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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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SIMRAT [S]:   Why don’t you begin by introducing yourself?

KALLOL [K]:  I’m Kallol Datta and I’m India’s heaviest clothes maker. Self certified.

S:  Alright. Can you tell us about what you thought you’d do when you first came into the residency? After that, can you describe where your project has gone?

K:  I think I’ve had this very tumultuous relationship with fashion, specifically with the industry in India. So when I came to Delhi for the residency, I thought I’d interact with various fashion professionals in the city because a lot of them are based here. I thought I’d talk with them to figure out if they were going through the same things that I was or if I was just in the minority. But what I basically wanted to do was take all the information I got from talking or interacting with them and somehow make a composite all of it and give it a physical form. Like perhaps a manifesto, so to speak. But then I began to feel that I was being unfair,  that I shouldn’t expect people to subscribe to my point of view forcibly. So then I moved to trying to internalize everything and come up with a sort of ecosystem of images, text, maybe even sound, if possible. And with my work, even when it comes to writing or sketching or designing, I always go back to the human body and its mostly always the insides. So they get referenced be it in terms of prints, pattern cutting, concepts or story lines. So that’s what I’ve been doing here: I’ve been playing with the internal workings of the body and trying to bring that into conversation with how emotions play into my line of work. There’s been a lot of writing as well.

S:   Where do you think your interest in the innards of the body has come from. Is there a specific inspiration or a specific point of time that you think of?

K:  I think a lot of it came from books, which I was introduced to at a very early age. Even before music. But I especially remember my mom’s books, which then went down to my sister and I used to take it from her shelf and read. There were a lot of Patricia Cornwells’, and particularly her character Key Scarpetta, the way she would perform autopsies  because she worked in a forensics lab as a medical examiner. So since that age I was fascinated with cutting and seeing what’s inside the human body. I’ve seen lots of films about the body. Actually, I remember watching this film, which oddly enough I thought was Surrealist but just found out could be late Dada-ist. It’s a short film: An Andalusian Dog by Luis Buñuel and Dali. In it they perform a lobotomy on a cow and they slice a cow’s eyeball open and I was just fascinated by that. I thought that was the greatest thing ever and that’s kind of stuck around. Even in design school I kept on referencing the body and now it’s gotten to a stage where I’m interested in the intricacies of the workings of the body. I would say in the beginning it was superficial in that it was about the physicality of the body–how garments take the shape of the arms and legs—but now its moving to the mental, internal and neural workings of the body.

S:   It just occurred to me while you were talking that the tradition of artists looking at anatomy goes way, way back, and this is something Aga and Maciej very peripherally referenced in their presentation. It’s funny because [when it comes to anatomy] even I think of Dadaists and Surrealists since they made all this work about dismemberment. But I just thought of Da Vinci as well. He used to dig up corpses to study forms and he, too, dismembered and dissected bodies to better understand the structure of the various systems in the body. There’s thousands of his anatomy drawings that depict muscle structure, bone structure and vascular structure. So it’s nice to think that the historical precedent of artists investigating anatomy goes way, way back.

K:  Yeah, definitely. And I think my interest is not really in talking about the body as this amazing source of life that is beating and pumping blood through the veins and all of that. For me it’s more about when the body is going toward a state of putrefaction or toward a state of decay. Once again, I like Dali because of his symbolism of putrefaction,  the crawling ants or the very in your face work of a man shitting his pants. That used to really inspire me. I remember he was a great reference point for me when I started designing because all my prints were kind of based on that concept of trying to show decay.

S:   Is that a direction that you see yourself continuing in or do you see a kind of shift, if not in the residency then maybe even over the years?

K:  So I’ve always relied really heavily what I’ve trained in. And I’ve always felt pattern cutting is my strongest skill but off late in the last year or so I’ve been getting a bit more comfortable using words. So I’m trying to infuse that into my work, whether on a garment or through writing. I think in this residency when I wrote a lot of doodles and scribbles (both sober and drunk) there was a Eureka! moment for me.  So eventually now what I’ve tried to do goes back to my fascination with blood, not necessarily as a still thing but something that has movement and is kinetic but is still presented on a flat two-dimensional surface. I’ve tried to play with coagulation, of flowing and dripping blood almost in a stark, sterile way that I think reflects my mind space. Also, the other thing is that I’m not a team player and I hate being around people when I’m working. So this is situation is great because I’m not in my comfort zone and that’s pushing me.

S:   I’m looking forward to seeing how your space turns out and how people react because you were very clear from the get go that this project was not going to be about garments. And I think when people come in, they’ll expect to see clothes in your space.

K:  I know that fabric is always there for me and that I can always use it in the end moment as a crutch because that is what I work with day in and day out. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to work with other mediums. That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to harness technology also into the display.

S:   You mentioned that words are coming more into your life and you do have a writing practice that you are setting up for yourself. Would you like to talk a little bit more about that? Because I personally think it’s very important to have a practice that always keeps you thinking and writing is such a good way to reflect on everything.

K:  I mean it started off as just rants and I guess initially people were amused by it because there’s not enough outrage in fashion. But I think outrage, however short it might be, is very necessary to move dialogue along and we have no dialogue in fashion. So its slowly built to a point where I’m very surprised when I’m commissioned by even mainstream fashion magazines like Elle to write something meaningful that is not a trend based  story.  And I think that’s great because they’re willing to include content that is not necessarily going to help advertise clothes that they can be pushed to sell. So I think things are moving. But I do have to say that as much as I don’t always agree about the workings of the industry, I’m so grateful that it is in the state it is because if it was always the way I always wanted it, maybe my creative output wouldn’t be what it is right now. It’s only because I’m struggling that I’m able to create work like this. Maybe I would’ve been a bit more complacent or not so enthused about making clothes if everything was hunky dory in the industry.


Conversation has always been one of the most central outputs of the residency process. Often, artist works and trajectories are deeply influenced and shaped by conversations that residents have with each other, with the Khoj staff and with the many other visitors that stop by Khoj Studios. While it is sadly not possible to reproduce all the informal conversations that happen over tea, during cigarette breaks, across the dinner table and in the resident’s studios,  we still think it valuable to attempt to bring some of the residency discussions out of the Khoj building and into a more public domain. So, I sat down for formal one-on-ones with each artist and will reproduce shortened renderings of some of the things we talked about in a series of blog posts. In doing so, we hope to provide some context for the works you will see on the residency’s Open Day.