It's all in the packaging, say the marketing gurus. Delhi-based Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, at least, are not likely to disagree. Their second solo show in Mumbai, "New Improved Bosedk," consisted of a large painting and several installations. The collaborative duo (better known as T & T) transformed Chatterjee & Lal into what resembled a luxury department store. The floor was carpeted with hot pink vinyl, and gleaming glass cabinets were stacked with plastic bottles brimming with gorgeously colored liquids.
T & T started their careers as graphic and product designers. Their signature brand, Bosedk Designs-a hilarious name because bosedk is an especially obscene term of abuse in Punjabi, meaning "up the ass"-popped up all over this display: The flowery script of the logo was printed onto stickers, boxes, and bottles, offering critiques of the glamour ostensibly served up for the viewer's delectation. The show was meant to give the "new India" brought into being by the economic reforms of the -90s a rap on the knuckles for its avaricious consumption.
In Keep Closed and Out of the Reach of Children (all works 2008), bottles of pastel-hued liquid are enticingly organized in glass cabinets-but the containers are arranged in the shape of a missile. The largest painting the duo have made so far, the triptych Coming Soon at Your Neighborhood, flaunts a "big is beautiful" aesthetic that mocks the massive malls overrunning Delhi's suburbs. In the painting, two dinosaurs battle each other; their spiky scales are composed of tiny images of precariously balanced bottles embossed with T & T's logo.
Thukral & Tagra were at their wicked best when they aimed their jibes at Delhi's large Punjabi community, to which they belong. On a table stood a heap of liqueur chocolates, which visitors could devour for free. The pile of chocolates, each one stamped with a Bosedk logo and containing a gooey, whiskey-filled center, ridiculed the pretensions of nouveau-riche Punjabis-the logo spoofing their penchant for designer goods, while the alcoholic content surreptitiously refers to the way whiskey drinking is seen as a sign of machismo by Punjabi men. If providing whiskey chocolates at their own show catered to preconceived notions of the behavior of Punjabi men, the effeminate design of the gold foil wrappers undercut such stereotypes.
T & T's marriage of art and design represents an international trend that is increasingly taking root in India. In March, for instance, Project 88 in Mumbai presented another such project, "The Experience of Transition," an exhibition of architect Rajiv Saini's one-off furniture-cum-sculpture pieces (inspired by Mumbai's transforming urban landscape) in advance of an exhibition in Milan that will coincide with the Salone del Mobile.
The recent profusion of Indian art ventures that seem bent on joining hands with design initiatives raises questions about T & T's show: Are they critiquing conspicuous consumption in India or catering to it Certainly, "New Improved Bosedk" took potshots at the consumerism that globalization has unleashed in Indian cities, but with its sexy colors and customized packaging, it also leveraged the lure of international design trends to enter one of India's most lucrative commercial arenas: the art gallery. T & T's design background gives them a special flair for negotiating this transition.
But even so, the contradictory tendencies in T & T's show are endemic to contemporary Indian art: Often called upon to defend the rights of those who are marginalized in the new India, it cannot help remaining indebted to the conditions it derides. -by Zehra Jumabhoy