Princess Pea on her trademark sculptural head, early influences and performance art
In head-to-toe Gucci
Princess Pea is full of energy as she mills about on set wearing Gucci’s extravagant Cruise 2019 collection. We are shooting in Chettinad, a region in Tamil Nadu known for its great culture, culinary legacies and utterly beautiful mansions that are reminiscent of a resplendent past. Much like the character she embodies, the anonymous artist is immensely curious and wants to help with everything. As I place the now trademark sculptural head on her shoulders, a sense of calm takes over, almost as if she senses the responsibility that comes with it.
Cotton jersey T-shirt, lace stockings, silk twill pants, leather heels; all prices on request, Gucci
On asking about the birth of Princess Pea, she mentions it is funny how we are discussing this at a magazine shoot, because as a young girl at art school, she would often draw large heads over the lean bodies of models she saw in fashion publications. Her fascination with these peculiar proportions had almost always been a part of her aesthetic. It was while researching how women have been painted and portrayed in art over the past centuries for her final dissertation, that she realized that they were always shown to be flawless. It immediately struck a chord with her, the younger of two sisters, who had grown up with the unforgiving societal expectations of bodily perfection; while she was too skinny, her sister was decidedly too heavy. She requested her sister to model for her sketches and parted her hair stringently into two sectioned buns, which later turned into the mini circles seen on either side of Princess Pea’s head. The eyes she sketched were huge. The almost anime-like drawing upset her sister so much, she refused to model for her further, and the artist ended up drawing her own body under her sister’s face.
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Thus was born a character, inspired by her sister, who has always been a strong influence in her life and never succumbed to the pressure of conformity. Based on the drawing, she built the head, which resulted in a heavy form sculpted with mud that could be worn by a person. She uses this alter ego, who can neither talk, smell, nor hear, and exists in a different dimension, to examine notions of perfection, tradition, identity, gender and societal standards with a satirical tone. Her photographic works see her engaging in relatable everyday behaviour, in a bid to create an enhanced reality where social roles are suspended. The visual artist seeks to tell the stories of women around the world, who live with the burden of sacrifice and compromised ambitions due to lack of education and the expectations that accompany marriage and motherhood in a patriarchal society. The head plays out the weight (literally) of conformity on the artist and sometimes is worn by these brave women, who can use it as a safe space of anonymity to deliver their narrative. They finally enter Princess Pea’s utopian world where they can be anyone they want to be. She drives home this message using haiku and interactive performance art. A limited-edition line of handmade wooden toys, launched in 2016, are a figural representation of the character. The head sculpture itself has evolved, and is now crafted from a lightweight material padded from the inside, with ten variations in colour and cladding, and even a fan for when she undertakes long performance pieces.
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Watching Princess Pea dressed up in Gucci is subliminal—a visual tour de force. From bejeweled silk garments, tweed skirt suits and blindingly-bright lace stockings, to tote bags large enough to hold a small child, she effortlessly dresses in clothes and accessories that could only have arisen from the fantastical mind of the house’s creative chief Alessandro Michele. The outlandish genius of Princess Pea complements the eccentricity of Gucci’s Cruise 2019 collection, where floral prints, tiger motifs, faux fur and sequins were all sent down the runway with remarkable cohesion. While Michele picked Alyscamps, a Roman necropolis in the southern French city of Arles, as his show location, ELLE’s playground was Chettinad, an area equally laden with history and grandeur. It is home to the Chettiars, a community of wealthy traders whose ancestors’ primary mission was to build homes as grand as the ones they saw on their travels. And safe to say, they successfully fulfilled their dreams—we enter row after row of houses built with teakwood from Burma, chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, vibrant tiles created from sand found in the region, and craftsmanship that looked like it was made by the hand of God. Their brightly coloured houses more than beautifully played canvas to Michele’s creations and Princess Pea’s avatar.
Tweed skirt, lace stockings, leather heels and bag; all prices on request, Gucci
Silk twill top and pants, leather heels; all prices on request, Gucci
Silk twill top, suede bag; both prices on request, Gucci
Silk twill dress leather heels and bag; all prices on request, Gucci
Silk twill top, jeans, tweed jacket, leather heels, suede bag; all prices on request, Gucci
Photographs: Tarun Vishwa
Styling: Malini Banerji
Model: Princess Pea
Location courtesy: The Bangala, Chettinad