Kinky Kashayam Is A Visual Art Duo Combining South Asian Culture With Incisive Satire

Kinky Kashayam Is A Visual Art Duo Combining South Asian Culture With Incisive Satire
Kinky Kashyam

When Shashwath Santhosh and Nithin Dony Eluvathingal realized that apart from being high school best friends, they could also be wonderful visual creative collaborators, their life completely turned around. Together, they formed Kinky Kashayam. Their artworks are the by-products of local South Asian culture, entangled with western ideologies. Kinky Kashayam reflects on India’s influence of westernization with a sarcastic and rather humorous twist.

Kinky Kashayam creates art that portrays the reality of society, which makes it relatable for the South Asian audience. Their delivery can be called satirical and always packs a sarcastic punch, aimed at provoking the audience. They call it the "Kinky way". Their works may seem harmless and funny at first but upon careful examination one can see the complex themes teehy deal with. Homegrown conducted an interview with the collective and this is how it went.

L: A photograph R : A digital drawing
L: A photograph R : A digital drawingKinky Kashayam

Describe your artistic process.

Just like the forms that our art has taken over the years, Kinky Kashayam’s creative process also evolves with it. We’ve tried using many terms to describe what we do - hyper unrealism, post modernism, indo-futurism, but we wanted no specific term that can completely encapsulate what we do. And that difficulty in summarizing our work captures who we are, what we do and how we do. Just like our work, our creative process is boundless and is not imprisoned by a defined end-to-end process.

Growing up in a Malayali household in a Tamil society within a post-colonial English-speaking India, we always struggled to find our voice. I mean how could we, with the sound of Asianet News perpetually being the background noise while we relished the Puli Kolumbu soon after coming back from school in our black polished shoes and red neck ties, our 12 year old selves found it rather confusing to pin point at ‘an identity’ that best described us. Our artistic pursuit was purposed to find this voice so we could freely and wholly express who we were and narrate our stories. In this journey, the more we spoke the more we adjusted into our voice and the stronger it consolidated. We still embark on this journey and our identity will keep shifting as we learn and live. And with that constant shift in identity we will always be finding our voice.

Where are you currently working from?

Kinky Kashayam is right now in New York and Toronto. This is where we are physically, at this point in our career and here is where the operandum lives. But the heart of the studio has always been and always will be in the spirit of the city of Coimbatore,which we call home.

How has the idea of home influenced your artistic process?

It’s been 6 years since we’ve left home. And during these six years, we have experienced many cultures, cuisines and arts. As many freshly moved artists can relate, being far from home, several questions and feelings of identity revolved around us. The more time spent away, the question of "What is Home" became stronger and louder. We yearned to learn more about where we came from, not only ontologically and epistemologically, but also culturally and colloquially. We needed a system that helped us relive and cherish the memories of home. We desperately had to express our feelings, memories and love for home. Kinky Kashayam was the playground we designed to do that for us. We created this sacred high ground - studio - with all our experiences and unlocked all the tales around things that we grew up around. We spent quite a bit of time talking to family and hearing the stories they had about our past and more importantly - home. Now the need to express was peaking. We needed to recite our tales. There was so much beauty in all of this for it to be lost in time. And with that, we established the cornerstone of Kinky Kashayam - reciting untold stories in ways we couldn't imagine.

Digital illustrations and photoshoped photographs
Digital illustrations and photoshoped photographsKinky Kashayam

How did the pandemic affect Kinky Kashayam?

The pandemic hit the world and that’s when everything came to a standstill. All of a sudden, we had nothing to do. We were no longer busy. We rushed back home to Coimbatore to quarantine with our families and that was when we allowed some initial questions to incubate. This gave us ample time to contemplate on all the thoughts that were in the forefront of our minds. This was the first time after we left home, we got a chance to pause and observe. We realized that much of the documented Art History barely acknowledges the voices of people that looked and lived like us. We all know about the Renaissance, American abstract expressionism, European art nouveau, to name a few, but the traditional Dravidian carpentry would be seen not as high art or design, but as ‘handicraft’? The same ‘handicraft’ which would be sold for less than Rs.100 in local city markets would then be taken abroad and sold for exorbitant amounts under a fetishized image of ‘Indianness’ that is far from being representative of what the object really is? What does it mean to be Indian within the art world with a capital A, and the design world with a capital D? Many South Asian creatives have raised these questions before us but this was the time we discovered the same for ourselves, in our own quest and through our own worldview.

Could you tell us about the artists currently on your radar?

We like to have a close watch on the art and design world, coming from the subcontinent and beyond. Most recently, we have enjoyed narratives from independent filmmakers like P. S. Vinothraj, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, Arun Karthick, Pushpendra Singh, Achal Mishra, Chaitanya Tamhane and so on. In the studio, we are constantly trying to push what design can mean to us whether we are thinking of the making of the Climate Controlled Dosa Picnic Basket or probing speculation for The Problematic Use Cases of CRISPR in the Indian Society. We greatly admire disruptive design practitioners from history, works by Archigram, Antfarm, Archizoom, Superstudio who have pushed the envelope for what design can be and we get ready excited when we see the ground breaking works from design studios like Superflux.

What is the current project you are working on?

The Karandi Series: It is about an eyewear that is non-reactive to food. Lenses are made using corrosion-free stainless steel. Durable and easy to maintain, highly suitable for day-to-day use. All models are one-size-fits-all.All parts are sold separately.

The Karandi Series
The Karandi SeriesKinky Kashayam

Is there any project that you wish you were a part of?

As a studio that experiments a lot with speculative design and are curious about creative breeding with worlds of science, technology, socio-economics and fiction, we would love to collaborate with more researchers who are willing to do the same. One of our recent research projects, (still on-going), titled A Study into Hyper Specific Endemic Use-Cases of CRISPR that May Be Problematic, elucidates this mindstate that we are in at the moment. We believe that design doesn’t always have to solve problems, it can be used to ask more questions. We at Kinky see value in this approach, to use our interest in fiction to unapologetically get into technical STEM worlds and see what can be born. There are some exciting projects coming from this wing of ours that we are excited to share with the world and we can’t wait to share them with you all.

What are some of your influences in developing your art?

Just like a recipe book, we never had one big ingredient that was the main source of our inspiration. In our fast paced lives, it is not often that we pause to take a moment and observe. We see many things everyday, but the inspiration comes from what we didn’t see. Things right in front of us were invisible to us for the longest times. Who wondered about the secret lives of the TV remote when the lights were off? What did the bidet want to do in her spare time? Were the mortar and pestle actually best friends? Did the whistle from the cooker consider herself a talented singer? So many questions worthy of artful expression linger.

Questions about the people we met, the things we experienced and the events that occurred. We understood that there were many untold stories waiting to be heard. All the little things that are usually perceived as “doesn’t matter” had such a beguiling tale behind it. We paused and observed. We felt like there were several functions of the city, the city of Coimbatore, that we lived in that were under-appreciated.

The people at the flower market, auto-rikshaw drivers drinking tea, the relentless traffic treating everyone the same, an Innova stopping by the Vada stand, people waiting by the bus stand to board the next bus, expressions of the people that missed their bus and the neem trees that lined the sides of the road where they rested till the next one came - we paused and started to feel the pulse of the city. In our hard-pressed lives, we forget to listen to the stories that the everyday objects have to say. Our perceived beauty and the appreciation of the mundane reached new horizons as we donned this lens to narrate our stories. This is the inspiration for Kinky Kashayam, our environment and our upbringing.

You can check out Kinky kashayam's works here.

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