x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

They're going underground

q&a Vinay Kumar and Vivek Premachandran have launched Cliche, a monthly subscription-only publication that showcases international underground art.

The brothers Vinay Kumar and Vivek Premachandran also run the art and design agency Whitespace, out of Sharjah.
The brothers Vinay Kumar and Vivek Premachandran also run the art and design agency Whitespace, out of Sharjah.

The brothers Vinay Kumar and Vivek Premachandran run Whitespace, a design agency in Sharjah. They launched Cliche, a monthly subscription-only publication that showcases international underground art, seven months ago. They recently held an exhibition of art at Traffic in Dubai, titled In a Box. They live in Sharjah.

Vivek: Although we were born and brought up in Dubai, our family are originally from Kerala. We went to boarding school there, and afterwards I went to fashion college in Delhi. Vinay: My background is in events. We run Whitespace, which is our main business. Cliche is entirely funded by ourselves at the moment, so we need something to pay the rent.

Vinay: It's basically a portable art gallery: a sheet of A1 paper which showcases work by international underground artists. We distribute it to our subscribers, as well as through friends and in some galleries in Dubai.

Vinay: We were getting bored with the promotional work we were getting and wanted more creative freedom. We also want to make people here more aware of affordable art and noticed that no one else was doing anything to promote underground artists here.

Vivek: It's just another way of describing lowbrow art or pop surrealism. It takes its inspiration from street art - so graffiti, murals and posters - as well as underground comics. It's the exact opposite of the highbrow art you find hanging in formal galleries.

Vivek: It's tongue in cheek. We tried to think of the word that we use most in a day and that was it; it fits the Dubai art scene perfectly. We are trying to have fun with what we're doing and not take ourselves too seriously.

Vivek: No one experiments with art much here, which is quite sad. There is plenty of Middle Eastern art but no underground scene as such, even though it has exploded on an international scale in the past 10 years.

Vinay: So much energy has been spent on promoting Middle Eastern art here, but we need to start opening up the market to international artists. Also, Dubai is such a safe place and underground art often thrives alongside certain subversive cultural elements which you don't really find here. The most obvious example is graffiti, as well as skate boarding and certain types of music. There aren't many art colleges here either, and kids don't have any role models who are doing that kind of work.

Vivek: We love the Brown Monkeys. They're a design collective of eight talented people from the Philippines, all of whom work for various advertising agencies here. There aren't many others in Dubai doing proper underground art at the moment, so other than them, we feature mainly international artists.

Vivek: I've been researching urban art for about four years now and follow whoever I think is interesting. I know where to find them because I've been following their careers closely. They're usually very keen to collaborate with us.

Vivek: Yes, we both have very different roles and my brother leaves most of the design aspect up to me. Our mascot is a man in a suit with a gas mask and headphones; the body symbolises Vinay, who is the businessman, and I am the artist, which is the mad-looking head. He doesn't question me on much to do with Cliche, but we have had a few fights. My conscience won't allow me to simply conform to what the market here demands.

Vivek: We are planning on retailing Cliche properly next year. Up until now we've really been focusing on the content rather than the product. Soon we want to produce nine editions a year, with four special editions, which we'll pack in the most random things; it's going to be very cool. We also want to have another show - hopefully by December; we're just looking for a space.
@email:kboucher@thenational.ae