Talking Pictures: An Interview With Street Artist *Pardon My Hindi
Over the past couple months, in parts of both Bandra or Colaba we’ve chanced upon stickers in varying sizes featuring the face of a lady with a rather rapturous expression. If you’ve taken the mini tunnel between Bandra Reclamation and the Sea Link, then you might have spotted the face at the entrance. Alas the sticker was missing when we drove past the tunnel this weekend. We also noticed her at the junction of Carter Road and Perry Cross Road but that sticker too was taken down last week. You might still encounter the lovely lady around Chapel Road, Carter Road and Pali Mala Road in Bandra, and inside a few city cabs and auto-rickshaws.
This pixelated black-and-white image, which some believe is a photo of Hindi film actress Meena Kumari, is reminiscent of old-school Indian print ads for bath and beauty products. The stickers are the work of *Pardon My Hindi, the tag used by San Francisco-residing street artist Chiraag Bhakta, whose @Instagram account suggests that the woman has travelled a fair bit. In addition to Mumbai and Goa, you’re likely to find her ecstatic face plastered across the walls of streets and nightclubs, poles and garbage bins in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Wichita, Munich and Dubai among other cities across the world. Bhakta, who was born in New Jersey to motel-owning Gujarati parents, is also the talent behind a poster for Ashim Ahluwalia’s critically acclaimed film Miss Lovely, a T-shirt for erstwhile hip hop act Das Racist, and the #WhitePeopleDoingYoga series. We interviewed him over email about his work and recent visit to our city. Edited excerpts:
What sparked your interest in the street art scene?
After graduating from school, I moved to New York City (NYC) in 1999 where I was surrounded by it, which definitely influenced my approach on how I wanted to put my work out there.
Why the moniker Pardon My Hindi?
I came up with it back in 2001-2002, bought the URL and it stuck. I thought the phrase captured who I was and what I wanted to explore in a humorous way.
Who is that lady in your stickers?
It doesn’t matter, it’s more about what emotion she’s putting out there than about who she is. She’s been around in Bombay for a while.
Tell us about the project.
It doesn’t really have a name. It’s pretty much the first project I did under the name *Pardon My Hindi in 2002. I moved to NYC in 1999 and was surrounded by street culture and wanted to create a tag of sorts of my own. I guess my goal was to contrast the surrounding graffiti, which were aesthetically super-aggressive/masculine. Also to have some sort of mystique around it, I made it a stand-alone image. The image doesn’t necessarily attach itself to a specific race either which I think was important for me.
It’s interesting to see how people react to them as well. Some peel them off and embrace them, others consider them an act of vandalism, depends on the psyche of the viewer really.
Another sticker I was putting up on this past trip was from my project called #WhitePeopleDoingYoga. It’s a project that crosses over to various mediums. It was an installation at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Headlands Center for the Arts, earlier this year. The project talks about the commercialisation and commodification of yoga in the West. I’ve been interested in bringing this conversation over to India for some time, so I started with the stickers.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for your street art?
Never in Bombay, once in NYC.
Could you tell us about your work with Ashim Ahluwalia here?
Ashim’s a brother. We’ve known each other for ten years or so. I did the poster for his film Miss Lovely a couple years back, but nothing new in the works.
What’s your fascination with garbage bins?
I’m assuming you’re talking about my pictures on Instagram. I was in Dubai earlier this year and thought some of the trash cans were a bit bizarre when I was walking around, and decided to start documenting them. It was more of an exercise. It kinda spilled over a bit while I was in Bombay as well with the strange animal trash bins.
Apart from the stickers you’ve pasted across the city, where else can we see your work in Bombay?
Nowhere yet. I would love to bring my work over. I planted some seeds, so hopefully soon.