Twelve years ago, artist and designer Chiraag Bhakta began producing a series of nostalgic Bollywoodesque prints under the name *Pardon My Hindi. When Bhakta, a graduate of Connecticut’s Hartford Art School, moved to New York City, he joined the city’s burgeoning street art scene by posting up wheatpastes and stickers of his vivid prints in public locations. But today the 36-year-old artist’s work can be found in museum exhibits on both sides of the nation. On Thursday, April 4, Bhakta will be at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum for the opening party for his project #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, an exploration of the appropriation of yoga. Read the artist’s full statement here. Then watch the video of his March 6 presentation at the exhibit.
But that’s not all. Bhakta’s other ongoing project, The Arch Motel Project, documents the lives of independent Gujarati motel owners in the United States through the medium of photography. Selected portions of the project are currently showing at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as a part of the Beyond Bollywood exhibition.
I reached out to Bhakta to talk donuts, yoga and motels.
Describe yourself in five words or less. Uhhh, hmmm. Okay. Brown. Artist. Motel. Donuts.
Why *Pardon My Hindi as your moniker? Thought it was funny and it stuck.
Let’s talk yoga. What’s the #WhitePeopleDoingYoga origin story? The project has different arms. I guess it stems from the western yoga ephemera that I’ve been collecting since I got to the West Coast seven years ago. There’s also a Tumblr aspect.
Have you had a #whitepeopledoingyoga moment in an actual yoga class? Uhh…I live in San Francisco. Yes, all the time. One time at this place they played Western music throughout the class. Finally, Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” came on. I almost lost my shit. On top of that, two rows up from me there was this girl in full American-flag yoga pants.
And of course every so often I see Native American prints on yoga gear. I kinda laugh at all these moments, and then start to slowly cry.
I would pay to see all of that. Any yoga pose you flat-out would refuse to do? I haven’t encountered any yet. Have you? It’s more like postures that I can’t do yet.
Ditto. So your byline, “Sometimes I does it, Sometimes I doesn’t does it.” What is this ‘something’? That’s a line from a wise friend, that’s not with us anymore.
Fill in the blank. If I hadn’t become *PMH, I probably would be__________. Making beds and running a motel possibly, not sure.
I assume you had to pitch in to help your parents at their motel. What was the weirdest thing you saw a guest at the motel do? Haha.
Nothing? Okay, there’s probably a motelier’s code of confidentiality. Understood. So have you ever gotten arrested for your street art in San Francisco? Ya, but I’ve gotten better at staying under the radar. It’s been a couple years since the last encounter.
Will #FridayDanceTime ever come back on your Instagram? They’re an exercise for me. Sometimes I does it, Sometimes I doesn’t does it.
Your advice to your younger self? I would be too afraid to say something and change my own experience. But I guess I would tell my younger self to trust the struggle.
Kishwer Vikaas is a co-founder of and editor at The Aerogram. Follow her on Twitter at @phillygrrl or email her at email@example.com.