Loud, colorful and opinionated are three ways to describe Bobo Calcutta. Bobo is Ayushman Mitra’s nickname and Calcutta is his hometown and biggest inspiration. “When I started painting as a child, I would always sign them as ‘Bobo’ …. It stuck on. I use it as my artist name now.”
Ayushman “Bobo” Mitra has always been an artist — whether making films, holding an exhibition of his paintings inspired by the names of all his college friends, acting in indie films, studying fashion in London and now, making clothes.
His first painting when he was a child was that of goddess Kali when he was around seven and he credits his initiation into art to his grandfather, “My grandfather, who was a great aesthete himself and who everyone in my family says that I have gone after, always encouraged and allowed me to do what I wanted. And that first bold painting of a naked, angry goddess made by a kid still hangs in my dad’s office.”
Bobo Calcutta is a brand about celebration, a celebration of life and the gift of being able to express it freely. Like art, spirituality is also at the core of the brand. “I have been drawn by the eyes of Ma Durga — it’s such a Bengali thing. The fact that she had 10 hands seemed so cool to me as a kid.” He draws inspiration from everything around him: the people and place, travel, spirituality and mythology, cinema and music, his partner and dogs.
The brand’s prints are bold, loud and break away from the regular and mundane fashion norms. The designs are vibrant, unconventional and surreal with floral motifs and intricate hand embroidery. More than that, they are a celebration of one's right to love and live without fear. BOBO breaks away from mundane fashion norms, with its surreal designs, vibrant colours, unconventional cuts and recurring floral motifs.
Ayushman has worked with a wide range of textiles all over India but what has reminded constant for Bobo Calcutta as a brand is the use of natural textiles which have a relevance to Indian history and heritage. They use cotton, silks and muslins that are printed with his paintings. “I developed this particular style pretty early on during my university days. The motif most often seen and now recognized in my work are the split faces seen in a lip lock. It stands for the liberation of love and sexuality…. It is also about accepting oneself before looking for the same from others.”
All of their work is done in Calcutta with embroidery taking center stage followed by threadwork, beading, sequins. “It is amazing to see the prints come alive once they are embroidered upon. It adds an extra layer to what already is wearable art.”
In fact, Ayushman does not see a division between art and fashion, “for me my garments are an extension of my canvas…I see them as interactive art as people make it their skin and exhibit them in the public domain... It starts a conversation....I always say - ‘ make art your skin rather than hanging it on the wall…It’s important for art to move out from the gallery space into the roads…. My garmets do exactly that.”
Beyond art and fashion, Ayushman is also interested in activism, “they all merge together in that one shirt that you wear. There is so much content that has gone into developing it. I do not want to impose my ideas or activism onto my clients, but at the same I do know they understand what my brand stands for … some are more passionate about it while others are not as vocal. That’s alright, I need you to know what you are wearing …. The rest is up to you. I am extremely passionate about LGBTQI movement and animal rights. You would see references of the same in most of my works. I work towards equality in all spaces in life.”
As a brand, Bobo Calcutta is certainly doing things differently. For example they never repeat a piece, they are all one of a kind. “If you have a dress, that’s the only one that will ever be made. We treat clothes like art. We do not believe in mass production and fast fashion. We rather create lifelong memories”.
Ayushman is content with the brand as it is now.….. “My art is the basis of everything I do. There are limitless avenues one can think of where expansion is concerned….Right now it’s the fashion line and my paintings…. I would love to collaborate with other artists. I am very happy working with others.
The pandemic has affected them in more ways than one. “There have been personal losses, friends and family have gone through tough times. The millions who have suffered around the world and especially in India. It has affected me of course, it has given me more reasons to celebrate life and love to the fullest. As a company not so much , we have not been affected as much as the industry as a whole has. I had a lot of time to paint and create prints. That’s one positive thing coming out of the pandemic.”
His recent body of paintings include Kamala — The Flower Vendor, Tumpa & Jonaki — The Sex Workers, and even one modelled after Sky, his beloved pet dog. Each of his paintings have been inspired by his area of preoccupation at any given time spanning his personal life to the world around, expressed through bold strokes of colours and a mix of his signature motifs of ‘bloom’ and the eye.
Written by Marcella Echavarria
Find out more about Bobo Calcutta on Instagram.