'We are transcending what the expected ‘Indian’ experience is.' Caroline Mackintosh talks to 9 artists reclaiming the power of their identities
Kutti Collective is a South African Indian Art Collective. It is comprised of individual and collaborating Desi artists, based in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban. Kutti Collective is a space where we mediate our art and identities; and support one another on a personal level as well as in our respective artistic practices. As a collective comprised of non-binary womxn and LGBTQ+ identifying artists, we are continuously reclaiming our minds, bodies, and identities within cultural, public, and social structures; which are largely sustained by colonial legacy and patriarchy.
‘Kutti’ (pronounced ‘cu-tee’) is a derogatory term in Hindi and Punjabi slang, meaning ‘bitch’ or ‘female dog.’ The word is extremely loaded—historically used, created, and sustained by patriarchy. ‘Kutti’ or ‘bitch’ is a word that was originally used to degrade and vilify us. Like many other derogatory terms used to refer to womxn and LGBTQ+ beings, it was originally used to project shame and insufficiency. I think we have all individually experienced this to varying degrees in our lives… whether it be from mainstream society, family structures, our cultural and religious backgrounds, patriarchy and institutional racism, or the art industry. We are challenged incessantly from all angles to submit and conform.
By adopting the word ‘kutti’ we subvert its original meaning and attempt to re-establish our power and agency. As Kuttis, we are building community, increasing visibility, and transforming representation for people of color and Indians; actively archiving our history and lives while redefining our identities even as they challenge social norms. We are simultaneously reflecting and engaging with our identities through our past and present experiences and traumas. But we are also ultimately transcending what that expected ‘Indian’ experience is, or what it should look like, through our art and our lives.
Kate’Lyn is a master’s student at the University of Johannesburg under the guidance of Landi Raubenheimer and Brenda Schmahmann.
“I am currently exploring political influences on both documentary and family photography. My work is centered around my family’s experience while they lived in Sawoti, a farming community, during apartheid.”
Youlendree is a freelance writer and editor, a zine-maker, a digital collagist, and a “failed academic.” She also runs her own jewelry and second-hand clothing store.
“As a freelance writer I focus on art and its intersections with culture, especially from communities of South Asian ancestry in South Africa. I took part in an online residency with Floating Reverie this year; my residency was entitled ‘Charred Ous’ and delved into the effectual undercurrents of charou cultures in SA. My MA dealt with domestic violence, spirituality, care work, and healing from trauma in an Indian area called Verulam, in [KwaZulu-Natal].”
Alka Dass is an artist born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal. She studied fine art at Durban University of Technology, and now practices in the province of Gauteng, South Africa and Bordeaux, France.
“My work [is a deep reckoning] with identity. I tend to weave my personal and cultural identities together in ways that seem inseparable—by dissecting the cultural norms and beliefs attached to my identity as a South African Indian, while examining how they intersect with gender norms in an era of modern feminism. I try to rethink the cultural and psychological spaces that are traditionally assigned to women of color, and grapple with the ways that visibility and representation impact them.”
Tyra Naidoo is a Cape Town-based artist. She is an Honors graduate of Michaelis School of Fine Art, and works across a variety of mediums.
“Being born in Durban, my work deals largely with my heritage as an Indian South African woman. Using combinations of fragile and aggressive materials and processes, I articulate a dialogue of the subtle violences experienced as a marginalized body. Furthermore, I attempt to create progressive information and spaces to achieve safety, security, and belonging for myself and my community.”
Githan Coopoo is a Cape Town-based jewelry maker. He completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and Art History at the University of Cape Town in 2016.
“I choose to work exclusively with clay as I find it to be a medium that is both uncomplicated and universally timeless. I hope my pieces bring a subtle sense of self-awareness to the wearer—an almost grounding sensation. To adorn the body with a fragile ornament is to make a commitment to sensibility and sensitivity—both powerful and beautiful practices. I find that working with impractical and delicate materials also imparts the idea that just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean its worth is diminished.”
Talia Ramkilawan is an artist and teacher.
“My work is about forging a sense of community and healing particular to the post-apartheid generation. It deals with subverting the image of family trauma by healing through making and by creating a presence. I have placed an emphasis on community and the ‘Indian experience,’ which is so important in cultural and art production that disrupts the linear narrative, exposing how trauma of the past resonates in the present. My inspiration comes from my own family dynamics and my own specific experience with South Asian identity, culture, and trauma.”
Tazme Pillay is a Durban-born performance artist and the founder of The Death of GLITTER, one of Cape Town’s most exciting queer nightlife happenings.
“My work explores the complexities of queer identity through social currency. I am preoccupied with the politics of underground or alternative spaces, particularly the nightclub, which for me becomes an alternative theatre and a laboratory for the exploration of self-curation and performativity. In my personal practice I challenge codes of masculinity and gender with reckless gay abandon as the self-professed mother of the new Club Kids.”
Akshar Maganbeharie works primarily in painting, drawing, and installation. He completed a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2017, and is currently working as a gallery assistant in Cape Town.
“My art is influenced by popular culture and social media. Through the use of popular iconography, abstract forms, color, texture, and multi-sensory installation, I question the media I grew up consuming and investigate how these influences have permeated through my identity. My three biggest inspirations are Britney Spears, Starbucks, and Kylie Jenner.”
Saaiq’a is a Durban-born writer, multi-disciplinary artist, and visual storyteller; engaging with photography, installation, and mixed media-based works while pursuing documentary and film-making.
“My work usually reflects an engagement with the psychological landscape of the mind, mental health and illness, the idiosyncrasies and complexities pertaining to the human condition, the duality of life, the inevitability of death, identity, gender, and sexuality. I would describe my art practice and expression as an ephemeral, subversive, gritty, intimate, and transcendent experience.”