Earlier this year in June, eight South Asian women artists and writers who live and work all over India and the world came together to showcase their work for the very first time at ELCAF, the East London Comic Arts Festival. They called themselves the Kadak collective. This weekend they bring their travelling library to Bandra’s Cuckoo Club so we grilled them with a few questions.
Who makes up the Kadak collective and how did you all end up coming together?
Akhila Krishnan (filmmaker, writer + illustrator)
Aindri Chakraborty (illustrator + comic artist)
Janine Shroff (illustrator + artist)
Mira Malhotra (designer, illustrator + writer)
Garima Gupta (illustrator + comic artist)
Pavithra Dikshit (designer, typographer + artist)
Kaveri Gopalakrishnan (illustrator + comic artist)
Aarthi Parthasarathy (filmmaker + writer)
Aindri got us all together as she was interested in representing a minority voice at ELCAF. We had all been following each others’ work online and have a myriad connections.
How did the name Kadak come about?
It was inspired by a matchbox, namely this one. People in the collective liked the name because it was hard-hitting but still felt playful. Also Kadak chai! Kadak means strong, severe, sharp – like our tea. We have strong opinions, even if they do clash, and the name represents that.
There's a certain level of both inquiry and commentary in your works. What are some themes that feature often? What are some concerns you share?
THEMES: Women and domestic work - gardening, cooking, etc. Politics, personal musings, urban lore, people in urban spaces, birdwatching and nature, gender binary and non-conformity, humour, Indian history and mythology, typography, folk art, women’s issues, menstruation, pop culture, fashion etc.
CONCERNS WE SHARE: Our Whatsapp group is a pretty colourful place for debate on pop culture. We discuss sexual violence, Azealia Banks’ latest twitter breakdown and the articles we read.
Would you call yourselves a feminist collective?
Since we have less representation as women in this space, being a woman artist producing work on any topic is itself a feminist act. Did we seek out like feminists when forming the group? No. So perhaps the work isn’t always to do with the feminist movement as such, some of us do produce work like that: Aindri’s My Green Period (published in Issue Three), Kaveri’s My Secret Crop, Aarthi’s Royal Existentials, Janine’s Rape Rick and Mira’s Unfolding the Saree are examples of feminist works of varying degrees.
Pavithra’s Discipline, Garima’s Birds of Paradise and Hubbub, Akhila’s 100 days of Travelers in Red are work produced from the vantage point of women, but do not necessarily have feminism associated with it in a big way.
Some of you were physicaly present at ELCAF. What was your experience like?
It was strange, and also exciting, to be selling our own personal products at an international stall. Our stall was the brightest flaming one out there: firstly we had 8 people’s individual work out there on the table, very diverse in itself. And then Akhila’s personal collection of Indian objects and Aindris chaicups that we drew on (and which someone wanted to buy) decorating it like our own little house.I felt like we were very brown and that this was very brown work: it was an incredible and odd feeling to look at yourself through others’ eyes! The response was really rewarding: a lot of folks hadn’t seen something like this before, I think.
Our favourite ELCAF memories are of Akhila pulling out mira’s Saree zine with a flourish (to each customer!) like a sarishop seller in a local boutique and hard-selling it like a pro, Aindri breaking into massive grins over Ramayan Gurlz and stress-grinning when buyers came, and buying supermarket bags of candy with Janine which we then stuffed into our mouths very unprofessionally sitting behind the stall (We didn’t really get much time to breathe!). Someone walked up to Kaveri and asked her if we were selling the Ramayana. We cannot forget her facepalm and eye roll.
What has happened since ELCAF?
We worked on the Gender Bender exhibition supported by Goethe Institute in Bangalore this September. Our online showcase ‘The Reading Room’ featured eight new pieces and our ELCAF graphic shorts, artworks, mini-comic zines, and visual essays — exploring different aspects of gender and gender identity across India, post-Brexit UK and the Philippines.
What can we expect this weekend?
We are bringing our traveling library of self-published comics, zines and art to Cuckoo Club in Mumbai. The Reading Room opens with the talk/presentation 'A History of Women in Comics', which culls together research about the history of female comic creators and representation of women in comics in India and the western world, from the beginnings of the medium in the late 1800s till present day. It traverses the journey of various women in the field - their struggles and achievements, lesser-known comics over the years and the follows the changes in production and distribution with the movement from print to web.
This will be followed by an introduction to the Kadak collective, their work and a Q and A with some of the members.
Click the event posters above for more details and follow them on instagram at @kadakcollective.