This December, artists Hatecopy and Babbu the Painter collaborated in a multi-cultural, creative exhibition in the heart of Toronto. Breaking the norms of what it means to be a Desi woman, they explored bold and rebellious painting and poster work in an effort to express the pressures of cultural tradition in a western society.
Maria Qamar hated her copy job, wanted an outlet to express her cultural heritage and a platform to embrace her lingering Goth/Pop/Punk aesthetic. Thus creating Hatecopy, with a famous Instagram following of over 75 000, she tackles everything from face whitening cream to marriage to the racial stereotypes of South Asian culture.
Capturing what it means to be a modern Desi woman in North America, her art acts as powerful counter-culture to enlighten and shock her traditional roots.
Clothing, tea cups, bags and posters- this artist’s brand is everywhere. A favorite of Mindy Kaling, she rose to prominence as a cultural phenomenon for South Asian women.
Babneet Lakhesar, otherwise known as Babbu the Painter, “uses art to sift through the feeling of belonging and at times being distant within two very different worlds.” She’s an artist on the rise, experimenting with a myriad of mediums. She works with photography (often self-portrait work), traditional Indian miniature paintings and pop art to “critique the predominant norms within South Asian communities.”
Her denim jacket line is damn cool. Samantha Edwards of Toronto Life describes the hand-painted jackets as loud and confident representations of pushing back against stereotypes and normalized oppression: “Lakhesar painted these jean jackets by hand. “Bakwaas” means “nonsense” or “bullshit.” “Chup” is slang for “shut up.”
The exhibition generated huge success, receiving attention from BlogTO, Toronto Life and a number of local art blogs from around the city. They artist’s work flows together, revealing power, respect and a visible blending of Desi and Western culture.
Most impressive is the layering of humor with political undertones. Edward writes, that, “Get Me Out,” “Trust No Aunty” and “Salt in Her Chai”—are Qamar’s satirical takes on South Asian culture. The portraits with the black backgrounds are a new series by Lakhesar, in which Desi men and women wear large sunglasses with printed words on the lens to express their inner thoughts.”
Instantly vibing with Qamar, they decided to bring “Bad Beti” to life. Their project combines their unique punk-style art with heritage and perspective. Qamar tells Edwards, “Babbu and I were driving around and a song by either Blink-182 or The Offspring came on, and we both started singing along and knew all the lyrics…A lot of Desi kids grew up with punk and metal, but when you think of those cultures, you never think of a Desi goth. You always think of a troubled white kid.”
“Bad Beti” translates into “Bad Daughter” in Hindu. Qamar tells Edwards, “A lot of my upbringing was being told, ‘No, you can’t do this, and if you end up doing it, you’re a bad daughter…Because we’re talking about punk culture, we wanted to get out of that comfort zone. All the things we did as teens, they were actually very healthy for us. It’s natural, it’s normal. It’s okay to be bad. It’s fun to be bad.”
Artists like these, that bring multiculturalism and racial stereotyping to the forefront, are exceedingly important in this landscape of political turmoil. They each represent the realities of immigrant children, struggling with traditional roles in a westernized society and learning to embrace both. These women brand themselves with power, strength and confidence, striking back with an artistic edge against various forms of racism and sexism as they experience it. Their work makes headlines in the Canadian art scene as defiant, beautifully diverse representations of cultural expression. We can all agree, we need more of this now more than ever.