What happens when eight fabulously talented visual artists decide to come together to redefine the status quo and fill the web with South Asian feminist art work – the result can be nothing short of Kadak!

In their own words, Kadak is a collective of South Asian women who work with graphic storytelling of different kinds. ‘Kadak’ means strong, severe, sharp – like our tea. The women in Kadak engage with varied streams of inquiry in their art, which provides an invaluable insight into the preoccupations of a changing subcontinent. The stories and narratives move between the personal and political, question culture and examine subculture.

The artists that comprise Kadak are Aarthi Parthasarathy, Aindri Chakraborty, Akhila Krishnan, Garima Gupta, Janine Shroff, Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, Mira Malhotra and Pavithra Dikshit. These eight women have come together to showcase their work at this year’s East London Comic Arts Festival (ELCAF). Their art, they say, comes from a space of inquiry and engagement with different things, and each one of them hopes that it will connect with the viewer.

I caught them candid on the future of Kadak post ELCAF, feminism and South Asian feminist art and bringing a change through the medium of contemporary visual art.

The Kadak Artists

Aarthi Parthasarathy is a Bangalore-based filmmaker and writer. She is the creator of Royal Existentials, a webcomic that uses Indian historical imagery to address contemporary social and political angst. She has also co-created the webcomic UrbanLore, a collection of graphic stories and observations about urban life in India, with artist Kaveri Gopalakrishnan.  

Aarthi’s Royal Existentials uses old Indian miniature paintings juxtaposed with dialogue about social and political issues and concerns. In this specific comic, the women in these paintings speak about gender and feminism.

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Also read: Meet Aarthi: The Woman Behind The Popular Comic Series Royal Existentials

The Problems of Patriarchy by Aarthi Parthasarathy.
The Problems of Patriarchy by Aarthi Parthasarathy.

Aindri Chakraborty is an animator, illustrator and creator of the comics journalism blog ‘There Was A Brown Crow‘. Her work examines different aspects of subcontinental socio-political culture and history, with wry observational and irreverent humour.

Aindri’s piece is from her comic ‘What Does Honour Mean? My First Lessons From Bollywood’ and is based on a childhood memory of encountering a classic Shakti Kapoor rape scene where he steals the girl’s honour. Confused, she drew out the scene and showed it to her grandfather who promptly rejected it without explanation. This is a man who was otherwise very supportive of her crayon ‘masterpieces’ of the national flag and flowers.

What Does Honour Mean? by Aindri Chakraborty
What Does Honour Mean? by Aindri Chakraborty

Akhila Krishnan is an illustrator and comics artist who works between London and India. Her work is influenced by her background in film-making; with a strong emphasis on documentary and observational practice. More of her work here Mantaray Comics/Akhila

Akhila’s piece is a critique on the rampant acid attacks and is also told from the point of view of a survivor- criticising the situation society puts them in- the everyday risks they face as women and the lack of support for someone who has been affected by such violence.

Ritual Transfiguration by Akhila Krishnan. Courtesy: Manta Ray/Live Mint
Ritual Transfiguration by Akhila Krishnan. Courtesy: Manta Ray/Live Mint

Garima Gupta is an illustrator and comic artist who works in Mumbai, India. She tells strange and curious stories that explore the nature of human entanglements with their environment, natural or otherwise. She also runs ProjectBambai – art and musings about the city of Mumbai. 

The above art work is part of her upcoming graphic novel which is about her journey through the rainforests of Papua New Guinea, looking for the elusive Birds of Paradise. It is an account of the people she meets, who are working to protect the birdlife on the island. As the narrator of the story, she aims to look at the ecosystem and its recent conflicts from a woman’s perspective, while also taking into account the conflicts within her that potentially limit her as a woman travelling solo.

The No-Problem Man by Garima Gupta
The No-Problem Man by Garima Gupta

Janine Shroff is an illustrator and designer who works both in India & London. Her work explores a range of themes including birth, pregnancy, relationships, sexual identity and gender.

‘Lesbians Riding Ponies’ is a piece based on the idea of an imagined Gay-uptopia (or Gaytopia) but without the idealised blue skies and rainbows. It is also partly a visual diary of her life over the past two years, with friends, relationships and culture. Gaytopia is a fun land but storm clouds appear on the horizon and changes might already be happening from within. The Ponies refers jokingly to the ‘Lesbian and horses’ stereotype and plays with that concept a little.

Lesbians Riding Ponies by Janine Shroff
Lesbians Riding Ponies by Janine Shroff

Kaveri Gopalakrishnan is an independent comics maker and illustrator.  Her #NewAgeWisdomEtc comics explore themes of connection with nature, self-understanding and small, daily observations. She and Aarthi Parthasarathy are creators of a webcomic series: UrbanLore, a collection of graphic stories and observations about urban life in India.

#NewAgeWisdomEtc are short, personal, hand-made single/two page web-comics that talk about self-understanding in solitude, connecting with nature and daily life musings.

I Washed Up This Way by Kaveri Gopalakrishnan
I Washed Up This Way by Kaveri Gopalakrishnan

Mira Malhotra is a visual artist and graphic designer based in Mumbai, India. The founder of Studio Kohl by day, her personal work is a celebration of Indian women and their daily lives, from the ornaments they wear to the items they shop for in the bazaar. Her work has been exhibited in the New India Designscape exhibit in Italy (2012-13) and Designwallah, Alchemy at Southbank Centre, London (2014).

Mira’s piece Bai Bye is a piece on Indian working women who are forgotten by upper classes of society, seen all the time, but rarely remembered, and mostly taken for granted. The Kaamwaali Bai has a unique and difficult job unfamiliar to those outside of the country. She has many bosses, mostly women, of higher classes than she. She is always rushing through her work, consisting of hard domestic labour, to get to another household where she repeats the process. The piece is a light hearted view on this working woman’s struggles, but by making her a subject, is also valuing her as a working woman whose job is usually thankless and hectic.

Bai by Mira
Bai by Mira

Pavithra Dikshit is a designer and artist. Explorations in type, language and social design, within the Indian context, outline a major part of her practice as a designer. She co-founded Postcard People as an avenue to revive post in a contemporary mode. 

Her sketch of the ‘Women with Mogra, ink and pen on paper, 2015’ explores the nitti-gritties of being a Tamilian in India. Everytime you attend a social function, a wedding, during navratri, the mogras follow you in smell, in spirit and in every woman’s hair. For Tamilians, without the mogra, the attire is deemed incomplete.

Embracing The South Indian Mogra Love by Pavithra Dikshit
Embracing The South Indian Mogra Love by Pavithra Dikshit

The Collective post ELCAF

They have been wanting to work together for a while now; some collaborations have happened – Aarthi and Kaveri have co-created Urbanlore, and Aindri and Aarthi have worked on a couple of short graphic projects, Garima and Kaveri were recently part of an artist’s residency in Bangalore together.

In a few of their early discussions, Janine was lamenting at the lack of women nominees in the recent Angoulême Comics Festival in France. There has also been a lot of debate regarding issues of diversity and representation in the comics sector – especially when it comes to gender and race. And Kadak hopes to be a response to that. The driving force behind Kadak has been the East London Comic Arts Festival’s submission call for this year happening in June. They got together to send in their application under Kadak.

For ELCAF, they’re developing a Kadak zine, where they’re creating some new work – both individually and collaboratively. The collective came together very organically, and that’s the beauty of it. Right now, they’re using this platform to work with each other, understand their approaches and processes and develop some interesting pieces. They hope to take it as it comes, to let the collective continue it’s organic trajectory and let the work guide their future steps.

South Asian Feminist Art?

The collective calls themselves feminist. Some of their individual work talks about gender, identity, gender politics, about the reality and experience of being a woman in the subcontinent, and in different ways – with humour, with engaging visuals, with insightful content and stories. Feminism is one aspect of the different kinds of inquiry they engage with – there’s work about caste, class, sexuality, politics, nature, food, environment.

They see themselves as a South Asian collective, and want to look at their work through the lens of issues that concern the subcontinent. They are hoping to tell different kinds of stories, and in the process, address a wide range of themes.

When asked if their art pieces aim to break stereotype or bring about a social change, they say, they don’t have an aim at the outset when they create art, however, in that process, if it creates a dialogue and change, that’s great. The idea is to tell more stories, share different experiences through the medium of sequential storytelling.

Featured Image Credit: Garima Gupta/ Kadak Collective 

About the author(s)

Japleen smashes the patriarchy for a living! She is the founder-CEO of Feminism in India, an award-winning digital intersectional feminist media platform. She is also a TEDx speaker and a UN World Summit Young Innovator. Japleen likes to garden, travel, swim and cycle.

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