The INDERNET exhibition was organised as part of the India-Cologne Week celebration in Germany from June 2 – June 9. It features graphic works by 34 Indian and India inspired creatives who use the internet as an instrument and stage at the same time.
Kunal Anand from Kulture Shop and Manoj Kallupurackal of Masala Movement chat about design, internet and a globalised Indian identity.
Edited for clarity.
INDERNET was an exhibition held in Cologne, Germany from June 2- June 9 Indian inspired visual art.
It’s summertime in Germany, Manoj has just finished wrapping up the exhibition and is walking to his parent’s house for a football match while we’re talking to him.
Manoj at the exhibit.
Q. The INDERNET exhibition examined the relationship between Indian and digital culture. What fascinates you about the digital culture, especially in the Indian context?
Manoj: Art is often considered analogue – especially contemporary art which is not necessarily always digital. For us, – for you and me, and for the artists, at Kulture Shop the digital medium is a given – we grew up with that. We don’t necessarily see it as something new – it’s our tool and our medium. When the organisers of the Cologne India Week asked me if I could do an exhibition, I felt responsible to focus on what I know because neither me nor my assisting partner Vineetha are specialists in contemporary art, but I’ve been a designer all my life. Even though there wasn’t much budget and time we really wanted to use the opportunity making modern Indian culture accessible to the people in our hometown Köln. There’s a saying in German “Aus der Not eine Tugend machen” which means to make an advantage out of something difficult – Frankly speaking, I thought it would be more realistic to pull it off if we focus on digital – that’s how INDERNET became the theme.
Kunal: That’s an interesting perspective because I see it another way – I helped you put this exhibition together through the internet. We know each other through the internet, we’ve seen all the works through the internet – Instagram, Facebook, Kulture Shop’s website and so on and so forth. It just felt so right that the exhibition was called INDERNET, it felt holistic. It also felt like how do you put a modern-day exhibition together without digital work? It’s so entwined in our lives now.
Glimpses from the exhibit.
Q. How has the confluence of Indian culture with digital art evolved over the years?
Kunal: So many things have happened in the country since independence, Media leaps – internet, smartphone, CDs, WiFi, PCs, it’s a matter big wave sin why the graphic art scene is where it’s at today. These stepping stones allowed people to digest information in a whole different way. Information was really available and people could access anything they were interested in instead of what the government wanted to see. It’s a matter of these things happening in this country that us designers are the product of it. That’s what digital graphic design & art. There’s just so much more we’re sucking in that means there are so many new things we’re putting out. If it happened earlier, you’d see a big change, but we’re just at the nascent stage of this whole lifespan.
Manoj: that also needed time to somehow use this kind of creativity and the tools to use the technology. And also the fact that India is pretty advanced in terms of technology. Basically to merge all these things and to create.
Kunal: India is pretty young as well it’s a young country, This is the first time we’re actually seeing a wave of vision of young people representing their view on the world, but they’re all design styles. I find it really exciting.
Q. What about masala movement? How did it start and what did you feel was its purpose?
Manoj: It has evolved over the years. It started as a word. We were a group of Indian friends who were pretty much integrated into society here. We were not facing serious racism but of course, the usual comments or police checks now and then. We like spending time together not because we’re Indian, but because we were growing up together, we had language school together on the weekend so we met regularly. We were basically a group of teenagers that didn’t want to be judged by the Indian parents nor the German society. So we were a kind of brown crew.
Kunal: Like an urban tribe?
Manoj: Exactly! We were also connected through music – we all grew up with hip-hop but of course, our own identity and a real connection to our own cultural background were missing. There was no Indian music at the time that we could relate to, maybe Asian underground in the UK, but that was too far away and too electronic for us at that time. Somehow the hip-hop idea of having a crew and hanging out, going to parties, having fun and spending time together was the start I’d say. Once my friend, Prince – typical Mallu name – came out with t-shirts and it said Masala Movement, Cologne. I really liked the word. It was funny and had meaning at the same time.
So I started using the name for more and more things. The first official event (Cochin Daiquiri) was a cocktail night at a tiny bar. I designed the flyer that eventually turned to be the logo – it was this mallu actor guy with sunglasses with an elephant and palm trees in the background, cool and tropical but cheesy at the same time. We played Asian influenced music and usually gathered a pretty mixed up and open-minded crowd. I think that was the start of Masala Movement. In 2002. Over the years and after many very different projects it has evolved to a non-profit organisation for intercultural art initiatives how I call it – it’s still very personal and down to earth though.
Q. Graphic art has a more global appeal than some other traditional Indian art forms. Do you think artists today can strike a balance between the traditional roots and modern styles?
Kunal: I don’t think the artworks are using Indian patterns from Indian saris and reusing them in their artworks, I think they’re using it as an attempt to move that conversation forward and not just steal from the past.
Manoj: I know most of the work that’s on Kulture Shop and that’s a good representation of the diversity of the scene because some artists don’t give any Indian looking references at all, but it’s more the subject and the content. For example, you’d understand it more as an Indian even though it doesn’t necessarily look Indian. I always find it interesting because that was always the most exciting thing when we were heading into graphic design – to somehow mix things, to make things that were not there to create things that were out there.
Kunal: As international designers of Indian origin there’s this hybrid identity that you have already and through your work that hybrid identity kinda multiplies again because you wanna represent that visually by slapping t it together and exploring what that means.
Manoj: It always depends, especially in this context – by showing works form Indian artists. Ofc you cannot expect it to look Indian, that’s somehow to please people. Of course, as an Indian artist, it matters that where you come from and what your influences are but still your art just doesn’t have to be Indian or doesn’t have to look ‘Indian’, just because you’re from there.
Kunal: This also comes from the fact that when you come to India, it’s not like everyone is wearing white kurtas and chappals. People are wearing Adidas trunks and jeans and we don’t always dress Indian either so why should we always make Indian design? We live in a globalised world now.
Q. The work in the exhibit represents a contemporary view of the country. Do you think the art helped erase some stereotypes? How did the German audience interact with the very Indian artworks?
Manoj: I would definitely say yes. I learned so much about myself- it’s also a stereotype that we think people have stereotypes about India. I could see that because of the visitors – they were so diverse and would give me so much feedback. There were some people who said, “I’ve never seen something like this, I’ve been to India, I’ve seen Indian art but this is not it.” But those people didn’t necessarily read the curation note and just thought “This is an Indian exhibition so I’ll just go and check” but most of the people there were like “Yes, this is what it is. I didn’t know there was so much great work in India.” It was also a good setting, people were also interested in the Indo-German scene in Cologne.
Q. Can you shed some light on the curation process?
Manoj: In the beginning I had bigger plans – I wanted to have photographs, I wanted to have video, I wanted to have sound, I wanted to have a lot of things but then I realised, it’s difficult to get in touch with all these people that you’d like to include and it would more or less, that I didn’t want to focus on the different categories anymore. Then I thought of just working with what I thought made sense to me – the quality of work, personal connection and who’s really up for it.
Q. How does curating for an international audience affect the process?
Kunal: We try to toe that line where we have maybe two of those artworks of which we knew would be crowd pleasers, which people would be looking for that type of Indianness, but at the same time because I put two of those that meant I could put two-three other artworks which were at the total opposite of the spectrum. Also in the curation process, the fact that we had those pillars to play with and the gorgeous venue to work with really helps. So we could create a narrative on the pillar.you’re looking at one pillar and the pillar behind you are talking to each other. I think we really tried to have the hidden silver lining at you walked around the place and experienced the work and what they reflected when you see two of them opposing each other. There was a hidden story.
For example, I think there was a beautiful artist who did a digital temple in the space and opposite that we had a couple of artworks which were about mind, space, body and yoga. I loved how the artists had never met but somehow their works were talking to each other in a space.
Q. In the exhibit, Kulture Shop represented graphic art but you also curated photographers and mixed media artists. Can you elaborate on their work?
Manoj: Malik is one of my closest friends and a great artist. Originally he is from Uzbekistan but he has a strong connection to Indian culture. So when I told him about my plans he got very excited and there was no doubt that he will support the project as much as he can. For him, it was clear, that his contribution will be painted works. So he asked himself how far internet, pornography, online dating and social media has influenced relationships nowadays. That was his approach, not necessarily digital art but at the same time he came up with the idea of the pop-up where people can become part of the art and take pictures. We called it ‘Selfie Sutra.’ Malik is also the one who put me in touch with Costanza. So grateful for that! Her illustration work literally became the face of the exhibition. In spite of their busy schedule both of them put so much time and effort into this project. So basically there wasn’t much time and budget and I really had to count a lot on personal connections.
It was the same with Sarah & Maninder from Safomasi. I met them a couple of years ago in London but they were just not getting back. I already had to prepare and think of stuff, so I thought of printing their Instagram account and just found a way of making it happen. One day before I printed everything, Sarah got back to me saying, “Sorry I was getting married, we had our reception in London.” I said, ” ah, I knew you must be just busy so I prepared the stuff already because I knew you wouldn’t say no.”
We contacted many photographers, graphic designers and illustrators we researched on the web, and eventually, it worked out only with four – Kira Issar, Rhea Gupte, Chiraag Bhakta and Sanjay Patel. It was super uncomplicated and we discussed what kind of work we see and even though there was no time plus the time difference no matter if it was New Delhi or San Francisco, it was possible to have a dialogue and not just ‘Okay, send me whatever and I’ll put it up’. It was really nice cause there was a connection and understanding without communicating much.
The whole process was very organic and personal. This is important to me for next year as well but hopefully, we will have some more time for the preparation.
Artworks by Kira Issar.
A small crowd outside the venue – Werft 5.
We’d also like to thank all the partners – Werft 5 and the City of Cologne for their support and everyone involved for their support for making this exhibition possible.
Photography by Nicole Hoppe and Manoj Kurian Kallupurackal.
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