After over a decade of being an HR professional and consultant, Ms. Kanchana Gupta decided to heed an inner calling to explore her interest in art.
With over 18 years of experience in the corporate world, Kanchana has thrived and risen to become not only the Global Management Lead at NCS Group Singapore, but also a blooming multi-disciplinary artist.
She hopes to empower aspiring women through vLookUp.ai, a platform she founded last year.
At its core, vLookUp is passionate about creating a support structure that offers women the opportunity to grow, or transit in their careers, through professional mentorships.
The platform connects aspiring female leaders with current industry leaders who volunteer as mentors. Through 1-on-1, curated, and domain-specific mentoring sessions, vLookUp hopes to encourage and nurture women who desire a career transition, a journey to discover new interests, or even guidance on an industry-specific project.
MAD School is currently partnering with vLookUp to make this valuable mentorship opportunity known to students, graduates, and beyond.
Kanchana grew up in a small town in India and graduated from schools that were not considered well-known. She noted as she entered the corporate world that access to leaders and opportunities was often locked behind an access barrier determined by one’s status symbol - such as which schools they graduated from or their family background.
“It was a circle of privilege in an era where social media did not exist, and alumni networks served as the key professional network. I did not have the privilege required and needed to work harder compared to those from prestigious schools and colleges to gain access and to be accepted.
My purpose in developing vLookUp.ai is to break the access barrier so every woman who is looking for a mentor can get one, regardless of their background,” Kanchana shared.
An avid hiker who does not shy away from hard work, Kanchana’s own dedication, courage, and perseverance were huge factors in her success. She enrolled herself as a student in the middle of her career, eventually graduating with an M.A. in Fine Arts.
Kanchana was also the recipient of the “Dr. Winston Oh Travel Research'' award and has since had four solo exhibitions of her work. Yet, she attributes her success to the numerous mentors that have guided her along the way.
“I have been able to manage two very disparate careers of being an artist and a part-time corporate consultant because of the support of mentors and role models such as Lynne Barry.
My supportive mentors from both the corporate world and the art school taught me to take risks, and leaps of faith, and to expand myself in various directions. They offered me space, opportunities, and a flexible career that accommodated my desire to be an artist,” said Ms. Gupta.
vLookUp.ai is an AI-led digital mentoring platform that empowers women and creates access to mentors to help them shape and grow their individual careers. It was set up in July 2021 and has supported over 250 women across multiple countries in their journeys. Visit http://vLookUp.ai/ to learn more and to read about the passionate mentors who can help you.
Full Interview with Ms. Kanchana Gupta
1. Please share with us your journey into art – how did your interest begin and what led you towards pursuing it at a later stage of your career?
I strive to continue pushing boundaries, breaking prescribed frameworks, dreaming big, and maximising my potential in multiple spaces. I would call my entry into the world of contemporary art quite a serendipity.
One evening when I was on vacation, watching a sunset, I had a bit of an existential moment – do I want to continue doing this for rest of my life, do I want to grow vertically in one area or do I want to grow horizontal in few areas, do I want to push myself out of my comfort zone, should I take the risk of moving into a completely unrelated area, should I give myself a chance to try and fail, do I want this environment to consume me completely?
Those questions led me to the decision of taking a sabbatical from the corporate world. The hiker in me said – leave the certain, go for the unknown, and let new vistas, surprises, and serendipities come your way.
However, I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do during my sabbatical. One day, I walked into a fine arts studio and liked the atmosphere so much that I decided to enroll myself in a two-year Diploma in Fine Arts course, and that’s how this journey began.
The diploma led to a Masters in Fine Arts after a few years, and the journey has continued.
I did not have a destination when I joined the art school. I just told myself – let’s try this and then decide where to go from there.
2. What inspires your art and what do you hope to achieve with your work?
My art practice is multi-disciplinary and the mediums I use range from paintings to sculptures to installations to performative video works.
My practice combines process with materiality, which is the structure and impetus behind my two-dimensional works, sculptural works, and mixed-media installations.
The materials which inhabit my work range from oil paint and canvas to socially weighted everyday substances such as vermillion powder, henna, silk, sandalwood powder, and stretch to urban construction materials like jute and tarpaulin.
Each material brings its own particular identity, social symbology, weave, texture, structure, and colour, which I leverage using a combination of studio and industrial processes, often irreversibly altering the inherent properties and contexts and thus challenging people's perspective of the material itself.
My performative video-based explorations dissect the narrative of sexualised presentations of the female body specifically in the musical compositions employed in commercial Indian cinema of the 1980s and 90s.
It aims to investigate the construction of the image of the female form and the process of fabricating a visual identity and the nature of its representation by cinema. It seeks to probe assumptions propagated about the desirability of the female form, artifices, and visual codes of desirability and portrayal of women body as a 'spectacle' through the lens of specific songs from the 80s and 90s.
3. You mentioned that you were able to manage two very disparate careers with the help of impactful mentors. How did you meet them and how did they help you?
I have been able to manage two very disparate careers of being an artist and a part-time corporate consultant for the last 7 years because of the support of mentors and role models.
I found very supportive mentors in the corporate world as well as in the art school, who taught me to take risks, take leaps of faith, and expand myself in various directions. They offered me space, opportunities, and a flexible career to accommodate my desire to be an artist.
One such mentor, who has played a very significant role in my career is Lynne Barry. I could take the leap of faith by joining an art school and later came back to the corporate world after a few years only because of her unwavering support and faith in my capabilities.
4. Please share with us the journey of setting up vLookUp - when was it set up and how has it been for you?
My experiences in both corporate and art ecosystems taught me the importance of finding the right mentors and role models. I have been there myself as a young professional and a late-starting artist, and I was fortunate to find people who helped me shape both careers and manage various transitions.
I believe strongly in supporting women and building higher gender diversity in the workforce. A desire to mentor and help women in the workforce led me to spearhead vLookUp.ai and become its founder.
vLookUp is an AI-led digital mentoring platform that facilitates women's outreach to role models and mentors in various sectors and organisations.
It empowers women and creates access to mentors for them to help shape and grow their individual careers. It strives to augment and retain more women in the workforce. vLookUp was set up in July 2021 and has supported over 250 women in their career journeys across multiple countries in the past year.
Through vLookUp, I am trying to create paths for other women and extend the same opportunities that I got to them. Women go through many transitions in their professional careers and lives, and a little guidance and encouragement go a long way.
I have always been passionate about extending that support to aspiring women leaders in all fields of life. vLookUp is a small attempt to help women find the right connections, mentors, and role models in this very connected yet distanced world.
5. The mentors on vLookUp are bound by their passion to empower women to lead and grow. Can you share why this is such an important cause to you?
vLookUp’s mission is to break access barriers to industry leaders and mentors for women mentees. We achieve this through a network of passionate people developers and diversity champions; an AI platform that empowers women mentees to choose their mentors and that creates relevant, quality matching; and domain-based communities.
Our mentors are inspiring and empowering role models, have a deep passion for growing talent, and believe in fostering diversity. Our network of mentors has grown to be 85-strong and we have facilitated more than 1000 hours of mentoring in one year since the launch of vLookUp.
I grew up in a small town in India and went to schools and colleges that were not well-known. When I joined the corporate world, I realised that a lot of access to leaders and opportunities was driven by which school, college, city, and family background one came from.
It was like a circle of privilege in an era where social media did not exist and the alumni network was the key professional network you had access to.
I did not have that privilege and had to work harder compared to those from known schools and colleges to break that circle and be accepted. I always wanted to do something in that space of breaking the access barrier and there came a time in life in 2021 when I was ready to work on the concept and to launch vLookUp as a platform.
My dream is to create a channel via vLookUp where every woman who is looking for a mentor has access to get one, regardless of her pedigree, school, college, country, life stage, age, etc. It’s like trying to democratise access to leaders, role models, and mentors across organisations, domains, and locations.
6. Can you share some encouraging words or advice to women who are facing a transition, or considering a big leap in their lives?
I am an avid hiker and most of my life lessons are based on my hiking experiences. When I hike, I cannot see the complete path and I focus only on the next 5 – 10 meters. I try not to think of the entire path and wonder - how am I going to climb those 1000 meters?
When I reach at the end of 5 meters, I can see the next 5 meters and so on. So it’s about taking the first step without thinking of all the 1000 steps involved. It’s about letting the path reveal itself.
That has been my mantra in life. I don’t try to have all answers beforehand and let myself be guided by instinct and life itself.
I believe in action and I am a doer. I learn by doing and that approach helps me to keep walking and not clutter my mind with overthinking.
This has been my approach to managing transitions. I start with the first five steps I need to take and then decide on the next five steps and so on.