She drinks whiskey, she dates across continents and she counts Hollywood stars among her fans. Unapologetic enfant terrible Babbu the Painter is the cool Desi girl we all want on our squad. She opens up to Abha Shah about art, stereotypes and dealing with nosy aunties...
You only have to glance at social media to realise we’re definitely seeing more brown girl magic beyond Bollywood these days. Asian stars are on the rise, from US actress and writer Mindy Kaling, poets like Rupi Kaur and Nikita Gill and British supermodel Neelam Gill, women of colour (WOC) are killing it across the field.
If you’re an Instagrammer (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), we bet you’ve heard of Toronto-based artist Babneet Paul Lakhesar a.k.a Babbu the Painter. She’s known for creating art that nails the experience of growing up between two cultures.
For her, it was balancing suburban Toronto with Punjabi culture, but her work will ring a bell with any Asian kid who grew up in the west. From juggling family duties, defying elders and poking fun at stereotypes, Babbu captures it all on canvas - and now on clothing. We caught up with her on her UK tour. Bakwaas black t-shirt with hand painted denim jacket: Babbu the Painter, Embellished mirror and thread work, pastel lehenga skirt www.DesignerStudioLondon.com Jewellery www.RedDotJewels.com
Have you visited the UK before?
Yes, in 2016 for a joint show with Maria Qamar (a.k.a Toronto artist HateCopy) but this is the first time I’ve come to show work on my own. Birmingham was my first stop. I’ve got so much love for the place but after a couple of drinks, it was hard to understand the accent!
Do you get nervous before meeting fans?
Sometimes, but it’s incredible to meet Instagram friends in real life. You have all these amazing conversations that otherwise might never have happened.
What’s your mission with your work?
To make Desi kids feel cool through my art and fashion. We were mocked when we were younger for doing stuff like putting haldi on our faces, or an egg in our hair, but now everyone’s doing it and suddenly it’s cool. The world needs to see there’s more to Desi kids than weird rituals and coconut oil. We can be cool, beautiful, sexy and creative too.
What would you tell your younger self?
That the older you get, the more confident you become, and don’t pay attention to gossip. I became a much happier person when I stopped caring quite so much about other people’s opinions.
Mindy Kaling is a fan of yours, right?
Yeah, she used some of my work on The Mindy Project. But I’m no overnight success; I struggled at the start and I still do now because no one is just going to hand a brown girl an opportunity. I work hard for every victory. But it does help to have someone like Mindy on side to break down barriers and erode racism.
What’s your career highlight?
When Punjabi singer Diljit Dosanjh wore a personalised jacket for a performance. That was a pinch-me moment!
The world is full of bakwaas right now; what would you change if you could?
The whole conversation about cultural appropriation is bakwaas. Culture is there to be shared; the food, the music, the stories. Being protective means you’re slamming shut the door on new experiences. There are so many more important discussions we should be having than over who is ‘allowed’ to wear a bindi.
Light denim jacket with motifs on reverse Babbu The Painter. Bird print A-line skirt: Khubsoorat Collection by Mani Kohli, www.KhubsooratCollection.com Jewellery www.RedDotJewels.com
What’s your wedding style?
Relaxed. I’ve transitioned from wearing proper heels to Auntie-style kitten heels. A chilled outfit would be a Bakwaas t-shirt with a nice lehenga skirt and one of my painted denim jackets. If I had to go traditional I’d wear a monochrome lehenga.
What item from your collection can guests wear to a wedding?
My Bakwaas tee – you can’t go wrong. Although I will be bringing out a Bakwaas lehenga soon, which will be all-white with ‘bakwaas’ printed all over in black. Left image: Bakwaas dark denim jacket worn backwards to showcase design, Babbu The Painter. Light scarf and dupptta in contrasting colours, finished with gold gota work www.EsteCouture.com Right image: Vintage hand-painted Bakwaas denim jacket: Babbu The Painter. Hand embellished multi-coloured brocade lehenga www.DinaKashapLondon.com All jewellery: www.RedDotJewels.com
What do you love about weddings?
The food. The bar. The dancing! If the playlist is good I’ll be first on the dance floor.
The Aunties and their attitudes! Homie, I can understand Punjabi and I know you’re talking about me. Relax. White denim with contrast black paint work: Babbu The Painter. Vibrant digital print sari with abstract design www.Raishma.co.uk
What’s your wedding going to be like?
I’ll probably just go to the courthouse, get registered and have the mother of all parties to celebrate. I’m happy to get married in something from H&M and blow $100,000 on a banging reception.
Are you seeing anyone right now?
Yes, someone very special. He lives in London. We met in Toronto last year and have been dating long-distance.
Tell us something no one knows about you
When I was about to turn 18, my best friend and I decided to do something ‘dangerous’, so we got a tattoo. It cost more than we expected and we didn’t have the money so I had to find a way to get the cash. It says ‘dance’ in Japanese and it’s the most bakwaas thing like, ever. Now I pretend it says ‘hot sauce’.Painted denim jacket, with painted white ripped jeans by Babbu The Painter. Kashmiri-style hand embroidered sari from www.Onitaa.co.uk All jewellery: www.RedDotJewels.com
Editor-in-Chief: Sonia Ullah
Creative Director: Manni Sahota
Fashion Editor: Vikas Rattu
Photography: Gagan Dhaliwal
Makeup: Zonera Shah
As seen in Khush Wedding Summer 2018 KW19. Buy this issue here