When Manik Nakra was an economics major at The University of Texas at Austin, he never imagined pursuing art in any serious way, preferring just to “splash paint around” as a hobby in between classes. When a college professor offered to buy some of his pieces, Nakra thought, “Really? Okay.” And after graduation, he decided to get serious.
In between his 9-to-5 job as a cartographer at GeoSearch Environmental, Nakra was quietly working long hours searching for his own artistic voice. “I just retreated back into my studio and just worked,” he recalls. “I would go to art shows, not talk to anyone, just look at the art and come back home.”
Though Nakra was born in the United States he attended elementary school in his parent’s native India. “Now there [are] Wal-Marts in India, but back then it wasn’t like that” he says of the country’s modernization. “Like my dad, his family died in a monsoon, and my mom would have monkeys just come in to her house. She tells me stories of when she was a little schoolgirl [and] hundreds of monkeys would be waiting to walk home with the kids because the kids would give them fruit. That’s gone, though.”
Sitting at the Wright Bros. Brew & Brew on a recent Saturday afternoon in jeans and a T-shirt with a hamburger illustration on it, Nakra admits that as a young, displaced American boy living in India, he was more concerned with why he couldn’t have pizza and watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than with appreciating the more traditional India. It was only as an adult that he reconnected with “old” India and, in doing so, “really started developing my voice as an artist.” Says Nakra, “That’s when I really started concentrating on Indian imagery.”