I met three of the members of the recently formed Kadak Collective at an event in London a couple of weeks ago, and immediately knew that their work would be a great fit for the readers of this website, given how innovatively these women are interpreting modern Indian culture through their art. They have distinct styles of work, and are learning by doing as they work towards the East London Comic Art Festival in June, where they will be showcasing some of their collaborations. I highly recommend that you check out their individual portfolios as much as their collaborative work. They kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me on art, culture and their relationship to the web today. Reading the interview below is like listening to a segment of the very tuned-in, opinionated and talented population of today's India, though in this case they are distributed across both India and the UK. I trust you will emerge both entertained and informed.
The Kadak Collective are:
Aindri Chakraborty (London)
Akhila Krishnan (London)
Janine Shroff (London)
Aarthi Parthasarathy (Bangalore)
Garima Gupta (Mumbai)
Pavithra Dikshit (Mumbai)
Kaveri Gopalakrishnan (Bangalore)
Mira Malhotra (Mumbai)
Kadak Collective uses art to reflect your 'preoccupations with a changing subcontinent'. In your words, what are these changes and why are they interesting or important to capture through your art?
Aindri: For me, the changing subcontinent is the parallel one that is happening online; the one without physical borders. For example, I made a comic about Sandra Hassan, whose app I’m Alive happened to come up on my Twitter feed. I’m Alive was built by a Lebanese developer living in Paris, petrified about the wellbeing of her family back in Beirut in the face of constant bombing in 2014. This story became a comic by an Indian illustrator living in London, which is me. Reaching out to her and drawing out her story was such an amazing experience, even though we do not speak the same language. I can imagine that this parallel world can be a positive, collaborative environment for the subcontinent.
Mira: I think each of us have different preoccupations and that's what makes this so interesting. To be very honest, Indians are everywhere. I grew up in the Gulf, so many of the families I knew moved on to Canada and the U.S.A. My chachi grew up in the Fiji Islands. When I was in the Gulf, I identified strongly with being Indian as I was placed next to a Saudi, a Filipino, a Lebanese, etc. When we eventually arrived to live in India for the first time, I found myself unable to define who I was because I had no measure to define myself, I wasn’t Indian anymore in India as such, in fact I felt like an outsider. I think a lot of the work in Kadak is different just because of its identity. The collective is interesting to me because it offers not only a South Asian viewpoint but also that of young women and girls who are fighting and compromising all at once, the traditional notions of who they are ‘supposed’ to be versus who they want to be.
Pavithra: One of the preoccupations which is important would be having a point of view which is not essentially feminist or women-oriented but it comes from observations of women and that’s something we all have in our practice.
Kaveri: I find it most interesting to question the backdrops and ‘roots’ that we each align ourselves to, knowingly or unknowingly. I had a greater sense of what my ‘Indian’ identity was when I met people from different parts of the world at a residency in the School of Visual Arts. It changed the way I looked at the topics I unconsciously gravitated toward, and perhaps previously looked at more superficially because I took for granted the cultural norms of the place I’m from: broadly between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in South India, entirely English-speaking, living on a farm for most of my growing years. I’m curious about balancing this mix of Western influence in South Asian subcultures, and how it reflects in each of our works the moment we placed ourselves as a ‘South Asian collective of women making visual narratives’. There are so many grey areas and questions in all our visual representations in Kadak that I’m curious to explore.
Aarthi: There’s so much that’s changing in the subcontinent right now - socially, culturally, politically. As artists, observing, documenting, commenting on and shaping the world around us is what we do, that’s the power and reach of art. It’s important to respond to the world around us, and engage with different kinds of storytelling and imagemaking, to encourage multiplicity of thought and opinion.
Garima: I feel that this, right now and here, is a very interesting slice of time/space. It’s a time in the subcontinent that is so visibly and vastly different from the past few generations. We, more specifically women, are beginning to talk about things which traditionally had a predefined place, namely under the carpet. This shift of thoughts and the space it provides for dialogues/art is very interesting.
Akhila: I think that the world is changing in unimagined ways through the spread of communication – especially mobile phones and the internet. I used to be the biggest sceptic about their impact, but I am coming around now. India is especially interesting because we just became independent in 1947 – about 70 years ago (69 to be precise), which frames this larger international change within an interesting context. Technology is driving and raising questions of access – both in terms of accountability of the government in providing access to basic amenities of food and water, and also access to stories of how people in different parts of the country live. As a practitioner, I make a lot of work that might be fictionalised, but is rooted in real events and facts from newspapers and the like. The fact that I can access them in the first place, and the research I can do online – both in terms of finding my stories and being inspired (by other practitioners from around the world) about how I can further shape them, has fundamentally changed my practice. These stories are also important to tell in our own personal ways, because as creative practitioners we can express things in ways that are shareable – even if some people feel that our work does not speak for them. But these stories represent this slice of time now, these questions we are trying to answer.
At the end of the day I am Indian, though I might live in London for work now. I tell these stories to understand who I am and where I come from, to remember my childhood, to celebrate my parents (who have seen India change from a country where it was hard to get a colour TV and a telephone, to one where you can call an autowallah on his mobile, in the span of their lifetime) and to also understand and negotiate my own experiences growing up as the daughter of a naval officer – who never lived in any city longer than 5 years. London is in fact, the longest I have lived in one city and I am not sure it will ever feel completely like home. This tension is a big part of my work: the perpetual feeling of an outsider looking in.
What are the most useful tools and services (online or offline) that you use as designers and creative people in general?
Aindri: Medium, Twitter, Tumblr, Dropbox, Gimp, Blender
Janine: Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Google Drive, WeTransfer, Canon S100
Mira: Facebook, Flipboard, Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign, Dropbox and a Nikon DSLR
Pavithra: Analogue - Pencils, Pens, Nibs, Inks, Paints, Papers, Scissors, Glue, Washi Tape among others. Digital - dobe Creative Suite, Instagram, Google Drive, Medium, Snapchat
Kaveri: Analogue - Pencils, Black Brushpen, Watercolors, Coloured Inks, Markers and varied traditional drawing materials. Digital - Photoshop, iPhone, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Google Drive
Aarthi: Twitter, Google, Facebook, Word, Photoshop, Illustrator, FinalCutPro, Adobe Premiere, Canon 5D, GoPro, black pens (lots of them)
Garima: Instagram, Medium, Vimeo, Pinterest
Akhila: Analogue - my scanner (!), ephemera I have collected through the years, my journal(s). Digital - my Facebook feed (I read articles posted by a few friends whose perspectives I respect – a curated feed in some ways – this is a big way in which I find stuff), news websites – The Guardian, Homegrown.in, Tehelka (pre-Tejpal trial), Instagram, Dropbox. For inspiration - The Art of the Title (since it perfectly reflects my interests in moving image and illustration), books. I’m ON all on the time – sometimes it feels exhausting.
What is your opinion on the increasing use of technology and social media in the subcontinent with such a large young population, how do you think they can be used or are being used positively and are there any examples of this you can mention?
Aindri: I am eagerly looking forward to The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter by Ayesha Tariq getting published. I came across her last month and right now her story for me is everything! I really like the candid language in the book and I can relate to her making work after a fight with the family.
Mira: I see young people who ordinarily weren’t the sort to be bothered about news - politics etc. - gaining access to the same pretty easily via technology and writing about it, being articulate about it, being informed, being opinionated, with a very well-considered POV. Supposedly silly but powerful things like memes, bite-sized news (easier to read than the everyday tome that is the newspaper), apps like Flipboard and the ability to choose what is of interest to you, (personally I am relieved to be able to choose media that gives me relevant news, not information about some celeb's post-baby body) has made a huge difference. Examples are blogs like The Ladies Finger, @AmbaAzad’s crowdsourced online list of openminded gynaecologists Gynaecs We Trust (which helped me find a non-judgmental gynaecologist and really take care of my health). Also Spoilt Modern Indian Women’s memes are hilarious and gender role-defying.
Pavithra: Technology has given us access to a large set of people who are expressing their views online. The pros are that more individual voices are being found and heard. Even the introverts have a way to be out there without feeling shy. And a lot of walls are crumbling between nations and communities as people befriend others very easily. Examples are Humans of New York and Ai Wei Wei expressing the suffering and real stories of refugees. Their style of journalism is far more powerful than regular media channels and that’s the future.
Kaveri: We’re all still excited and unsure about how to use technology. It’s a privilege now to pick the kind of information that you want to receive: following the news and current events through informed choices, and taking a step back when it comes to sensationalisation. Microblogging on Instagram and Tumblr (which I do a lot of, and have discovered so many people from various fields and interests in) has so much scope: it can give anyone a voice. Particularly in Asia (or at least India, which is what I can attest to), we have grown up with SO much knowledge of Western cultural norms, current affairs and popular culture - it’s important that there’s more of a mix out there now, that we can take charge and speak up and make content and feel represented.
Aarthi: Technology and social media have really changed everything in the last few years, especially with the production and consumption of visuals. Like Mira said, it’s made a lot of people engage with things around them, and express their opinions and reactions easily. We also have to bear in mind that it’s not all positive - we’ve seen social media being used for propaganda, to incite and provoke violence, to quash debate. But some examples of positive developments are the public reaction after the 2012 Delhi gangrape incident - the kind of questioning, debate, inquiry around the issues of gender and feminism that exploded into national consciousness at the time; the kind of art/visuals/memes that are taking on politics and current affairs in the country now; the anti-establishment debates around student politics that social media helps bring to the forefront now (a lot of this is not covered in mainstream media).
Garima: Social platforms have definitely given voice to several important conversations that would have otherwise never reached even a fraction of their audience in the real world. Last year I got really interested in podcasts and stories from across the world. I followed both seasons of Serial and really binged on This American Life. I have a newly-found respect for non-fiction narratives and their potential impact.
Akhila: As I said before, I think this is a great thing. I’ve heard of friends doing online dating through apps like Tinder or OkCupid in India now, and I think this is wonderful. I wish it was around when I was living and working in India. It might sound like a silly thing to say – but ideas of access and choice are a big thin. I love the link Mira sent through (Gynaecs we Trust) – just the idea that that represents, about having a safe online community that you can ask for advice you would not be able to ask those around you – represents a powerful thing. Especially for women.
When I was growing up, I felt everyone but me had control over my body, and this allows women to take that control back. This ability to create a safe community – I know there is a lot of chaff to separate out from the wheat, but at least you can walk into the field now. I also think the fact that all this can be done on phones, that we have phones to call people if we are in trouble, is big. I didn’t get a mobile till I was 21 in India - no wonder my parents were worried about me when I had to travel alone. These ways in which technology is giving us choices is what I think is most powerful.
If there was one person or organisation anywhere in the world you would work with if you could, who would they be?
Aindri: Darth Vader. JK.
Janine: I think Darth might have a good recruitment policy and incentives on the Death Star. Do I need to choose an organisation? I don’t think about organisations in aspirational terms. I might work with them as an obligation to survive, not so much as a dream realised. I’d like to own a small island with a private plane and wifi and do drawings there full time. Person: Neil Gaiman?
Mira: The Beastie Boys and Bikini Kill. But one of the Beastie Boys is dead. Sigh.
Pavithra: Organisation: No idea. Person: Henri Matisse or Amrita SherGil, both who are unfortunately dead. Or Maria Popova of Brain Pickings.
Kaveri: I’d like to self-publish/produce ideally, or work with someone like Maria Popova on a platform like Brain Pickings.
Aarthi: Would love to work with Kate Beaton, Molly Crabapple, TaNehisi Coates. I’d love to work with Indian museums (on Indian art history), with the Organic Farmers Association of India, and Chimurenga (Aindri put me on to their work, love what they do).
Garima: Jane Goodall / David Attenborough / Tim Laman (I generally drift towards those involved with conservation work).
Akhila: Michael Haneke, UVA, Dark Horse Comics, Forensic Architecture, The Gagosian Gallery, Commissioners of the 9/11 short films...but this is just nit-picking, I’ve been privileged to have worked with some amazing people and institutions in my work life so far, especially in London.