a collection of creative output is that it is an endeavour which inevitably caters to 'the enemy'. And when I say enemy, I refer of course, in an oblique way, to the long-standing forces that seek to homogenise individual expression through devices of conscious thought. I view intelligence as a disability, an external implant at odds with natural development - sublimated to the more ancient and refined systems and syntax of dreaming, psychic communication and intuition. Those who seek to oppose the machinations of the enemy by adopting their tools of intellectualisation are limited in the scope of their rebellion and ultimately enslaved further by the very system which they seek to oppose. So, in this matter I oppose vehemently any academic categorisation of imaginative work - because, at the end of the day, the approach is nothing more than a subverted extension of an invasive enemy campaign. It must be met with unyielding resistance, lest we lose, by degrees, our birthright of dreams, which our more ancient, less patriarchal cultures practiced and maintained harmonious discourse with.
On Nikhil's Bedside
The Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers by Edward Beauclerk Maurice,
The Dreamer on the Calle De San Salvador by Roger Osborne
The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
Paris Peasant by Aragon
The Barbie Murders by John Varley
Nikhil is originally from Venus but moved to Earth’s greener pastures after centuries of trying to inhabit a human host. Their drawing career began with chiseling hieroglyphs into the walls of pyramids and although their current artistic endeavours are secret it is unlikely that they are very different. Nikhil, a committed vegan, believes in fairies and has an electric blue glitter spacesuit and knows how to use it. They are the co-creator of the critically acclaimed Salem Brownstone - All Along the Watchtowers and engage in alternative filmmaking and music projects, like Hi Spider.
Editor's Note: *The Eloi and Morlock are two post-human races in H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine.
Interview by Tiah Beautement a.k.a @ms_tiahmarie