10 Bold Indian Art Collectives That Are Making A Statement
“Original thought, original artistic expression, is by its very nature questioning, irreverent, iconoclastic.” — Salman Rushdie
A collective of artists combining their prowess and resources to work towards a common goal just reeks of revolution. Looking back at our own journey documenting many of these art movements over the past few years, we were able to take a step back to discover a much bigger picture — where the fine lines connecting these artists blur, and intermingle, and finally settle down deep into a sprawling, web-like network that forms the contemporary artistic landscape of India, as vibrant as it is rich with meaning.
India has a never-ending plethora of talented artists. Individuals who are finding their own distinct voices; sometimes personal, sometimes political, but always engaging in a myriad of mediums. Over the years artist collectives have brought together these mavericks in their own spaces, and established themselves as powerhouses in the contemporary Indian art world. Some are carving channels of feminist voices in every colour of the rainbow, like Kadak. There are others, like Design Fabric and Animal, who at their core are publications and design studios, respectively, but remain one of the few that bring together a variety of members of the art community on larger projects that curate and push art from India on a massive, global scale.
Whether it’s through zines, graphic storytelling, installations or street art and murals, here are forward-thinking art collectives keeping things interesting in the country:
I. St+Art India
St+art India is an art movement that has been consistently working since 2014 towards embedding art within public spaces in a democratic, free and open manner; the non-profit organisation has held six wildly festivals across the country so far.
2016 has been the organisation’s biggest year so far, with St+art Delhi 2016 seeing ‘The Lodhi Art District’ and ‘WIP: The Street Art Show’, involving over 29 international and Indian artists, who created India’s first public art district, and working with more than 100 containers to create a walk-through installation in Tughlakabad, ICD (the largest dry port in Asia). This edition of St+art Festival highlighted the importance of community through art, while offering a fresh perspective on re-designing urban spaces.
Co-founders Giulia Ambrogi (Curator), Hanif Kureshi (Artistic Director), Arjun Bahl (Festival Director), Thanish Thomas (Project Director) and Akshat Nauriyal (Content Director) manage their respective responsibilities, while the rest are divided amongst the rest of the team members.
The co-founders crossed paths as they were all working closely with the art/street art community, with Akshat Nauriyal, working on his documentary project ‘Now Delhi’ making short films on alternative sub-cultures in India, and Hanif Kureshi having been sharing a studio for a while.
“One thing led to another, and we all came together to do the first festival in Shahpur Jat in 2014, which was a smaller initiative,” Akshat Nauriyal, one of the co-founders of the initiative, said. “Since then, we have founded the St+art India foundation, which is a not-for-profit organisation which works in public art, and the festival is just one of the initiatives of the foundation.”
“The idea for St+art came from the desire to have a big, international street art festival in India and to also break away from the restrictive nature of art in India. To a large extent, it’s become the domain of the privileged, something that can only be appreciated by a small section of society,” he shared. “Also, our public spaces are really inert, with our cities just turning into heaps of concrete. There is tremendous room for forward thinking design and reimagining our public spaces in a way the become more interactive and playful.”
HG loves their drive to make art democratic by putting it in the public view, where it is accessible for everyone. Two projects to check out:
i) Lavanya (Grace) by ECB Hendrik
“This is the portrait of Vimla, a lady that works at Old Khanna Market in Lodhi Colony/New Delhi, where she sells paranthas / Indian bread on the streets; something which is rare for a woman of her social class.
“Executed just in black and a shade of grey by ECB Hendrik Beikirch, this painting is meant to merge into the wall and the surroundings, referring to an aesthetic similar to an old etching. With the idea of transforming people from the anonymous to the iconic, and seeking to capture their ‘aura’ in a painting, Hendrik feels he was blessed to get to know her and to have her consent for this mural.”
“The mural stands for all those women who have several struggles in their lives and have to perform multiple roles, yet maintain the utmost grace in all their endeavours — as a reminder of finding beauty in the ordinary.”
“Inspired by her sense of independence and dedication, Hendrik wanted to pay tribute to women who do so much in their lives, balancing multiple things and running families and businesses, yet are mostly anonymous heroes through their lifetimes.”
ii) Lava Tree by Anpu Varkey
Anpu Varkey continues to push her boundaries as an artist by exploring new forms in her work, like this mural in Lodhi Colony. From the deep recesses of a dreamscape, perpetuating the flow of lava, the tree posits to consume the entire building, shadowing the menace of our minds. Standing tall in Lodhi Art District, this mural can be found at block no. 14, Lodhi Colony.
Founded as a charitable public trust, Maraa is a media and arts collective based in Bangalore, whose work is centred around a political yet creative practice. Offering extremely niche and specialised services cutting across capacity-building, research, curation and media production, the dimensions of labour, gender and sexuality, caste and class not only cut across, but also deeply inform and shape, all the work that they do.
Maara’s team consists of young people with a background in alternative/community media, arts and public spaces. The small, full-time team consists of five people — Angarika, Ekta, Prashant, Shruthi and Ram from Bangalore and Anushi from Delhi. You can read more about each of their backgrounds here.
Maara also works with a wide range of media professionals, like camera persons, editors, designers, publishers etc for specific activities, and are always open to collaborators and volunteers.
Maraa’s practice is geared towards three main areas of focus — strengthening people-centric media platforms, democratising usage of urban public spaces and deepening rights based campaigns.
From migrant labour to sexuality of young people, Maraa has produced documentary films and radio documentaries on a range of issues; their documentary films have gone on to win international acclaim, and have travelled to film festivals and art exhibitions across the world. They also occasionally undertake documentation for other civil society institutions, depending on the subject and process involved.
Maraa has also been involved in training and setting up some of the first community radio stations in India, having trained community radio stations in the areas of policy and regulation, programming, editing, management and research. Apart from these, Maraa has special competence and experience in facilitating participatory learning programmes around community health, especially relevant to women and youth.”
HG Loves the October Jam, a public space and arts festival Maraa curates in Bangalore in October every year, that is open to the public free of cost. Intimately related to urban life, the festival draws participation from a diverse range of artists across India. Apart from this, Maraa regularly invites and hosts artists, filmmakers, musicians etc. to showcase their work in Bangalore and/or Delhi.
At the 2016 October Jam exhibition, Maraa hosted a scavenger hunt, film screenings, and scarecrow-making. “Each scarecrow tells a story of violence, desire, love, fantasy, migration, class, gender and sexuality and its manifestation in a public park. Together, these stories reflect changes in the park, both large and small, and the way in which these transformations are received and resisted by those occupying the park,” said Angarika Guha of Maraa.
‘Kadak’ means strong, severe, sharp – like our tea.
A collective of South Asian women working as graphic storytellers of different kinds, Kadak’s work is socially conscious, creative and unfaltering in its approach. Engaging in varied lines of inquiry in their art, they delve into the predicaments of a fast-evolving subcontinent, and the implications of these changes. The incisive and often irreverent narratives question existing culture, while shedding light on various themes from subcontinental socio-cultural history and culture to feminism, and what it means to ‘be feminine’; their work toes the line between the personal and political to make for art that is as evocative as it is honest.
The core team comprises multi-disciplinary artists who work as illustrators, film-makers, graphic designers, comic creators and the like, along with running their own entrepreneurial ventures.
The eight members include Aindri Chakraborty, Akhila Krishnan, Janine Shroff, Aarthi Parthasarathy, Garima Gupta, Pavithra Dikshit, Kaveri Gopalakrishnan and Mira Malhotra.
Kadak is a team of eight incredibly talented South Asian women located all over the world, who address the (disproportionately contentious) issues of feminism, of growing up as a woman in India and various socio-political and cultural questions surrounding sexual, gender identity, and life in urban parts of the country. The eight women first came together to to shed light on issues they felt strongly about through graphic storytelling, with the intention of showcasing their work at the 2016 East London Comic Arts Festival (ELCAF), with Aindri Chakraborty, a communication designer, at the helm.
Spurred on by a lack of South Asian representation in graphic art, and even less so for women in graphic storytelling, Chakraborty’s idea to put together a feature on women artists who hadn’t deserved their dues soon evolved into something much more — the ladies to come on board for ELCAF, which laid the foundation for the Kadak Collective.
Kaveri explained, “We’re still figuring out an Indian ‘style or voice’ of comics. We’ve got decades of American comics (dialogue, slang and popular culture) drilled into our brains, which even the nerdiest comic writer can’t peel off. But we have sufficient content that is personal, political and cultural, that can enable us to have our own small independent comic and arts festival in about 5-10 years from now.”
Suffice to say, we can’t wait for this to materialise!
HG loves — besides their medium of storytelling — how this collective founded in March, 2016, is fiercely feminist, queer-friendly, diverse and most of all, inclusive. They really know how to pack a punch.
Each and every one of these storyteller’s entrepreneurial ventures are fascinating in their own ways, but just to start you off —
The comic journalism blog There Was A Brown Crow by Aindri Chakraborty ‘explores the underlying thread of dependency-judgement-freedom in the lives of Indian women’. She elaborated, “It was exhibited in London at the Wilding Festival in 2013, and it taught me how to be an observer, and talk about an issue without your thoughts influencing it directly.”
IV. Kulture Shop
The idea behind Bombay-based Kulture Shop is quite a novel one – to create a platform for talented and emerging graphic designers, by hiring them to create prints for their merchandise. India’s premier artist collective brings you original and exclusive designs on premium lifestyle products, while supporting the graphic arts industry by making sure their work is seen, discussed, appreciated – and monetised.
Co-founders Arjun Charanjiva (CEO, Managing Director, Urban Culture Enthusiast), Kunal Anand (Art & Design Director, Graphic Artist) and Jas Charanjiva (Social Media Director, Illustrator, Street Artist.
“We just couldn’t bear to see so much brilliant work forever hidden in their sketchbooks, computers and wonderfully divergent minds,” the co-founders say. “We curate established and emerging talented artists and mentor younger ones. And continue to search for new talents that represent the most unique, sophisticated and promising work.
“We provide themes, select the best works and print them on premium Kulture Shop products for sale. Art prints and art tees for now but, in time, other lifestyle products. Artists are compensated per piece sold, so for every one bought, an Indian Graphic Artist is rewarded for their work.”
HG loves that this is an entity that sees lifestyle products as the canvas of our times, and ‘Graphic Art as the Art of our Times that provides commentary on a new India and reflects a dynamic Indian identity’.
Fearless is a collective of artists, activists, photographers and filmmakers who use art to speak out against gender violence. Formed in response to the horrific 2012 gangrape, this is an effort to (re)define fear, femininity and what it means to be fearless.
Fearless was founded by the artist Shilo Shiv Suleman and is managed by her and a core group of volunteers including Aarthi Parthasarathy, Kasha Frese, and Aruna Chandra Sekhar.
“I was in Delhi for a friend’s wedding in 2012 when the Nirbhaya rape happened and thousands of people took to the streets in protest,” Suleiman shared. “But at the same time, there was a lot of fear-mongering in the media. It was all “Don’t go out after dark, don’t ride the bus, don’t wear a skirt…” and more such rhetoric.
“So I made a poster saying “I never asked for this.” and posted it online, which turned into a sort of internet campaign, with people sending me their own artwork illustrating their personal stories of fearlessness. And that’s how Fearless Collective was born, as a way of shining a light on gender issues and rights, but has grown into more participative storytelling, which directly involves communities facing conflict.”
The Fearless Collective partners with NGOs in different areas and holds intensive workshops with the local communities, with the aim of understanding the issues its residents are facing, and then creating murals with their help, so it’s a completely collaborative process.
HG loves that they have expanded their courageous work to our neighbouring country, with their collaboration in Lahore involving a group of female artists and other women contributors to create artwork that challenges the judgments and prejudices handed down through generations, and their work in Rawalpindi being done in collaboration with a local transgender rights group Wajood, to call attention to the fight for trans rights in Pakistan.
A network of artists engaging in creative projects with brands, festivals, non-profit organisations, social enterprises, and public spaces, this collective curates emerging artists to create enriching experiences for the community, with a soft spot for collaborations.
“We can conjure up large scale art installations, paint walls on streets and beautiful murals in office spaces, find the right kind of illustrator for you, and meet almost any creative and conceptual need you have,” the collective declares confidently.
Laila Vaziralli, who has also founded Kitsch Mandi, is the Founder and Creative Head of Junta, and Poornima Sukumar is the founder of the Aravani Project we’ve featured below.
Created for emerging artists to have an outlet to make more money — a noble cause — Junta Junta fosters the growth of creative individuals and creates a space for community members and artists to connect and interact.
HG loves the Aravani Art Project by Junta, a project launched to empower the transgender community through design. “The project aims to use art as a means of expression for the Hijra or Aravani community. I feel this provides a platform for the Aravanis to share their stories and experiences through creative arts,” said Abhishek Choudhury, one of the artists who was part of the project.”
Animal is an independent agency, creatively led by Kunel Gaur [ who is an artist and creative-director ] and Sharon Borgoyary [ award winning art-director ]. “Making work that starts conversations between brands and the people,” they say. They specialize in “portraying a product in all its glory, dancing on creative disciplines like advertising, art, graphic design, illustration, films, interactive media and product design.”
with a focus on design and strategy.
HG loves Indianama, a year-by-year breakdown of independent India’s 69-year journey as illustrated by 69 artists, which was held in New Delhi last year. Taking us through a visual journey, it spans the mediums of graphic art, comic panels, installations and paintings to document some defining moments of Indian history, ranging from the well-known to the obscure.
Co-founder and creative director of Animal Kunel Gaur shed light on the context, “Of course a lot has been written about our history, but somewhere we stopped visualising and letting art create a dialogue around the events that have shaped the country. We could recall a couple of famous, more noted events like the ‘84 riots or the Indo-China war of ‘62, but there was a ton of completely forgotten stories that have very little account online. We thought this would be a good place to start telling the story of independent india, year by year ~ an Indianama.”
Check out some of the resulting artworks and artist interviews here.
VIII. Sandbox Collective
A Bangalore-based artists’ collective comprising a group of artists and art administrators working together to expand the scope of performance arts. “Our aim is to present, commission and disseminate performances of a high standard. We will also work towards discovering and sustaining new culturally vibrant spaces in our cities by building new audiences and facilitating multi-disciplinary collaborations between artists.”
With a special interest in bringing together individuals to re-think and re-imagine the scope of the performing arts, it is only natural that this collective juggles many roles — as artists, art administrators, producers, directors and curators on performances, shows, festivals and tours.
The collective is led by arts managers Nimi Ravindran (writer, theatre director) and Shiva Pathak (actor, freelance consultant), who have both worked in the theatre for over a decade.
HG loves that Sandbox Collective demystifies the idea of the performance space by taking theatre to the people — to living rooms, offices, basements, kitchens, rooftops, gardens, bars and restaurants. “We will take it anyplace you gather!” they declare.
Last year saw their collaboration with Mandeep Raikhy, ‘Queen-Size’, being staged. A choreographic exploration that takes the form of a detailed study of the intimacy between two men, a duet played out on a charpoy that poses questions around spectatorship, privacy and dissent, in protest of the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay sex in India.
IX. Raqs Media Collective
As they best put it themselves, the Collective “enjoys playing a plurality of roles, often appearing as artists, occasionally as curators, sometimes as philosophical agent provocateurs. They make contemporary art, have made films, curated exhibitions, edited books, staged events, collaborated with architects, computer programmers, writers and theatre directors and have founded processes that have left deep impacts on contemporary culture in India.”
The Raqs Media Collective was founded in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. Raqs remains closely involved with the Sarai program at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, an initiative they co-founded in 2000.
HG loves the sheer range of work they do, and their dedication to being catalysts of cultural processes. ‘The Translator’s Silence’ is an incisive look at poetry from Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Rabindranath Tagore and Agha Shahid Ali; definitely a project to check out.
X. 100% Zine, Sameer Kulavoor
A Visual Art Zine from India that showcases contemporary visual artists doing original work, this collective is geared towards a growing number of artists in India who cannot (or don’t want to) be categorized solely into contemporary illustration, fine art, graphic design or photography
Each issue of the zine has a 100% focus on one theme, with artist being invited onboard based on theme and approach.
The idea is to recognise graphic art that is not created for a ‘client’, but for the artist himself/herself. “As editors and curators we play a small role of ‘selecting’ the right artists for the theme and of course paying attention to the design, production and distribution. It’s a non-profit initiative and we’re very happy to have had the support of some great talent so far.” Previous issues have featured artists from India, UK, America, Iceland, Argentina, Qatar, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and Australia, and the design and production quality of 100%ZINE receive exquisite care.
“The basic idea of a zine is to champion alternative content — something that mainstream magazines or publishers tend to stay away from,” said Kulavoor. “When we sat together and conceived 100%Zine, we also decided to never tamper with artists’ submissions. The idea was to pick the right artists for a certain theme, and then give them complete freedom of expression. So, no edits whatsoever.”
HG loves that 100%ZINE is developing a unique voice in the field of visual graphic art in India, and the range of work it features from artists of different walks of life.
Feature image courtesy of Shehzil Malik, Design Fabric Image issue.
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