Ambika’s fleeting moments: Multitalented sophomore reflects her own experiences across artistic mediums

(Photos courtesy of Ambika Nuggihalli)

In Ambika Nuggihalli’s freshman year “Spanish Media and Literature” class, there was one particular lesson that sparked her interest: the work of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. While the class read Lispector’s book, “Água Viva,” Nuggihalli, now a sophomore, became infatuated by what Lispector calls “the instant-now,” inspiring her own writing. 

“I was kind of like taken by that idea of what happens in a second can never be repeated,” Nugglihalli said. “You can never come back to it. When you try to capture that and kind of bring it back, how do you do that? Can you really do that? What do you do with it? I like to think that most of my work follows that theme.”

Nuggihalli, who is majoring in communication and minoring in comparative literature, takes her present feelings, whether that be sadness or joy, and applies it to her artwork. She paints, writes poetry, draws with charcoal and is a digital artist. 

With the two zines she’s curated and created, along with her poetry, paintings and digital illustrations, Nuggihalli describes herself as an artist who “[expresses] states of mind, fleeting experiences, and stories through a variety of mediums.”

Outside of creating zines and drawing, Nuggihalli’s poetry has been published on many different platforms. She’s written for “Palaver Arts Magazine,” a USC student-run online art and literary publication and “The Luna Collective,” a Los Angeles-based zine that showcases the artwork of young adults. Most recently, her poetry collection “Arcana” gained recognition in the 2020 USC Undergraduate Writers’ Conference where she was a semi-finalist in the creative category. The collection focuses on her identity and reflecting on her past experiences. 

In her everyday life, she takes note of those instances, such as moments of stress, and transfers them to her artwork. Her drawings depict her state of mind, and her artistic epiphanies can come at any given time. Using pastels in her drawings and paintings, Nuggihalli depicts people embracing, frowning, or in a completely abstract form. Her artwork makes use of a wide array of mediums; she uses acrylic, charcoal, watercolor, colored pencils and ink. In her self portraits, smooth lines and overlapping colors express her complex mood; the colors may be warm, but the expression in her eyes is forlorn. 

Nuggihalli’s roommate, Tahrima Bhuiyan, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, knows these moments all too well. 

“Inspiration will strike her randomly,” Bhuiyan said. “It’ll be 2 a.m., and she’s supposed to be working on some essay, and then she’s just like, ‘Wait, I’ve got a poem’ and then she starts writing poetry … She channels a lot of things in her art. [It’s] definitely a way that she understands herself and the way that she expresses herself.”

Her love for art goes back to December 2018 when she began “Lotus Zine,” a zine that focuses on highlighting the experiences and voices of South Asian, LGBTQ people. 

“I had a bunch of friends who are all LGBTQ and also South Asian, and we were just kind of thinking that we should start a zine to represent how we make things as a community and open it up to other people,” Nuggihalli said. 

Nuggihalli served as editor-in-chief and curated the zine after reviewing submitted artwork from applicants. The proceeds from the 2019 publication were donated to Orinam, an all-volunteer collective of LGBTQ people in southern India. 

“I think it’s a wonderful way of getting art out to people in a way that’s actually viable and doesn’t put up barriers,” Nuggihalli said.  

Her most recent project, “Veil Zine,” is a product of her “Drawing for Art and Design” class last semester. This collection of ink drawings and witty captions represents Nuggihalli’s first foray into ironic horror and the blending of differing stories, or as she calls it, “twisted horror stories with punchlines.” 

“While the narration seems to tell one story, when juxtaposed with the visuals, a second story emerges,” Nuggihalli describes on her website. “Each tale offers two perspectives of the same situation: one on the surface, and one that peeks behind the veil.”

The zine begins with Victorian-inspired illustrations and evolves into frenzied brushstrokes as the plot progresses. With this, Nuggihalli comments on the role of women in the horror genre and their stories, which are often dependent on men. 

“They say all the suitors hoping to write themselves into her father’s will take one look at her and scream,” reads one of Nuggihalli’s captions. 

Nuggihalli is originally from the South Bay area in Los Angeles. A place where “everybody there’s also Indian or some form of Asian,” she said, speaking of the loving community of people who share a similar ethnic background. 

All of this changed during middle school when Nuggihalli’s family moved to the North Bay, near San Francisco. Her family’s move incited her artistic journey. 

“That was a big change for me as I was trying to figure out who I was,” Nugguhalli said. “That was when I started becoming my own person and not just living in the shadows of other people, which is a weird thing to say about yourself in middle school.” 

Nuggihalli describes her middle school self as a “typical nerdy book kid who rebelled.” She would sit in corners of her classes and doodle in the edges of her notebooks while friends encouraged her to keep drawing. She admits that she didn’t start taking art seriously until her junior year of high school. 

Since then, Nuggihalli has become driven, studying art theory and focusing on her creative works in her free time. For the artist, honing in on her technical skills is a pain, but without understanding the basics, she admits that there’s not much she can create.  

“I’m in the point right now, where I’m still working on the technical things,” Nuggihalli said. “I hate charcoal so much and I hate how much time it takes, and I hate realism, but that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months because I’m like, well, that’s kind of where I need to work on things before I can do what I want to do.” 

Speaking of Nuggihalli’s drive, longtime friend Catherine Rimmer, a sophomore at Cabrillo College, believes that Nuggihalli strives for perfection as an artist through diligent, consistent work. 

“She gives a lot of respect to the people around her, which I think you can really see in her artwork,” Rimmer said. “She has a tendency in her art to make everyone really beautiful. It used to be something that — especially with the rise of art made [for] consumption on Instagram — it used to really annoy me when people in art were consistently beautiful. But, I realized for Ambika it wasn’t her trying to make her art more consumable and commodifiable, so much as [it was] her just genuinely seeing the beauty in every person.” 

With her varying interests, as an artist but also as a tenor saxophone player in the Trojan Marching Band and member of the USC Mock Trial team, Nuggihalli’s advice for creatives on how to elevate their craft is to persevere. 

“I have a lot of things in my sketchbook that I wish I had fleshed out and gone through with,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to flesh everything out, but when you have the chance and you have the inspiration, follow through with that and you might be surprised where it takes you.”