Breaking Into One of Los Angeles’ Toughest Boys’ Clubs

Breaking Into One of Los Angeles’ Toughest Boys’ Clubs

By Monica Luhar

Nisha Sembi captures the sights, sounds, and memories from her Motherland through a can of spray paint and the pages of her tattered black book. For Sembi, the world is a blank canvas, offering her a chance to illustrate the stories of the oppressed – those who she says have been left out of the narrative.

As one of the only female South Asian graffiti artists in Los Angeles, the road to this form of artistry wasn’t an easy one.

“When you are a young woman of color with immigrant parents, there seems to be a very specific path you are forced to follow,” Sembi, 26, told NBC News.

Sembi, a first-generation Sikh American, was born and raised in Berkeley, California. Her mother was from Punjab, India. Her father, also Indian, was raised in Kenya. After an arranged marriage, her parents moved to California in 1977, in search of a better life for their family.

Their daughter’s foray into this art form wasn’t exactly what they expected.

“I guess I grew up with this pressure in a sense that at some point I would have to decide whether or not I would have to decide to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer,” said Sembi. “I wasn’t interested in any of those things so I kind of was the odd one out of my family. I wasn’t passionate about any of those. I was always a creative person so it was natural for me to carve a path for myself with art.”

As a teen, she was often engrossed in her notebook – doodling and tagging to pass the time. She developed her skill as a henna artist, practicing elaborate designs on friends and family, and eventually turning her talents into a professional venture.

Over the years, she continued to hone her voice and discover how she wanted to use it. Eventually, she began painting the blank canvasses around her, telling her own story on the city walls that surrounded her.

I see myself as another warrior of this culture – fighting a great battle to preserve our culture and share our story and style with the world.”

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