Boisterous explosions of colours reminiscent of the Holi Festival engulf your sight when you encounter the creations of Jithen Thukral and Sumir Tagra. More popularly known as T & T, the arty provocateurs based in Delhi have been showing their works in myriad galleries around the world since 2004.
Windows of Opportunity
Trained in design but self-proclaimed failures in the advertising world, the effervescent duo have been successfully incorporating the vernacular of pop cultural symbols and images liberally in their tongue-in-cheek works to address universal themes of identity, consumerism and change in modern day India to a global audience.
At their latest solo exhibition ‘Windows Of Opportunity’ at Art Plural Gallery, Patrick Benjamin caught up with the garrulous visiting artists to discuss their art in a candid interview.
Windows Of Opportunity concerns an Indian social issue, in this case the Punjabi Diaspora. How did the project spring about?
Jithen Thukral(JT): We have always been interested to explore themes about migration. Regardless of class, there are many Indians who feel that heading out to the West is a sign that you have made it in life. It starts in a simple way, for example, the son of my father’s friend went abroad. The most common real-life scenario is families will start selling their land to fund their children’s dreams to further their studies. Not everyone is going to be a student; some of them are so desperate to stay in the West, they will even live in the harshest of conditions and do anything to settle down there.
During my college days, I had a very affluent classmate who was a good graphic designer. What this guy did might be considered surprising to you. He quits his promising job, settles down in Adelaide and is actually driving a taxi there. It seems weird but such is the Indian fascination with migration.
Sumir Tagra (ST): We both come from Punjab, India, where the idea of traveling abroad especially to the West, is seen as a status symbol. It is human nature to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the world. In reality, it becomes a lonely struggle in a country where one is unfamiliar with the social mores. The dream is to own that huge mansion in the UK – but how many of them actually achieve it in reality.
In our studio in Delhi, kids used to visit us and we were obliged to be mentors to them. We became curious about their aspirations to move abroad. In 2007, we created an installation called ‘Adolescere Domus’ in Art Basel, which was inspired by our discussions. It can be seen as a precursor to our current show here and the themes are something we still find relevant and worth exploring today. We have been documenting these young Punjabi the past six years and 90 percent of them still want to head abroad.
So, by contextualising these themes in our latest works, we are trying to raise more questions about our nation’s diaspora and how this is conceived by Indians as well as projected on to India by the rest of world.
Although the works are executed in a playfully vibrant style, some of the themes are quite dark. Why is that so?
Dominus Aeris Escape
ST: I tend to liken certain elements of our artistic process to making violent films. We try to sugarcoat the sourness with some sweetness and somehow the superhero comes in and saves the day for you to get one of those standard happy endings. Our social commentary can be stark but at the end of the day, we try our hardest to be an optimistic bunch, especially in a world where there is already enough gloom. We deliberately chose a video game styled aesthetic in some of the works to comment on how migration to the West is so often like a game. It might seem like you have control over it but it’s much more complex that that.
I understand that they are two minds at work here. How’s the dynamic like?
JT: Our ideas always start from layering and we intuitively engage in the work like two minds working towards a common objective. There is certain energy that we work with that it is difficult to put across in language.
Do you feel that you have been lucky to be internationally recognised as artists?
JT: I feel very fortunate to be in the limelight because many of our peers, who are very good artists and should have achieved success and recognition, are still struggling.
ST: In our early days, we never even had a break and there were many days where we questioned the sanity of our choices, but we just worked on, and did well with the opportunities that we had. Of course, on this great journey, we collected a whole bunch of works in our storage that were sh*t too.
If you see a swarthy, bald dude in his early thirties clad in a dirty pair of skinnies pottering about in an art show, chances are high that you have spotted Patrick Benjamin. Say hello to him. He wouldn't mind dispensing a tale or two(including the odd 4D number tip) if you ply him with a drink or three. Besides a forte for storytelling, he is busy exploring ways to teleport.