Six explosive works by Hatecopy and Babbu the Painter, the Toronto pop artists who are adored by Mindy Kaling
As a teen in Mississauga, pop artist Maria Qamar had a punk streak. “I was goth,” she says. “I thought Marilyn Manson was God. I dated an Indian guy with an orange mohawk and all these piercings on his face.”
Over the past couple years, she has channeled her punkish aesthetic into art: she’s now an Instagram superstar, known as Hatecopy to her 75,000 followers. Through graphic, Lichtenstein-esque paintings, Qamar explores the realities of life as a Desi woman (the term for people from South Asia) living in North America, cheekily riffing on cultural stereotypes: overprotective parents, crying over burnt roti, white men saying “namaste.”
This past fall, she found a kindred, ex-punk spirit in the fellow Desi artist Babneet Lakhesar (a.k.a. Babbu the Painter). “Babbu and I were driving around and a song by either Blink-182 or The Offspring came on, and we both started singing along and knew all the lyrics,” Qamar explains. “A lot of Desi kids grew up with punk and metal, but when you think of those cultures, you never think of a Desi goth. You always think of a troubled white kid.”
Inspired by their shared pasts as Desi punks, Qamar and Lakhesar teamed up to create an art show, Bad Beti. On until December 18 at Nuvango Gallery, it includes new work from both artists, and marks the launch of Qamar’s capsule fashion collection: a line produced by Nuvango that features some of Hatecopy’s most popular prints on slip dresses, tailored cropped jackets, bodysuits and T-shirts—not unlike the top that Mindy Kaling has been spotted wearing. A painting that Qamar and Lakhesar created together also appeared on the most recent season of The Mindy Project.
The exhibition’s works feature the “bad beti” character, which means “bad daughter” in Hindi. “A lot of my upbringing was being told, ‘No, you can’t do this, and if you end up doing it, you’re a bad daughter,’” Qamar says. “Because we’re talking about punk culture, we wanted to get out of that comfort zone. All the things we did as teens, they were actually very healthy for us. It’s natural, it’s normal. It’s okay to be bad. It’s fun to be bad.” We asked Qamar to share the stories behind some of her works.
“This painting is called Khabardaar, which means ‘watch out’—in a ‘don’t say something stupid or I’ll shoot’ way,” Qamar says. “It’s about keeping people on their toes. As women of colour, we hear a lot of bullshit, a lot of subtly racist things like, ‘Oh, you’re really pretty for a brown girl,’ or, ‘Oh, you don’t look Indian at all. You look white.’ These underhanded racist remarks aim to lower our self-esteem. But Khabardaar is all about, ‘Say something stupid and you’re going to feel the wrath.’” Once Qamar put the piece on the wall, she felt it was missing something, so she asked Babbu and her team to throw some read paint at it.
Qamar stapled this acrylic portrait—painted on a distressed, eight-foot-tall canvas—directly to the gallery wall. She wanted to give the works an edgy aesthetic. “This girl is turned toward the audience, looking at them like, ‘What did you just say?’” Qamar says. The piece’s title, Kya, means ‘what.’ “A lot of the time, when we get offended, we get labelled as the angry brown girl. We wanted to give bad betis permission to be angry.”
The show’s namesake painting is a collaboration between the two artists: Qamar painted the main form first and then Lakhesar added flourishes. “My artwork is very two-dimensional. It’s flat with bold colours, and very Lichtenstein. Babbu’s style is very three-dimensional and textured,” Qamar says. “With Bad Beti, both styles come together. From afar, you see it’s a 2-D piece, but when you come closer, you see the light bouncing off the gold and all the details.”
Here, Lakhesar signs the wall next to some prints. The three prints on the far left—“Get Me Out,” “Trust No Aunty” and “Salt in Her Chai”—are Qamar’s satirical takes on South Asian culture. The portraits with the black backgrounds are a new series by Lakhesar, in which Desi men and women wear large sunglasses with printed words on the lens to express their inner thoughts.
Lakhesar painted these jean jackets by hand. “Bakwaas” means “nonsense” or “bullshit.” “Chup” is slang for “shut up.”
This skull pattern dress is another Qamar-Lakhesar co-creation, and the item is part of Hatecopy’s capsule collection. Each of the pieces in the line was hand-made by Nuvango’s team in their Junction studio. Here, it’s worn by Jasmine Lakhesar, Babbu the Painter’s sister.