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Meet Akshaya Bhutkar, creator of Westfield’s Diwali artwork

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, one of the biggest festivals in India and around the world. Celebrated over a five-day period, it usually falls in October or November. For Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, it symbolises “good over evil” and is a time for reflection, renewal and gratitude, with a strong focus on family and community. During Diwali, people clean their homes and decorate with lights and colourful patterns. It is common to wear new clothes for the festival, exchange gifts and prepare meals for loved ones.

This year, Diwali falls on Sunday 12th November and to commemorate the festival, Akshaya Bhutkar has crafted textile designs which celebrate the occasion and they are featured in Westfield’s Diwali creative. Akshaya is a Sydney-based artist and fashion designer who is passionate about infusing more Bollywood culture into Australian wardrobes through her designs. We caught up with Akshaya to learn more about her creation, titled ‘Sweet Escape’ and to hear about her family’s Diwali traditions.

What does Diwali mean to you and your family?

Diwali is a time we look forward to all year, with the festival signifying gratitude and good fortune. My family sees Diwali as a time to celebrate new beginnings and a good time to put our goals into motion. We spend the day getting the house ready, decorating our spaces with tea lights, cooking sweets together and dressing up in traditional wear. My parents always told me that Diwali is a good day to start something new and we often honour this by starting a new notebook, with the blank pages symbolising the new beginnings taking place.

How will you be celebrating Diwali this year?

This Diwali will feel extra special. Along with the usual traditions of cooking together and getting together with family and friends, we'll have the added bonus of visiting our local Westfield to see my creation. I'm looking forward to celebrating a day that is so auspicious and special, and I'm particularly thankful to share it with the community on such a big scale.

Can you talk us through the pieces that you have designed and shot for this project?

'Sweet Escape' is inspired by the fantastical and extravagant nature of Bollywood cinema, portrayed through dancing, hyper-emotions and the feeling of being joyous. This mood is what I aim to capture through my clothing via bright, vivid colours and silhouettes which inspire a curiosity to move and dance.

Each garment has been hand-dyed using an intricate dyeing method which I developed — this method gives my clothing its vibrant colour palette and unique print.

What is the meaning of the mudras (hand gestures) and flowers used in your art?

'Glowing' and 'lotus' are both words I wanted to conceptualise when I developed the mood for this project, as they are strongly associated with Diwali. To do so, I've used two mudras in particular: 'Kataka-mukha', which symbolises the holding of flowers, and 'Alapadma', which symbolises an opened lotus. I used both of these mudras in my imagery to present what Diwali means to me.

You are trained in Bharatnatyam (a form of Indian classical dance) – how have you incorporated this into your work?

Bharatnatyam is something that I grew up doing every Sunday and is a form of classical dance that focuses on storytelling through movement, rhythm and expression. Bharatnatyam taught me how joyous dancing can be and the art of conveying emotion through facial expressions. These are both elements I have incorporated into my work as I love being able to express emotions of joy and an unapologetic vibrancy through my designs.

What inspires you as a fashion designer and what legacy do you hope to create with the pieces you design?

My inspiration comes from recognising and celebrating the beauty in our everyday lives — whether that's the beautiful flowers that surround us, or the vibrant colours that fill up our days. I want to keep tapping into this energy by creating colourful and vibrant pieces that evoke a sense of joy.

As a designer, I want to be remembered for the pieces that weren't afraid to have fun and unapologetically be themselves. There aren't many designers in Australia that come from a background like mine; Indian and the daughter of first-generation immigrants, and I want diversity in the fashion industry to be something we work towards now and for the years to come. I want kids to not fear having big ambitions like I did, and to see people who look like them be a part of these spaces.

Learn more about Akshaya Bhutkar and her art here.

Join in the Diwali celebrations at your local Westfield by visiting the What’s Happening page on their website.