Thukral and Tagra

The duo who blur lines between fine art, design, and popular culture: Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra are in the news again. The Delhi-based artist duo is embarking on one of their biggest projects—a public artwork at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UK, in June 2018. Known for popularising phrases like Bosedk (a Punjabi language expletive), and “Put it on” (from their safe sex campaign) they have been collaborating for the past 17 years under the alias Thukral & Tagra (T&T). They have been crowned the lords of dark humor and rightly so. “Our works fuse Indian, Japanese, and Western pop icons into cheeky visual puns which specifically target overblown contemporary lifestyles of which we are also a part of,” says the duo in a joint statement. Using an overkill of paisley and polka dot designs, self-styled products, and kitschy urban design, they make the ostensible a self-reflexive work of art. They have put a fine spin on games that have a social message through all the interactive fun. While they are still reticent about what they are planning to unveil at Yorkshire as it is still in the research stages, they were willing to share their upcoming project at the National Gallery of Modern Art (Mumbai). They plan to comment on the fluctuating art market auctions and monetary aspect of art. Big Art thought it was a good time to take stock and look at their most important projects.

2017 “Bread, Circuses & Wifi” – Pearl Lam Gallery, Hong Kong
An interactive piece, it encouraged people to play a game where they cut off measured slices according to the instruction card picked by them. Daily bread implies material culture and sustenance in the art economy. Circus alludes to the use of entertainment as a delay tactic for dealing with politics or initiating social changes. The show also commented on demonetization and the effect it had on employment.

2016 “Walk of Life” – Fed @ KCAD Galleries
This game is an interpretation of traditional Ganjifa cards, where a dice is used to forward the pieces, a spinning wheel decides earthly calamities as one progresses an intricately planned game layout. Each card depicts one of the “Dushavatar”, the ten earthly incarnations of the Hindu God Vishnu. The objective of the game is to pay off one’s “debts” and equalize one’s “scores”, which are recorded on the cards of Karma. Each calamity alerts us toward environmental degradation.

2015 “Games People Play” – Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai
One of their life-defining solo shows. The exhibition displayed, “Walk of Life”, “Verbal Kabaddi”, “The Vitrine”, “Stone Wings” and the “Game of table tennis”. These were all developed as a response to the museum itself, its collection, history, and archives. It explored the idea of “play” from cultural, strategic, physical, and psychological perspectives.

2008 “New Improved Bosedk”- Chatterjee and Lal, Mumbai
In an early comment on consumerism, the duo created a signature label titled Bosedk’—an Anglicization of the Punjabi expletive. They created a faux supermarket with the racks stacked with fake products labeled with their brand. The work is a commentary on the spread of mall culture in Indian suburbs. The label recurs in many of their works till date. It was the beginning of their brand of chutzpah.

2007 “Put it on” Bose Pacia New York
Provocative and risqué, it is culled from a research-based project on the spread of HIV AIDS that Tagra undertook during his MA at NID. The duo used the research to create an art awareness campaign that found a way to urge safe sex practices. They designed some seriously sexy products—including underwear that reminded guys to ‘put it on’, chappals that demonstrated how to wear condoms, bed sheets that equated love with wearing a condom and so on. It apparently rivaled social media campaigns and certainly put T&T on the art map.

Images used with permission.