'I was supposed to be a pharmacist. I might even have pursued becoming a Bollywood actress. If all failed I was going to become a university professor and teach art,' contemplates Indian-born, Canadian creative entrepreneur, Babneet Lakeshar when asked about what she'd be doing if babbuthepainter hadn't taken off as wonderfully as it did. Luckily for the rest of us, the all too well-known face behind and in front of the refreshingly resounding persona has only expanded her expressive stance against the downfalls of a stagnant society. From giving South Asian cultural ups and downs her own kitschy spin to battling the literally ancient perceptions of women in the Indian sub-culture through era-appropriated pop-art, babbuthepainter puts everything on the table for the world to see and hopefully observe.
As apparent from her choices of alternate career paths, Babneet's alter-ego champion of feminism and punk renderings didn't start off with an eye for combining desi and immigrant perspectives with offbeat yet effective stylings. Her roots in design are a little more primitive, having majored in sculpture and installation from Toronto's OCAD University. And while her current artistic outlook may not resemble the fact, it's not very far off from her lessons in university. 'My paintings are already definitely inspired by my background in scuplture. I love the build of paint and the shadows that are created, I get great pleasure of combining the two. However, I am diving back into sculpture and I have a new series of sculpture work which will be released very soon.'
Photograph by Kieran Darcy
Babbuthepainter wouldn't be the same without all the old-school Bollywood references and pop-culture throwbacks. Most of the posters and tees that were solely created for the purpose of depicting this very obsession, run slightly more vintage themes, especially from her personal favourite film, Mughal-E-Azam. Despite the inclinations towards the film industry from a previous millennium, she wouldn’t be closed off to the idea of her art reflecting the today’s era of Bollywood. About what movies she’d take for the pickings, her list was pretty definitive. 'Highway, Udta Punjab, Ram Leela, Dear Zindagi, Bajirao Mastani, Piku, Jagga Jasoos and Barfi. The list still goes on! I love Bollywood! My dream growing up was to become a Bollywood star (laughs).' Also a dead give-away, the list outlines her peaking interests in the country's historic royalty that has clearly been influential in the making of babbuthepainter. The Mughal dynasty in particular has been a visible impact, which has much to do with the era's portrayal of women. And for an artist who’s been painting for years before this all, it’s exactly that aspect of the era’s art that wins it for her. 'I fell in love with how women’s sexuality was painted so openly and beautifully in the Mughal dynasty and how they explored the relationship between love and sex. It was a perfect match because they're all the ideas I explore and love to express - uplifting women through love and sexuality.'
Her string of successful products, paintings and posters have identified her with a certain niche. Whether it's her milestone Bad Beti art show or her Bakwaas clothing and merchandise collection, they're all similarly inclined to expressions of feminism, duality and musings of an Indian living abroad. Having said so, an artist who’s made it in a generation driven by content pumping social devices, might feel a certain amount of pressure to keep putting new art or ideas out there which she otherwise would have dealt with at a different pace. ‘Instagram keeps you on your toes, I am producing work at a way faster pace than I would like too. I always feel like I’m missing something or I could add more. But I think I’ll always have that feeling when it comes to my art work.'
Not to mention that any artist regardless of their era, also has to deal with the occasional creative burnouts. Babneet fancies herself the simpler joys in life to get out of any fix she might find herself in. And it usually involves a bottle of red wine, great conversations and a good night out dancing. Running out of ideas revolving around a theme relatively more specific isn't one of her worries. 'I have an endless supply of ideas and an abundance of excitement to act on them. But executing the ideas is more of a stressful process. But it always works out! I have an angel watching over me.’
A number of things have been said about babbuthepainter’s influences and themes. A modernised art form inspired by her Indian heritage and Canadian upbringing with a little help from a couple of Mughal paintings and the nostalgia-inducing Hindi film industry paired with some biting sarcasm. But there are also a select bunch outside of her everyday business that she’d love to experiment with. ‘I explore a lot of different ideas but they always have a humorous undertone to them. I want too and [am working towards] exploring the same ideas but also sharing my own personal experiences that weren’t always pleasant. Love in a 21st century South Asian household is something I’ll be exploring.'
babbuthepainter dons a portfolio that features words like bakwaas painted onto kettles and bindaas stitched into denim jackets. She jokes about how shot glasses would probably be next in line if challenged to come up with a similar oddball pairing right off the bat. But as far as her actual upcoming projects are concerned, it’s going to be quite the exciting time for Babneet Lakeshar’s fusion success. A time that’s future-adjacent more or less and involves haunted holidays, visits to three major cities, and tattoos. Once again, they're are going to be tattoos involved. 'I'm planning a show that'll be going to London, Toronto, Chicago and let's see where else it makes it. Also working on a Halloween campaign this year very similar to Bad Beti. Other than that I'm starting a new venture in the beauty and fashion world.'
Now a valid question for someone who is already doing what she loves, is what her favourite part is about doing what she does. 'Nothing makes me happier than sharing my artworks with everyone, and meeting the most amazing people around the world. And TRAVELLING!' And so it seems, that this particular painter, model and photographer will be continuing her endeavours in creating colourful yet sassy work pieces that in her own words are 'Loud, Happy, Makes-my-heart-mushy and South Asian.'
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Text Shristi Singh