Strong, Sharp, Kadakhttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/kadak-collective-strong-women-india-art-2979336/

Strong, Sharp, Kadak

Eight women of Indian origin, based in different parts of the world, have come together as Kadak Collective, to muscle their way into a scene that has made no room for women.

kadak collective, women in india, indian women, strong women, east london comics and arts festival, janine shroff, aindri chakraborty, indian express talk
A section from Aarthi Parthasarathy’s comic strip titled Royal Existentials.

Kadak, like a good cup of chai, like your mother’s starched cotton sari, or like a fitting response to ignorance. Inspired from a matchbox that had the word imposed on it, the Kadak Collective adopted the name to represent what it stood for: strong, severe, and also used, colloquially, to describe something awesome.

In June this year, eight women came together as Kadak Collective in response to a submission call by the East London Comics and Arts Festival. “Not enough visibility of minority and female voices in the comic fest was a reason to get together, and when Janine Shroff (based in the UK) pointed us to the lack of women nominees in this year’s prestigious Festival d’ Angouleme shortlist, it became an even stronger reason to band together,” says US-based Indian artist Aindri Chakraborty, one of the eight, who took a comic journalism approach in her piece on the menstrual cup, aptly titled Green Period.

Chakraborty adds, “We wanted to address our experiences of growing up as a woman in India, what is considered feminine, the word feminist, the hesitation and anger surrounding it, and bring this debate and the challenges into our work.” Besides Shroff and Chakraborty, the group includes Akhila Krishnan, Mira Malhotra, Pavithra Dikshit, Garima Gupta, Kaveri Gopalakrishnan and Aarthi Parthasarathy — based in different locations across India and abroad. Most of their work is accessible online.

The intention is to tell stories of the South Asian experience, stories of identity and womanhood, and explore the themes that go along with it. Shroff’s painting The Queen shows a woman who is reduced to her birthing organ. She is being fanned, fed and fawned over by an army of help as she pops babies. And the surreal nature of her paintings compliment her satirical take on typical feminine ideals like fertility and sexuality.

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And in Gopalakrishnan’s story titled Before You Step Out, the experience of the Indian woman is illustrated with painful precision. It deals with the idea of lurking danger, the constant need to look over your shoulder and be wary of your surroundings. In the two-page comic, we follow the author, once when she’s lost in a rainforest in Coorg, and the other time when she is walking down a familiar stretch in her neighbourhood, and, yet, it’s the known that plays up her fears and robs her of any sense of safety.

Gopalakrishnan says, “We’re still figuring out an Indian ‘style or ‘voice’ of comics. We’ve got decades of American comics (dialogue, slang, popular culture) drilled into our brains, that even the nerdiest comics writer can’t peel off. But we have so much content that is personal, political and cultural, that we’ll have our own small independent comic and arts festival in about 5 -10 years.”

They aim to create a space and voice that is indigenous, and a sample of the popular Royal Existentials, created by Parthasarathy, sums it up. A writer and filmmaker by day, Parthasarathy subverts vintage paintings into running panels of social commentary, musings and tongue-in-cheek feminism. While she draws her inspiration from David Malki’s Wondermark, Malki combines Victorian images to go with his hilarious lines, Parthasarathy’s spin is her own, based on first-hand experiences as an Indian woman making her way through an obstacle course built by patriarchy.

In one of her comics, we see a Mughal king with a woman, presumably his daughter. The king, concerned about his daughter’s distress, encourages her to confide in him. “Father, I worry. For the women. In this patriarchal society, our rights, freedoms and expression have all been taken away from us. I am contemplating my future in these bleak times.” In response, her father asks, “Is this because they forgot to draw your hands?”

Malhotra’s project, Unfolding The Saree, is Kadak’s first-ever ’zine that folds up like a saree, and the tactile creation explores the garment as a symbol of female sexuality, through it’s unique ability to cover up or dress down. While the pictures online are satisfactory, they do fall short of the experience.

And what does Kadak think of men joining them in the conversation? Not yet, is the consensus. “We do have this discussion if the work should be gender-neutral. At present, it feels great to be ‘womanin’ at Kadak where the work is created by women artists, whether political or otherwise,” says Chakraborty.

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