Gender fluidity. Passionate, unadulterated love. Freedom. Protest. Revolution.
These are only a few of the words that lend texture to Ayushman Mitra’s pret couture label, Bobo Calcutta. His label is a visual manifestation of his core belief of love being the basis of all things, and in wearing his clothes you find yourself woven into the very fabric of protest against the lack of basic freedom to love and to live in India. These garments are like fluid posters taking these ideas of liberation and love across the land, making his art more accessible and tangible than ever before. Homegrown spoke to Bobo himself about his brand, his aesthetic, and protest wear all while getting a sneak peak into what Calcutta looks like from the lens of this artist.
“A lot of people appreciate art, but most of us cannot afford to buy it. So I thought of making my art available to people in the form of garments. Why not wear art, use art, as opposed to hanging it on walls, or placing it in a gallery? This way art interacts with more people, starts more conversations, and becomes more effective” Bobo tells us, as we probe further into the concept of ‘art-on-the-go.’ For instance his central motif, a lip-lock between androgynous faces, is a symbol of one’s right to kiss whoever they may choose while also standing for acceptance of oneself, the ego, and the alter ego - the lip lock between them is a symbol of self-acceptance. To be able to wear this motif makes the art wholly more visceral. “Not only do you treasure your object, which you now own and wear/ use, but also you develop a relationship that can then make you consider its concept, idea, and social function,” Bobo explains.
The beauty further exists in the fluidity of the textile itself, unconstrained by gender - they are simply tangible landscapes embodying universal ideas of love and freedom. His work speaks the language of creation - bold and fluid, filled with ecstatic chaos and convoluting symmetry. You’ll find his motifs etched within reams of Benarasi silk, embellished with embroidery and swirling in the psychedelic form of colour.
On whether his art is a rendition of Kolkata, or a nostalgic ode to Calcutta, Bobo justifies it to be a marriage of both. He says, “I am inspired by Bengal’s arts and crafts history (thinking of 20th c. painters such as Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy, and the arts they draw from), but I’ve also spent a lot of time in many different parts of Calcutta. The city’s architecture, culture, and people have been part of films I have made. Calcutta is one of the most forward-thinking and accepting cities when it comes to discussing gender and sexuality, and I hope to be part of a contemporary movement that is accepting and open to change.”
His current collection, The Quarelling Garden, is largely inspired by the current social fabric of our times. “The screaming mouths and abstract mirages represent the confusion and chaos that the last few months have been surrounded by, not just in your country but globally. This is the first time the prints are not the regular happy liplocks, they are hidden voices who now are screaming out loud,almost calling upon a revolution that shatters this upsurge of hatred.” His next collection, ‘The Hybrid Story’ is set to launch in August, and this time around it is a true and palpable celebration of the Queer community.
Apart from his label, Bobo is also working on a project called ‘The Art Heart Project’ in which he, along with a friend, are creating a directory of sorts, featuring people across all walks of life in Calcutta. It will be a combination of expressinist portraits accompanied by each person’s story that inspired the project enough to feature them on their website. At the moment, Bobo is looking at avenues that allow him to travel with his work. “There are talks about an art residency in the hills. Artistically, I am looking to work more on designing spaces, and the residency would be one step towards that,” he tells us. His vision is to create a space where in artists of all kinds have the freedom to create their art, collaborate with one another and communicate their messages through these various forms as effectively as possible, all while involving the local community into this larger vision.
For now, home remains to be Calcutta, and we couldn’t think of a better person to take us through a little bit of the Calcutta that remains hidden to so many of us. We asked Bobo a series of questions, and here’s what he had to say:
The quietest spot in the heart of the city?
Park Street Cemetery... it’s a little strange, I know! Established in the 18th c., it has beautiful tombs that have been taken over by foliage and creepers. It’s very surreal.
Where can you go dance like no one’s watching?
Haha, everywhere in the city. I love Roxy at The Park Hotel, and have been killing the dance floor since I was in college. Friends call it my second home.
Best bar to kick back to tunes from the golden days?
Someplace Else is a nice and nostalgic bar.
Post 1 am on Friday - where would we find you guys?
I am at some nightclub or bar till very late. Post that you might find me at Jai Hind Dhaba ...the rumali roti and chicken bharta is to die for.
I never wake up for breakfast. Not a morning person at all! But if I am, the neighbourhood kachuri sabji is great.
Where’s your standard chai spot?
The one right opposite my store. We made him a nice wooded structure with all the leftover wood we had post our construction.
Where do you go buy your art supplies?
From G.C Laha. My granddad used to buy his supplies from there as well. The store is like a treasure chamber.
Best place to wander about when you need some inspiration?
Kumartuli, the sculptor locality in North Calcutta. I am amazed at the skill and effort every time I am there. It’s a massive inspiration.
Where do you go if you’re alone and want to meet new, interesting people?
Well, I meet new people at gallery openings and events. I also work at my store sometimes, and when people walk in can have a conversation.
Follow Bobo Calcutta on Instagram here, and on Facebook here.
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