KULTURE SHOP IS THE PLACE TO FIND RISING INDIAN ARTISTS
WORDS BY KIT CALESS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SHIVANI SHAH
A Londoner survives an Indian wedding and finds the future of Indian art at Kulture Shop.
I’m in Mumbai for a week for a wedding. It’s peak monsoon. The wedding is in Juhu on one day and Bandra for three more. In an extraordinary stroke of fortune, I’m staying in a flat near Bandstand, just down from Salman Khan’s house. I’m here during the time his Eid movie, Sultan, is released, and hundreds of people gather outside Salman’s house every day to see if he’ll come out and say hello. I walk through the crowd to get to Hill Road where I have a better chance of catching an empty auto to take me where I need to go each morning.
On my second to last day in town, the wedding ceremonies are finally over. Four days of drinking and eating to the point of shameless saturation have come to a close, and I have an afternoon free to wander around Bandra in the rain, wishing my friend had arranged his marriage in November like any normal person would. I send out a tweet saying that I would be wandering around and if anyone I know wants a present, let me know and I’ll bring it back to London.
My friend and fellow writer Nikesh Shukla writes back and says, “You’ve got to go to Kulture Shop and meet my boy Kunal!” He then emails me a list of things he wants from this Kulture Shop, including two mugs with lustrous illustrations of a dabbawalla and paanwalla on them respectively. The designs are captivating, so I decide to find Kulture Shop and pay Kunal a visit. I look on the map and, what do you know, it’s on Hill Road right about where I’ve been picking up my autos from. Chance is a fine thing and coincidence sublime.
Kulture Shop is above the DCB Bank and opposite the Mehboob Studio on the part of Hill Road that runs parallel to BJ Road. Like a lot of the best things in Mumbai, you could pass the building all your life and never know the magic happening inside. A small sign on the door says, “Kulture Shop, 2nd Floor”. Going in, it feels like you’re entering any normal set of apartments in the city, with family name plaques and chappals outside the front doors. Up on the second floor, I knock on the door and push it open.
“As a people, we have arrived on the global stage, and we are fortunate to be representing the new India to the world.”
I’m greeted immediately by a friendly woman, Nikita, who hands me a bottle of water. I ask for Kunal, and she disappears to the back of the space. The front space is the shop, and the rear is the studio where five or six people on computers are fully immersed in Illustrator or InDesign or whatever hot shot graphics people use these days. The shop itself is as white as the Pope’s jump suit and beautifully curated. T-shirts on a rack to the right, an island in the middle with mugs and notebooks, a shelf by the window with guest graphic design products from non-Kulture studios.
Kunal emerges as I’m admiring the art prints on the wall (including the excellent Don’t Mess With Me by Jas Charanjiva), and I explain that I was sent here by Nikesh. Kunal’s face lights up, and we chat about our mutual friend and how we are connected. Turns out Kunal attended the same art college as me, The London College of Printing. He was also involved with the legendary Shiva Soundsystem (a music collective founded by Nerm), which was just down the road from me in Hackney, London. The more I visit Mumbai, the more Bandra and Hackney seem inextricably linked.
Kunal shows me around the shop, handing me an iPad to scroll through the products in case there’s something I miss. We chat for a while, and he explains why they are in Bandra. “The air in Bandra is always buzzing with people discussing the next big or small idea in neighbourhood cafes,” he says. “We got lucky with our location – we’re bang opposite Mehboob Studio, host to many gigs and alternative events. Though it’s not the shopping hub that Lower Parel and Colaba are, Bandra residents are as forward thinking as they get. It is home to well travelled, internationally minded and creatively inclined residents, and it enables them to pick up something original and new for themselves or for their travels. The space itself was a key factor. We wanted our shop experience to feel like you could be anywhere in the world, and our space (a vacated modern art gallery) thankfully delivers that feel. New ideas and connections often take place here through casual encounters with walk-ins.”
As I’m sizing up the t-shirt prints I ask what the trends in Indian graphic design are right now. “As India is redefining itself so are its designers,” says Kunal. “Instead of applying a globally trending style to their works, artists and designers are looking within – how to translate modern Indian culture for a new generation through the graphic image. Shruthi Venkataraman's series called Bombaywale is a great example. Looking at the many characters you will find in the city's streets, from the autowalla to the machhiwalli – these local city vendors are reinterpreted as pop heroes.
The more I visit Mumbai, the more Bandra and Hackney seem inextricably linked.
“There’s also multi-lingual typography. India is made up of many dialects and regions, so there is an endless supply of slang, phrases and content to play with. The expression is no longer restricted by the pure technical typographic formalities and is much more free and experimental.”
Given how forward thinking Kulture Shop’s design is, I ask Kunal what the future holds for them. “Our collective of carefully curated graphic artists and designers have the ability to create the iconic images of our times,” he says. “We are looking for the 100 best artists. Then maybe 200. As such we are keen in exploring – and contributing to – a new visual Indian identity for the 21st century. As a people, we have arrived on the global stage, and we are fortunate to be representing the new India to the world. The work is culturally relevant, fresh and belongs on the new canvases of art – the t-shirt, a phone case, a cushion cover. We believe that the most sustainable brands and businesses in lifestyle are those that are rooted in an inherent cultural truth. And so we believe we are uniquely positioned to emerge one of the only Indo-Global lifestyle brands. So in addition to our website that ships worldwide, you may, in time, just see us in high street boutiques in Mumbai, Dubai, London and New York.”
I pick out Nikesh’s mugs of choice and the t-shirt he wanted (Horn not OK please by Jas Charanjiva). I choose a couple of notebooks and a wonderful t-shirt by Kunal himself with the body of an old Ambassador car dissected. The one and only time I road in an Ambassador was in Kovalam (don’t ask) and I loved it, so this t-shirt has immediately taken pride of place in my wardrobe.
Before leaving I take a selfie with Kunal and send it to Nikesh. He writes back, “Koooo! I miss that bastard!” I make to leave and tell Kunal I’ll be back soon next year, and he promises to take me out partying. As I step back onto the busy Hill Road, the rain still pouring, I consider how social media, cultural exchange, history and geographic happenstance brought us together. I hail an auto, roll the canvas curtain down to keep out the weather and head to my next destination.
You can shop online at Kulture Shop's website or visit the store.
Kulture Shop, Hill View 2, 2nd Floor, No. 201, Above DCB Bank, 241 Hill Road, Opposite Mehboob Studio, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2655 0982