Sparked from a conversation about feelings of displacement within the South African art landscape, Kutti Collective was solidified. Built from a place of loving, understanding and wanting to create a safe space, the group now consists of artists, curators, writers and photographers who know each other through a variety of connection points. I had an interview with the group to find out more:
Could you please elaborate on your feelings of displacement in the art world and how you used those feelings as a strength to form Kutti Collective?
Exclusion and displacement work in tandem here, we’re displaced because of our history, we’re excluded in much of art history and just general history too. By continuously redefining our histories through art making we are confronting notions of (non) belonging in the art community.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
We were all feeling that exclusion individually and trying to cement our genuine feelings, lives, skills and very existence in the creative industry and current realities. It goes beyond just the art world, it’s about being truly displaced. Not really ever knowing where you belong. Thus, the collective as an abstract [that] formed us – rather than we having formed it. Its strength is that the collective is our space, our representation, our empowerment and community. These struggles brought us together, but the collective is not defined by our shared trauma, but rather our creative determination and support of each other despite it. We as individuals and as a whole are the strength.
Could you please comment on the asymmetrical (or lack of) representation of Desi artists within the South African art landscape? Why do you believe that the representational scale in this regard is so skewed?
This question is a lot like the first, in history of art we don’t cover anything relating to Indian Art, the same is applied to history in a school context. We talk about the South African Indian experience and Gandhi is mentioned as a pioneer for us, but in reality Gandhi isn’t exactly a good role model for us (family values). Art is Indian communities is still seen as a taboo. It’s not acceptable and accessible.
We should historicise SA Indian art history (like what we doing/wanna do doesn’t exist in a vacuum)… the temple builders in Durban and [its] surrounds, the temple aunties who lovingly drape and dot the murtis – they practise and engage in (in)formal artmaking/ have an eye for beauty and aesthetics… then there are many artists practising in the formal art world too – from apartheid days. We haven’t heard/celebrated their work because of the same old same old things — white curators and artfolk don’t get it unless it’s some orientalist trash // plays into safe and familiar binaries of a mythical “indianness”. Lack of access/resources (to visit galleries or artist’s studios or to basic art equipment). Indian patriarchal family dynamics plays into the idea of science/maths/medicine/law as the only viable careers and most often Indian artists feel like they/we outchea on our own (because family/community support is low). So, without strong foundations/art history knowledge and networks for artists, being visible and getting coined in the art world is tough.
The understanding of what constitutes art and how it functions in society has to change…both formal and informal manifestations of art needs to be acknowledged. That is also just a huge psychological shift in thinking that has to happen in society. This lack of awareness of how art functions in real life and how one can make a living as an artist further exacerbates those Indian patriarchal family and class dynamics and sees the only way of “making it” or securing financial security by being some kind of doctor.
All our (Kutti) journeys in becoming the artists we are today has been marked with varying structural and cultural resistance. Through our individual artistic practices and as a collective we continue to defy and challenge this.
Some of our parents had never been to an art gallery/museum until we started our degrees or practices in art, whereas we had been going to galleries and museums since school. Some of our parents never would’ve thought of art as a career (usually more of a doctor/lawyer/accountant ideology). And the commercial art world is so niche and exclusive to rich white people, it’s difficult for non-rich POC who haven’t been exposed to it to have easy access.
Like some awareness and transparency about the viability of art/ creative careers would go a looong way.
What has public response been to the work of the collective?
From a varsity perspective, lecturers have been supportive and interested in what we are doing….
The response has been so overwhelmingly heartwarming and welcoming. In just a few months we’ve been contacted by various artists, organizations, lecturers and art bodies within the industry as mentioned above, as well as platforms who believe and see us – who, like Bubblegum, register that we are valid. However, for me, the response which has been most important to me is that from our community: the fellow desi babes and creatives who feel further highlighted and visible because of what we’re doing.
We are simultaneously reflecting/engaging with our Indian Identity; through our past and present experiences. But we also are transcending what that expected Indian experience is… through our art and in life.
Why did you choose the name Kutti which is slang for ‘bitch’? In other words what does calling yourselves ‘bitch’ speak to and does it at all speak to the kind of work that the collective creates? If so please elaborate.
The word ‘bitch/female dog’ is an extremely loaded word – historically used/created/sustained by patriarchy. We are bitches if we don’t like you, don’t want to fuck you, are difficult, cannot be controlled, don’t want your attention, resist gender roles…
Bitch is a word that was originally used to shame & vilify ‘us’.
The use of ‘Bitch’ (like many other derogatory terms used to refer to womxn and LGBTQ+ beings) originally was used to project shame and ‘insufficiency’. This projected shame and ‘insufficiency’ I think we as Desi womxn & LGBTQ+ artists/beings have felt to varying degrees in life.
By adopting the word Kutti (Bitch/Female Dog) we subvert original projected meaning and re-establish our power and agency.
Who currently forms a part of the collective and how do your myriad of creative expressions come together and speak in a collective voice?
Akshar Maganbeharie, Alka Dass, Kate’Lyn Chetty, Githan Coopoo, Saaiq’a / A Collared Woman, Talia Ramkilawan, Tazme Pillay, Tyra Naidoo and Youlendree Appasamy.
Our collective creative voice is still coming together, and once it has it will be visually artistically public. The process right now is based on trust, support and transparency: all being able to have a say and mutually come to agreements, deciding each step together, engaging each other’s individual practices and constantly being supportive of each other.