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Artist spotlight: HateCopy and Babbu the painter

02 Sep 2016

In any Asian culture, such as the Desi community, the negative stigma surrounding the arts is nothing new. However, the conversation surrounding the arts is gaining an online presence through a collective of Indian- Canadian artists and poets, in Toronto, which includes artists HateCopy and Babbu the Painter, poet Rupi Kaur and YouTube star, Lilly Singh. We talk to Desi pop artists HateCopy and Babbu the Painter about their exhibition LOVE SHOVE and the changing perception of art within the South Asian diaspora community.

“Our main goal is for Desis to feel included and comfortable in a gallery and to see work that reflects your lifestyle and who you are. Every time we have an exhibit or do a workshop, our goal is to represent and to have fun. Art is supposed to add to the culture, it’s supposed to make you think and talk. The more you discuss it, the more you talk about it, the more in tune you become with the art.”

-HateCopy and Babbu the painter

Recently, the Indian-Canadian artists HateCopy and Babbu the Painter, graced London’s Southbank with their ground-breaking exhibition LOVE SHOVE. The exhibition is a journey through the various aspects of a Desi wedding, and a comic reflection of what happens when a girl decides she is ready to marry. As the pair have described, “the name LOVE SHOVE refers to a popular figure of speech in Desi culture, which dismisses the idea of love, because in a wedding where everything from your outfit to your husband is predetermined by everyone who is not you, what’s love got to do with it?”

HateCopy has described the work as “an exposé of different parts of a Desi wedding and how it feels like a big celebration of love and new life, but really when you think about it, there’s a lot of characters and scenarios in the Desi wedding that aren’t really happy. For example, our main pieces are a family, it’s Mummyji, Pappaji, the dolhaa and dolhman [mum, dad, groom and bride] and everybody’s crying. In a Desi wedding, everybody cries, nobody’s really happy. That’s something that’s really funny because there could be different reasons why they’re crying, maybe the bride doesn’t want to get married to the guy, maybe the guy’s just not ready to settle down yet but they’re young and the parents’ agreed so that’s what’s happening.”

Also known as Maria Qamar, HateCopy goes on to describe the different characters, that aren’t just family, with the Desi wedding, such as the couple making out in the corner despite the fact that’s “no kissing in Bollywood”, the woman crying about how “coconut oil can’t even fix this marriage”, and numerous aunties that try not look at your face as they check you up and down and grill you as soon as you walk in. The artwork allows you to experience an Indian wedding for the characters as a pose to the lights, outfits and bright colours, which are beautiful but not the only elements of the wedding. There’s also the people that are involved and “the Indian characters that are humorous and are engaging at the same time.”

Babbu the Painter, also known as Babneet Lahkesar, combines classical features of traditional Indian art with pop art to explore the issues of gender politics within South Asian society. From her iconic “Bakwaas” series, which has featured in fashion collaborations, such as The Babbu x Kapadé Project, to her contemporary take on the “Aunty Next Door”, Babbu the Painter’s work confronts the conventional norms within South Asian communities. She cites 19th century India as her influence, as her goal has always been to bring traditional Indian art back to life in a contemporary sense and get a fine balance of the two.

As Desi artists, the pair have spoken more widely about the underrepresentation of Desis, as well as people of colour, in the arts. Babbu the Painter comments, “it’s always something that, when you walk into a gallery, you never see a person of colour on a canvas. For centuries and decades, it’s always been a white male or a white female. But now, it’s like characters that are people of colour, and the artwork is by women of colour.”

Traditionally, South Asian children are pushed towards the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, to study at higher education, whilst the humanities and arts are treated as “useless” and “dishonourable” subjects. HateCopy and Babbu the Painter have cited the importance of bringing arts into conversation, more positively among Desi culture: “The more you discuss it, the more you talk about it, the more in tune you become with the art. When that comes from Desi people in the media, it’s even better for the community to thrive in that area. We want other Desis to pick up the arts, even as a hobby, and treat it with a little more respect.”

HateCopy has become an influential figure in the Indian community over the past year, through her comic and relatable depiction of the life of first generation Indians living in the west in her artwork. She has gained a following of almost 60,000 followers on Instagram, with her identifiable phrases such as “Trust no Aunty”, “We’re not having a daughter” and “Our Beti is an artist? It’s all your fault!”, that mirror the cultural stigmas faced by women and girls of the South Asian Diaspora.

The pieces in the exhibition reflect the experiences of women and girls in Indian culture, who are often taught to aspire to marriage above education and other accomplishments. To quote the pair, “we are told to ‘settle down’ with a rich, fair skinned doctor chosen by our mothers and our aunties.” The exhibition seeks to allow people of the South Asian community to be more open with our emotions and feelings when it comes to weddings and to look at our culture through a lens of inclusivity. For Desis, and people of colour alike, it can feel intimidating to walk into an art gallery and feel excluded, and uncomfortable in a space mostly occupied by non-Desis.

Furthermore, Babbu and HateCopy have expressed the importance for members of the Desi community to leave behind the negative stigma around the arts and embrace it, “art is supposed to add to the culture, it’s supposed to make you think and talk.” The pair have also stated their hopes for Desi parents to encourage their children to be a “doctor, lawyer, engineer or artist”.

Check out more of HateCopy’s work hereCheck out more of Babbu the Painter’s work here