“Artists are meant to challenge the norm and change the fabric of society, encouraging people to think more deeply about free speech, government positions, and things you wouldn’t normally talk about at a bar,” says Kulture Shop co-founder, 35-year-old artist Kunal Anand, discussing the core idea that has fuelled their latest curated project, ‘Propaganda'. A space that brings together graphic artists from across India, this exhibition is Kulture Shop’s mission to make bold, dynamic and thought-provoking art affordable and accessible to all.
In an age of fake news forwards, promoted policy and questionable democracy-diverting tactics, 10 artists have come together in this collective display to tackle topics relevant to the zeitgeist of the times, including family planning, animal abuse and extremist ideas. The idea is to raise awareness about issues close to the artist’s heart through a medium that is usually associated with authoritative governments–propaganda posters. They have also opened up the platform to the public with a ‘Call For Propaganda’ online competition that invites students to design their version of a modern propaganda poster.
“This was interesting, as the main aim of a propaganda poster is one-sided communication, and we turned the manipulative medium into stimulating art,” explains Anand. “We left it open to the artist to decide whether they wanted to be against the government or use satire to create a wider conversation. I was personally inspired by a conversation about whether the citizen is more important than the state, which is what my piece ‘Citizen Vs. State’ questions.” The award-winning creative designer and curator was born and raised in Zimbabwe and London. His work plays with intricate line work and typography to trace the intersection between art and culture.
Kulture Shop co-founder, Jas Charanjiva, an artist-turned-activist has used this space to protest against everything that infuriates and, in turn, inspires her. Having grown up in California, amid graffiti, skateboarders and a vibrant indie music scene, the self-taught street artist experienced a major culture shock when she moved to India in 2007. It informs her designs today. “All my concepts are connected by a thread. I used to believe ‘Got Milk’ ads and I used to eat meat, before I realised the torture that was involved in factory farming animals for the sake of our taste buds. This forms the basis of ‘Rise of the Pait’ since you’re wrongly conditioned to think your diet deserves meat and dairy. For ‘Way 2 Many’, it was the realisation that you need more land when there are many mouths to feed, which causes environmental depletion and climate change through activities like ‘slash and burn’. This leads to ‘Imbaalance’, where the idea was to urge people to educate and empower women from a young age to build a healthy relationship that equates them to men. I take messages and condense them into a simple visual that is powerful and provocative enough to make you stop and stare,” she says.
For others like 23-year-old graphic designer Karan Kumar, whose usual style is more psychedelic and surreal, rigid ideas about the right kind of education in India was a pressing matter. “While my parents were supportive of my art school pursuits, a lot of my friends were pushed into engineering because of the bias in the education system. In school, even though I was the head boy, my principal called my parents to complain that I wouldn’t achieve much because I was more artistic than academic. There is a general lack of appreciation for creativity in our culture and more of a focus on [scoring high] marks. Especially with coaching classes that publicly compare exam results in hierarchical rows of ranking, parents get influenced to spend extra on tuitions for their kids, even if they don’t need it, while schoolteachers remain underpaid. With ‘G For Genius’ I want people to question whether achieving full marks certifies you as a true genius or if there is anything more to it.”
Meanwhile, 35-year-old visual artist Sahil Shah’s posters are a complex narrative on the life cycle of a leadership. The artist, who is usually driven by Japanese culture and grunge themes, opens up about how his interest in Cold War propaganda poster styles inspired his elements, saying, “One of my first projects in art school was a self portrait of myself as Lenin as a propaganda poster. The idea of a revolution was important to me as I’ve always clashed with authoritative figures. Throughout history, all empires go the same way: They rise, things go their way, and then they fall. It’s a cycle that keeps on repeating, which I want people to realise. My ideas in ‘Ascension’, ‘Reign’ and ‘Downfall’ tell a political story, but ultimately it is your interpretation of these open-ended images.”
Interpretation was an important aspect in 25-year-old co-curator Mohini Mukherjee’s piece ‘Breakfast of the patriots’ as well, as the self-taught artist, who is a fan of Kanye West and Sylvia Plath, plays around with pop culture elements to use humour in her nostalgia-inducing, counter-culture style. “Growing up with the internet, we are able to tell bullshit apart on social media. But my parents and other family members aren’t as tech savvy to tell the difference between fake forwards; so they tend to rely on news that is fairly sheltered and makes them feel better than what is truthful.”
The full collection will be on display from September 1-15, at Kulture Shop, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai.