Nine-year-old Viraj Tandon is in this year’s Young Archie

His choice for the portrait – his beloved Nanu.

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Nine-year-old Viraj Tandon of Sydney is one of ten finalists in this year’s Young Archie competition in the 9-12 year category.

The children’s portrait competition runs concurrently with the Archibald Prize, Australia’s most famous portrait competition.


  • The Young Archie competition runs concurrently with the annual Archibald Prize
  • Sydney lad Viraj Tandon’s painting My Grandfather’s Secret Garden is a finalist in the 9-12 year category
  • The artwork blends Viraj’s Australian and Indian identities seamlessly
Viraj Tandon. Source: supplied

“I was very excited, very surprised, when my mum told me,” a beaming Viraj told Indian Link.

His subject is his beloved grandfather Dr Harbans Aulakh, aka Nanu.

Nanu was Viraj’s first choice for sitter. “I studied some photos of his, but mostly painted him from memory,” Viraj, a Year 4 student at SCEGGS Redlands, described. “He was very happy to know I became a finalist, and couldn’t stop hugging and kissing me!”

Viraj painted him in his “secret garden” of flowers and fruit.

The “enchanted garden” also attracts native birds, which Nanu chases away, much to the delight of Viraj.

“I observed in the garden over many months,” the young artist related, with a maturity way beyond his years. “I love nature and vibrant colours.”

It took him nearly three days to finish the painting.


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The final work melds the Indian and Australian aspects of Viraj’s identity wonderfully. Nanu’s turban is strong and draws attention to itself, a nod to the Sikh identity that is becoming known for its spirit of sewa (service) in times of hardship. And yet, this is seamlessly balanced with the Australian element in terms of the cockatoos.

The bright colours pop against the plain background, imbuing it all with lightness and optimism but revealing a deep sense of grounding.

Overall, it shows clarity of vision, strength of purpose and the power of symbols.

Nanu Dr Aulakh is, predictably, over the moon.

“I think he’s done a good job – his portrait is a very close likeness of me,” he told Indian Link.

In retrospect, he’s not surprised that his grandson chose the garden elements for the portrait.

“It’s the first place he goes when he comes over. He loves the fruit trees and the veggie patch. He’ll pick a fig or a lemon or some herbs, bring it to the kitchen and chop up for us neatly.”


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READ ALSO: Budding Indian-origin artists in the Young Archie 2019 competition

Viraj was four when he first showed an interest in art. He has since taught himself to work with acrylic, watercolours and charcoal.

“I love animals. My first piece was an elephant in the jungle. I’ve made cockatoos, crabs, crocodiles, and I really like MF Husain’s horses.”

He laughed when the suggestion was made that Husain’s horses are strangely shaped.

“That’s because they are abstract,” he enlightened.


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Viraj’s dad Rohit Tandon revealed that his son’s talent came to the fore more vigorously during COVID lockdown last year.

“We were schooling and working from home,” he recalled. “I spent much time with him alone as my wife Mandeep is a doctor and worked extra long hours. Painting was a way really to keep him busy. I got him loads of supplies and let him do what he wanted.”

Out at the shops one day, Viraj saw mounted canvases; there was no stopping him after that. Six months later, he had produced no less than 40 works, some larger than himself.


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 His portraits include his mum and dad, Krishna, Guru Nanak, Mother Mary with Baby Jesus, and Mother Teresa.

His all-time favourite, though, is a painting of Ganesha.

It was made on a request by – who else – Nanu, for a friend who had just moved into a new home. Ganesha makes a great housewarming gift.

Meanwhile Nani (grandma) is a great inspirer too. Speaking to Viraj on Anzac Day, she suggested he make a painting for the occasion. The result, a thoughtful piece featuring a soldier and a poppy, was picked up by the ABC.


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A post shared by Mandeep Aulakh (@virajs_artwork)

 Viraj’s work has also made it to National Geographic and to the NSW Parliament, and has been on show multiple times at school.

Viraj paints nearly every day. He has now taken to reading all about the old masters Michaelangelo and DaVinci (Vesuvian Man is a current obsession). Yet, drawn naturally to rich colour, he prefers Picasso and Frida Kahlo.


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A post shared by Mandeep Aulakh (@virajs_artwork)

Mum Mandeep, keen to nurture Viraj’s special gift carefully, is adamant that he should be left alone to develop his own style, rather than be restricted by instruction. Luckily for her, Viraj has proved he’s a great self-learner.

“He picks up techniques from YouTube,” she revealed. “Once when he wasn’t quite getting the eye right for a particular portrait, he said, Mum, can I photograph your eye and study it?”

It’s no surprise that Viraj wants to paint for the “big” Archies one day.

Who would he like to paint?

“I don’t know yet – some celebrity.”

He knows, however, what he’ll do ultimately with his Young Archie portrait.

“I’ll frame it and hang it – maybe at Nanu’s place.”

READ ALSO: Kids commemorating Anzac Day 2021

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Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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