A lot is going on in Pakhi Sen’s living room. She’s been hanging out there with fellow artist Samira Bose ever since they became besties in the ninth grade. For the last few months, it’s also been their makeshift studio, where they work on projects that have made a thousand Instagram hearts bloom -- and many real ones beat a bit faster.
Earlier this year, Pakhi and Samira made and starred in a series of photographic recreations of Amrita Sher-Gil’s paintings. It sounds audacious, even cheeky -- and it is, but it isn’t without precedent. They first decided to take on Sher-Gil’s world-famous paintings thanks to “a conversation we were having about costuming, and performing works of art,” Samira says. “So many people ‘do’ Frida Kahlo. That’s very much a part of consumer culture now. But we started thinking about how easy it would be to perform Amrita, too, because of her diverse avatars and the variety in her work.”
The “Amritas” became overnight hits when they went up on Pakhi’s Instagram account. Last month, they followed up the series with their spin on the paintings of Gustav Klimt, which they did in collaboration with Pondicherry jewellery label Manifest Design. “Those are actually quite different,” Samira says -- and they are. Worked over with digital collaging, the “Gustavs” are cooler-coloured, more thickly textured and perhaps a bit sassier than the Amritas.
“So many people ‘do’ Frida Kahlo, but we started thinking about how easy it would be to perform Amrita, too, because of her diverse avatars and the variety in her work.”
But back to that living room and its other occupants. Both women have artists and designers for parents; Pakhi’s mother, Gurpreet Sidhu, runs Delhi’s crafty fave, People Tree, for which Samira’s mother, Anuja Bose, designs.
This week, the kids are helping out on a DIY workshop called Button Masala with the Ahmedabad designer Anuj Sharma. Button Masala is Sharma’s name for his experiments in joinery and ethical fashion: he makes clothes and objects with buttons and bands, forsaking traditional thread-and-needle stitching and sewing machines. “There’s endless creativity in the way you can use the formula he teaches you,” Anuja explains. “And you don’t have to be an artist or a fashion designer to learn -- if you want to make something, he’ll teach you.”
DIY with buttons and natural fabrics is well in line with People Tree’s indie-handi aesthetic. More subtly, it’s also in consonance with the Pakhi-Samira projects, in which textiles, drapes and the shape of clothing plays a big role. In one Amrita self-portrait, Samira sacrifices the gleaming softness of the Sher-Gil original for a matte sharpness. The gold-and-oil gives way to ajrakh colours; and almost as if to draw the eye away from her bright face, the sheet and background call attention to its block-print motifs. (“Friends holding up bedsheets” is how Samira describes their modus operandi.)
“These projects are developing alongside our own interests,” Samira explains. “We’re getting more curious about design, make-up” -- clearly reflected in the photos -- “and part of the reason we’re helping to manage Anuj’s workshop is because we want to see what kind of space there is for the sort of conversations we want to have.”
If that didn’t make the week busy enough, they’re currently putting the finishing touches on their next series, in which they’re recreating Rajput and Mughal miniatures. “That has a lot to do with textiles, too -- the clothes are almost a hundred percent Pakhi’s grandma’s legacy.” Gul, gulshan, Guler? Our eyes are peeled, like buttons.
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