Kolkata has always been a crown jewel in India’s heritage, culturally and artistically. Anyone familiar with Kolkata can tell you that the City of Joy is rich with wonders of art, history, music, dance and so much more that tends to fly under the radar.
For the past couple of years, a creative storm has been brewing in Kolkata and like young urban city-goers all over the world, Indians living in Kolkata have decided to venture on a quest to create artistic identities that are deeply rooted in their personalities, quirks, and dreams, giving life and modern flavours back to one of the oldest cities in the country.
From street dance crews and photographers to unconventional models and musicians – these young, fearless Calcuttans aren’t shy when it comes to straying away from tradition and exploring new horizons. Today we look at 11 of the most creative individuals and collectives thriving under our noses in Kolkata:
I. Arka Patra
Of all artistic media, photography can be the most divisive. To capture real people and emotions often triggers a sense of empathy in viewers that traditional art cannot. This concept is one that artist turned photographer, Arka Patra took a while to comes to terms with. He describes his transition from painting to photography as an organic one that evolved with the accessibility to technology. “While I was growing up photography was still a purer medium, that is to say that people mostly used film and what you clicked at the moment was what you got.”
The vast majority of his work is focused on the the intricacies of human desires and their transition to human actions. He believes that although he tries to tap into a larger human experience it’s only possible to depict one’s own perspective. “The images I produce are not only explorations of my own psyche but also a portal into how I view a certain subject or a situation.” He hopes that people will also approach his work with their own ideas and allow each image to affect them on a personal level rather than basing their opinion off his description. As an introvert he feels his work is a means to communicate his emotions to the world but that communication should be up for interpretation.
II. Nikhita Gandhi
With a number of hits under her belt, Nikhita Gandhi, a playback singer from Kolkata, has collaborated with industry veterans like Pritam, A.R Rahman, and Amit Tridevi. She has sung well-known melodies like “Dhyaanchand” in Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan, “Mujhe Chand Pe Le Chalo” in Raju Hirani’s Sanju, and “Ullu ka Pattha” in Jagga Jasoos, directed by Anurag Basu– to name only a few. Nikhita released her first single ‘Humshakal’ earlier in 2018 and said, “I’ve composed a bunch of songs before but I wanted this song to be my début.
The song is all about exploring a newer version of yourself, which in my case, was the aspect of mine as a composer. At this point, the theme of finding and redefining yourself is very authentically me.” She even sang the title track “Raabta,” for the film, Raabta that starred Jim Sarbh, Rajkummar Rao, Kriti Sanon, and Sushant Singh Rajput. From working on her own independent albums to juggling playback singing in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, and Kannada films, Nikhita Gandhi is a force to be reckoned with.
III. Bobo Calcutta
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.
IV. Paloma Majumder
Whether musicians creating music or listeners jamming to the Arctic Monkeys in house parties, in the past few years, the young, urban youth of Kolkata has taken to independent music like a moth to a flame and continued Kolkata’s legacy of being at the forefront of cultural revolutions. One such artist is Paloma Majumder.
Fondly nicknamed “Kolkata’s Adele” by her friends, Paloma has a powerhouse personality and tone. After studying Comparative Literature in Jadavpur University and making her mark as a dancer and choreographer in Kolkata’s performance art circles, Paloma decided to explore more of her passion for music. Her musical artistry knows no bounds and you can often find her velvet-smooth, sultry voice singing original compositions accompanied by her ukulele on Facebook or belting out on the stage, her second home. Paloma is one half of the duo, Paloma and Adil, that released a haunting single titled “Monkey Mind.” Paloma is on her way to change the Indian music industry and is an artist to watch.
V. Jit Chowhury
Kolkata-based visual artist and storyteller Jit Chowdhury’s sketchbook is full of the most bizarre and intricate illustrations based on his surroundings, his mood or just snippets from a certain train of thought.
Homegrown stumbled upon these sketches and found them incredibly endearing and intriguing, in equal measure. We absolutely love the sketches he’s held up to a background, as though giving the whole project more context. Also particularly interesting were the details of some of the hyperbolic interpretations of situations and conversations that a lot of us can actually relate to. Jit gives us a glimpse into his world, populated by strange characters and a quiet, all-pervading sense of humour.
VI. Joan Dominic Rai
Joan Dominic Rai is a fashion influencer, stylist and model from Darjeeling who has been pushing the boundaries with gender-bending fashion. When it comes to signature aesthetics, Joan is in a league all of his own. He’s not here to start trends or cults for the fashion elite. It’s one thing to don an obscure vintage jacket one day and four-finger-wide platformed sneakers the next, it’s another thing altogether to pad yourself with the invisible thick skin it requires to walk down an Indian street looking that different. “You need a heart of stone to look this different and walk the streets,” he quips.
Needless to say, there’s a pay-off. Joan effortlessly stands out in the pack of cookie-cutter fashion influencers and his vision doesn’t play games. It challenges conventions and embraces the kind of confidence that only comes from total self-acceptance. “I have faced all sorts of obstacles and contradictions with regards to the way that I look,” Joan explains his philosophy simply. “There are no boundaries in fashion and that’s exactly what it means to me.” Fashion, then, was less about aesthetics and more about the personal freedom it promised for him. Still largely under the radar, both out of choice and circumstance, Joan is representative of all that we hope comes next for India’s fashion industry.
VII. Shantanu Gosavi
Holding delicate pastel flowers against his dual-shaded skin that’s adorned in corresponding hand-painted leaves and flowers, tousled locks of hair flowing free – Shantanu Gosavi catches your eye and is hard to forget in portraits shot by one of our favourite photographers Arka Patra in ‘Portraits of Men’. Gosavi has Vitiligo (Leucoderma) that is, to put it simply, a skin condition that causes the loss of skin colour, causing a patched complexion.
In the beginning, Gosavi says that it was something that he was self-conscious about as it took time to accept this new change to his appearance, but his friends and family never made him feel that it was something different. “Rather, it was easier to accept it because of them,” he tells us. Thinking back to his initial reaction and feelings to when the first patches appeared, he says, “I have a blurred memory, when it first popped up (after a wound on my knee healed) I remember my parents saying ‘oh, it’s just a white patch, nothing to worry about’.”
A graduate in Textile Design from NIFT Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Gosavi is currently training in Kathak in Ahmedabad and also work as a freelance textile designer, photographer and model. He enjoys the spotlight, he muses, “Life with a skin like mine is fun if you embrace all the attention.
I guess that’s the only difference it makes. I like how people turn to look at me, sometimes they stare for a long time so I wink at them.” The underlying echo of confidence and acceptance through all of Gosavi’s work so far has rung clear to people across the board.
Soon we may finally be transitioning into an environment where weight, gender, complexion and age are no longer bearings on beauty. Though there is a way to go before India kicks its bad habits and obsession with European stands of beauty with skin-whitening products, among other things, we’re seeing a gradual shift in the climate, one that has been long overdue.
VIII. FullStop Crew
This creative collective is Kolkata’s representation of street culture in the form of dance. The members of this crew came together because of their love for dance while they were still school-going kids, and their fire hasn’t stopped since.
Whether experimenting with all forms of street dance like popping and locking, krump, old-school hip hop, and b-boying to representing India internationally at the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas, USA, FullStop has made a big name for itself and garnered the respect of dance and creative communities all over India. Sambo Mukerjee, a member of the crew, was even the runner up in India’s first ever reality TV show on street dance called “Footloose,” and now tours nationwide conducting workshops with his other crew members.
Bodhisatya is a lawyer and androgynous art model aiming to become an activist. Although he comes from a legal background, Art and Fashion have always intrigued him and finding a platform as a fashion blogger and a model, he writes about taboos, social agendas and society as a whole. He believes Fashion and Art are great mediums to reach out to people and that’s what he has been doing, educating people and making them aware of these societal structures through his blogs, pictures and words.
His blog posts provide deep insight into the thought and concepts behind his work. “With all my previous blogposts it has been evident now how I love sarees and being a saree enthusiast, I have always promoted the draping of sarees and the culture and heritage associated with it. The rich texture, the settle feel and the silk on your skin is ecstasy to me. Demeaning the societal norms of a man I would like to introduce you to men who are very much men in their own ways and they are fierce, unapologetic and are so proud of their individualities,” he says eloquently on his blog.
Like Mumbai has F.A.M.O.U.S, Kolkata has Crafts of Kammotionn. Playing out like a clichéd Hip-Hop dance movie, these guys are friendly competitors, keeping the healthy competition going. Like F.A.M.O.U.S. , they too have a number of styles under their belt and claim to simply be ‘all about dancing, and dancing only’. An all-guy crew with only one female member (Mekhola Bose) they’re fondly referred to as CKN and they just happen to be repping Kolkata all over India, titles as they go along such as emerging the Winner at Salah, the all-style battle event, in Delhi 2014, Winner of Kolkata Hood Hop Solo Popping 2014, Winner of Hip Hop international Solo Zonals 2014, Winner of All girls all-style battle at Freeze,2014 in Bangalore.Winner of 2 on 2 all style battle at Hip Hop Carnival 2014.
They have a dance academy in Kolkata and are working hard to spread the dance styles in their city too. As such, CKN seems to be one of the many crews that have sprung up in Kolkata that has become a breeding ground for emerging talent.
XI. Ronny Sen
From publishing his book, Khmer Din, in 2013 and receiving the the Jenesys Creators’ Programme for an artist residency in Japan to participating in In Secrecy, an exhibition at the Art Heritage gallery, to being invited for a masterclass at the University of California in Berkeley, Ronny Sen, a photographer from Calcutta, has had an illustrious career. ‘This is not an objective story of a place as much as a silent exploration of the darkness that thrives in Siem Reap: on its streets, in bars, the night shelter hotels and the amorphous night figures,’ Ronny Sen tells Platform Magazine about his series, Khmer Din.
Ronny Sen had no pre-meditated schedules when he went to Cambodia and started exploring the beautiful city of Siem Reap, but as he rode his bicycle (hired for 2 dollars a day) down its streets at night, he found himself desperate to photograph. He kept taking photographs of whatever he encountered on the streets – ‘the prostitutes waiting at street corners, the dogs, the buildings, the nocturnal figures.’
It is not just the chaos and activity, but also the silent interjecting stasis that he wanted to capture. ‘The solitude and mania that pervades the night’ left a deep impact on him, as he found himself drawn to people living on the edge but somehow surviving and escaping the predictable ends: jails, institutionalization or death. The darkness of the city resonated with his own sense of disillusionment at the time, fascinating and inspiring him. Most recently, he won the Getty Images Instagram Grant for his work End of Time in the Jharia coal mines, a series that was also exhibited at Noorderlicht Festival’s show Arena at the Belvedere Museum, Netherlands and at Photoville in New York. He is currently working on his next book and first feature film.
Feature image credit: Nikhita Gandhi photographed by Navneeth Balachanderan and Shantanu Gosavi photographed by Arka Patra
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