August 14 2016
Our correspondent quizzes two Canadian artists, ‘Hatecopy’ and ‘Babbu the Painter’, as they bring their four-day exhibition to a close. ‘Love Shove‘ is an exhibition of paintings that sets out to challenge cultural norms and break social stereotypes in what is an intimate, and often provocative behind-the-scenes (behind the veil) look at a contemporary Asian/Desi wedding…
By Tasha Mathur
WE HAVE all become accustomed to the usual Asian wedding: The bride is crying, the groom is freaking out, the mother’s crying, the father’s crying. Maybe they’re proud, maybe they’re upset, maybe they’re fearful. But when so much is predetermined, especially for the women – you don’t always get to pick your clothes, you don’t always get to pick your jewellery and even in today’s age, don’t always get to pick your husband – what does LOVE really have to do with any of it? This is what artists, Hatecopy (Maria Qamar, pictured left) and Babbu the Painter (pictured right) aim to explore in their latest exhibition, ‘Love Shove‘ in conjunction with Binti, a social enterprise also aiming to challenge social stigmas, with a focus on the negative perceptions surrounding women and their periods. Angad Singh, from Binti, saw an exhibition of theirs in Canada and invited them to exibit here for the first time.
Hatecopy and ‘Babbu the Painter’s journey began by connecting on the online picture-sharing app, Instagram, with both artists gaining a strong online following for their art. And just one year later, they’ve come to London to share their work with a new audience.
www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): What is Love Shove about and what message do you hope to communicate with the exhibition?
Hatecopy (HC): The message is freedom and inclusivity. First and foremost, it’s inclusivity in the art world. What we’re trying to do by having these exhibits is to make us feel proud and feel included as Desis to walk into a gallery and see ourselves represented in a space that’s normally occupied by white men.
Also, to expose the ridiculousness of the traditions we have to uphold in the West. Things like settling down or the idea of getting married early to make everyone proud. All these unrealistic expectations of women in 2016 in the West is what we’re trying to expose right now.
ACV: What can people expect from Love Shove?
HC: We were setting up, it just felt like somewhere where we belonged. I wanted it to be filled immediately with our friends, family and so forth.
When you walk in, you’re going to feel a sense of pride and being yourself. The artwork aims to blend our culture here and back home to create this new wave of Desis. It’s hard to explain our blend of culture now. It’s kind of like Bieber Bollywood.
Babbu the Painter (BTP): There’ll be a lot of hipsters, but then you’ll be dancing to ‘Mohabbatein’. So it’s a safe space where we’re dressed in Western clothing, which is essentially our culture now, but also realising that we can be part of Indian culture now without having to take off the clothes we’re wearing and be someone else. Yeah we’re Indian and it’s Indian inspired but our stories and the way we feel is a blend of the two.
ACV: Your artwork focuses on smashing stereotypes and challenging cultural norms. How has this been received by your family?
HC: For me, I draw first and face the consequences later (laughs). I still get yelled at for things that my Mum finds on Instagram where she’s like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know this happened or you never told me this’.
A lot of the things that are documented in the work are things that we’ve gone through in our private lives. When you try to share it with an Aunty or your Mum, there’s such a gap between those experiences that our parents can’t compute. It’s got to a point where anything we mention, we have to question, CIs that taboo? Is that considered controversial?’ I would draw two uncles kissing and have people say, “Oh that’s so controversial” but it’s not. These are things that we still get flack for back home but for the most part with family friends, cousins and the like, they all love the work and are down to support us. But in our parents’ minds, it’s like we’re little kids and this is play time for us right now and we’re eventually going to find a real job and settle down.
ACV: You’re both self-confessed Bollywood fanatics but we often find people from the diaspora who aren’t as connected to their roots. Where did the passion for your own cultures come from?
BTP: I went through a really weird Punkish and rebellious phase. Then at university, I took some random courses that taught me about the temples in India. Going through the history, culture and everything, it suddenly hit me that it was so beautiful and it became something I really loved. And from then, I could say, ‘I know who I am. I’m Indian. I’m South Asian. This is me. But I’m also a Canadian’ – but I don’t have to choose between the two. I think we try too hard to choose what we are. And a lot of us always try to choose the Western end of things, then we lose our heritage. But I think internally, if we just stop fighting it, and you just live, it will come to you. I was meant to be Bollywood!
HC: When I moved to the West, I was proper Desi. Then I moved here and realised it was frowned upon to be that. I kept getting shamed for what music I was listening to, what I wore, what I ate. So I thought I had to change myself because I didn’t feel normal. I would plug towels at the bottom of my bedroom door so the smell of curry wouldn’t get on my clothes. And then growing up, I realised the same people who called our bindis ‘P*ki dots’ are now wearing them to Coachella Music and Arts Festival (in California). So I was normal all along but because of the insecurity of everybody around me, I was made to feel like I wasn’t normal.
ACV: You’ve often been labelled as ‘Asian female artists’ – how do you react to that?
BTP: I still don’t like it when people classify us as ‘women’ and then as ‘brown women’ because when there’s a white male exhibiting his work, nobody says ‘Oh you need to see this white male showing his amazing abstract work…’ Every time we have shows and people write articles, they always use the tagline, ‘two brown girls exhibiting amazing Indian work’ .
HC: Yeah ‘Indian Canadian, South Asian Canadian, and all’. We get it. We’re not white.
BTP: We do want to be part of the community but we don’t have to literally be labelled as ‘brown girls’ every time. If they’re so intrigued by our culture and who we are then they should come and look at the actual art. I hate the tagline ‘Brown girls.” First of all, you’re referring to us as girls and not women. And then you’re classifying us in this box.
HC: That language is used to further make us feel like we’re not normal. It specifies how ‘not normal’ we are. If your family’s wishes are restricting you from what you want to do and you know it’s unreasonable then you should find a safe space and community that will support you.
For me, my community was online and that’s where I found Babbu and that it’s okay to go into a career in the arts. It’s important to find that community wherever you live and make a bond, introduce yourself. Whenever you have self-doubt; whenever that voice in your head or in your Mum is telling you not to do something, remember it’s drama. Obviously everyone has an ideal for their kids but sometimes those things aren’t realistic and are actually offensive. Like when people try to put ‘Fair & Lovely’ on me. That’s not right.
BTP: And work hard and stop caring so much. When you stop, you’ll feel so much happier and do what you want to do. But it’s also okay to want the usual things of marriage and kids and that life, as long as it’s what you want. I think people just need to realise what they want and just run with it.
*’Love Shove‘ will be running until Sunday, (10am-6pm) August 14 at The Oxo Tower, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH
You can find out more here: http://www.oxotower.co.uk/events/love-shove/