Her quest to transcend clearly delineated boundaries of social conventions and deeply entrenched social taboos led her to publish her own zine, (un)taboo.
Aditi Kapur found it hard to live in a world with such established taboos and decided to express herself by bringing out her self published zine.
The zine is a collection of six thought provoking artworks created around the themes of mental health, loneliness, domestic violence, social nudity and sexuality, and attempts to 'untaboo' the popularly accepted thought process.
Aditi tells us how she satirises the present society and all that we believe in and sincerely hopes for us to start unbelieving it.
You're a self taught graphic designer. Tell me more about your journey.
My journey has been the perfect example of modern Internet age learning, tons of self discipline and being very aware of the fact that my day job wasn’t what I was meant to do, at least not for very long. I graduated from Xavier’s with a BMM degree and started working as a Copywriter in an advertising agency in 2012. My third job was at OgilvyOne and I think that’s when there were some epiphanies about how I may be better at and more interested in expressing ideas visually than writing about them, or both.
My art partner was a close friend and always ready to answer all my design related questions and taught me some basic techniques so I could translate some of the visuals in my head using the tools. And that was it, I never stopped since. I would go back home from work and practice on Photoshop/Illustrator till 4 am and it was fun for me.
I would bookmark tutorials on YouTube and look forward to weekends so I could learn them. Basically after 1-2 years of not really knowing what I wanted to do creatively that I would feel proud of, the 'slight taste' of unexpectedly loving a form of craft made me hungry for more and that’s how I knew design was my thing. I slowly started asking people for work and designing friends’ wedding e-vites for free and doing small jobs that really helped boost my confidence and gave me the much needed validation that I was probably on the right track.
I then decided to leave advertising and join the music industry because more than design, music has been a huge passion for me since childhood and I take it very seriously. Those weekends where I was teaching myself design softwares and working on small projects, were accompanied by new music listening sessions, and that’s the reason I could bring that discipline and focus.
During my stint at Oranjuice, I was in a tight creative team and the work environment encouraged taking up as many jobs as possible and not really sticking to your title, which really really worked out for me. My bosses and colleagues were trusting enough to let me handle design work for clients and that’s how I managed to (exhaustingly) create the festival look and design for all of Johnnie Walker The Journey 2015, and that was just the start in terms of commercial design for me. I started freelancing professionally for logo and branding identity, playbills, posters, album artwork, etc. and it’s been a hell of a journey as an artist so far!
What informs your sensibilities when it comes to your work?
That always varies depending on what I am creating. Sometimes when am just making a simple GIF or a visual for myself, that is entirely based on my mood or an emotion at that point, or a colour scheme that I’ve been fascinated with, or a song that I can’t stop playing on loop.
How I approach my work usually with any project is that I don’t start with looking at references. Many artists (designers, writers, musicians, etc.) do that so they have a basic understanding of that subject or job, but I really feel that those references stick subconsciously and then it’s really hard to stray too far from it. My aim is to always create something extremely original.
Which is why I start with just disconnecting from the internet and writing down whatever ideas that come to me. Apart from that, a lot of my aesthetic sense I feel comes from watching TV for hours as a child, so there are 90s influences in my work, especially in animation.
Instances from my daily life, what is currently happening in the world, pop culture, a lot of vintage photography and objects, and music that is moving me at the time are a few factors that make up my sensibilities.
I have always been fascinated with different materials I can experiment with in my work, which also gives me a relief from producing only digital art. So you’ll see that I experimented with gel papers for a personal project called Theory Of Colours and tried my hands at packaging with Playlist Smoking Papers. The removable ink in (un)taboo is another material that I was dying to try out for the longest time but didn’t know how to.
Tell me a little about (un)taboo? What inspired the zine?
(un)taboo is a self-published zine, a personal project that was inspired by a bunch of things. In the recent times, we’ve all been sensitised to a lot of things happening around us that are absolutely unfair, uncalled for or just plain wrong. There’s a conversation being initiated and normalisation towards those instances is being questioned and broken away from, which is a great step.
I think during college, I was too young or ignorant to understand stigmas and issues that people have been fighting for decades, and avoided talking about many things because it wasn’t 'fun' or it was 'unpleasant' or I didn’t know how to get to the bottom of it. But for a couple of years now, I’ve re-looked at my own experiences with taboos I’ve faced and consciously 'moved on' from, or have been silenced when I did try to talk about them. I have friends who have been through other forms of taboos and decided not to talk about it, or share it with one or two people trusting them to never divulge them. I realised that in almost every single case, there was nothing to be ashamed of, reasons for hiding were mostly extrinsic, and in fact hiding it would almost always make it extremely unhealthy for the person who had been carrying it. Last year, I was going through depression for reasons I had kept isolated to myself and as a result, felt way heavier than I should have. It’s when I decided to talk to some friends family and get a rational perspective that I began to get better drastically. Making vulnerable and normal situations taboo was one thing I knew I had to do something about because it was present in all our lives in some form.
Second part of the project that was equally important was the execution style using the scratch-able ink. The inspiration to do this was unrelated to taboos or personal experiences with it, and had been on my mind since I got the vinyl record of Sirens by Nicolas Jaar. The entire sleeve was covered in lottery paper and when you scratch it out, you see the album artwork - which is an iconic photo taken by the musician’s artist father. So I don’t know how or when exactly, but these two thoughts merged themselves in my head one day and made perfect sense.
Given that taboos only serve the purpose of restricting, walk me through a few taboos your zine touches upon?
(un)taboo touches upon six taboos very relevant universally, for years now.
Like I said before, once I spent some time thinking about each unique situation, the reasons for keeping them hidden felt progressively self damaging. For that reason, the zine is designed in a way where you first see the image that is deemed absolutely normal and acceptable by the society and only once you scratch out parts of black ink from each of the six taboos, do you see the 'real' picture/taboo in its naked truth, that is being deliberately hidden to avoid any judgment from society or protect oneself from consequences one doesn’t even know they may have to face on baring themselves to the world.
The zine uncovers taboos of loneliness, social nudity, domestic violence, sexuality, menstruation, and mental health. During my research for the project, I learned how these taboos are universally present in the world in varying degrees and forms. For instance, menstruation is a stigma in more than ten ways as you move around geographically. So it was tough for me to represent them in a way that all people can relate to but that’s where personal experiences and talking to people really helped.
If you could use this platform to express your mind, what would you tell those who are caught in the world of 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable'?
I am fortunate to even have the platform to speak to a large audience at once and that’s what I hoped the zine could do, so thank you for that!
You know, I don’t think there is anything wrong with living your life with principles or having a strong opinion about what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable and what isn’t. I think it also helps make decisions once you can categorise situations, options and people, etc.
But I feel that should be very personal and it’s when you start judging people by what they think is acceptable and not, and try to influence their belief/value system is when it could be a bit of a problem. And that makes your own universe negative. Because the fact is, most of the things aren’t as simple as black or white/right or wrong.
There are so many layers to why someone does something, or is the way he/she is. Things are way more complex than they seem to ever appear on the surface. Making assumptions and putting things in categorised files with labels, just makes our own understanding of things easier, and rationalise better. But I wish it was that simple. The moment we start even attempting to see things and people in all their complexity, and not statistics and generalisations is when the 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable' starts getting irrelevant.
I’ve yet to learn a lot in life but so far, I’ve observed that in situations where I have been more open-minded and accepting even though it seemingly goes against my beliefs, is when positive outcomes and unpredictably wonderful things have happened for me. Having a strong sense of what-should-be and what-shouldn’t-be is great, but I hope people understand that that can restrict them from experiencing and learning anything new at all.
Would you call (un)taboo a satire on today's day and age?
It absolutely is because this is 2017! We felt 2020 was so ridiculously in the future and it is only 2 and a half years away! And having come so far with humanity, technology and having become a more globally connected world than ever, I find it ridiculous that people are still being shunned for admitting they have Bipolar, or that they are homosexual or that they want to get divorced. I feel astonished at how polarising our progress has been.
Somewhere, we are creating alarm clocks that help people sleep and is a complete sensory experience, robots that run our house and understand feelings, we are making ways for long distance couples to feel each other’s heartbeats, we are making education a global online and mobile affair and at the same time, we still feel men should be paid higher, menstruating women can’t act normally, keeping the fact that your spouse beats you to yourself saves you from condemnation, and hiding your depression using social media filters is how things should be. So I do feel anger about the hypocrisy, and how when there is one success story of an extravagant gay marriage being spoken about, there are also suicides by gay couples that don’t get enough attention. With (un)taboo, I’ve attempted very clearly to make this visible by creating a contrast that the audience can interact with and uncover (literally) for themselves.
What are you working on next? What's next for you?
Right now, am not working on a personal project. Just a bunch of freelance gigs to pay the bills but am spending time on learning some new softwares. So hopefully while learning them, something cool comes up.
Since I am self-taught, I did eventually want to join design school when I felt I had a decent enough portfolio to apply. Which I did last year and got selected at a school in Barcelona I wanted to join for years, but unfortunately, they temporarily discontinued the course. So I had to wait for a year and apply to more places since I already missed the dates for last year. I used the year to keep learning, taking up interesting projects and travelling. Something I could never do with hectic jobs in Bombay.
What’s next for me is design school in Spain (finally) starting September this year. I couldn’t be more stoked about being a part of a creative community with seasoned professors and students from all over the world. These days am attempting to brush up some basic Spanish phrases and words so am not a lonely tourist there. Taking it one step at a time right now, and preparing myself for the experience there. Post studies, I do plan to have my own design and music production studio - don’t know about the when and where but there’s a vague possibility as of now.
Order your own copy of (un)taboo here.
Text Priyanshi Jain