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Illesha Khandelwal: Artist and Founder of ‘ikattha’ in Mumbai

Illesha Khandelwal: Artist and Founder of ‘ikattha’ in Mumbai

In Hindi, the word ikattha means to come together. The artist collective ikattha opened its doors in Mumbai in January, located near Sasson Docks on the fourth floor of Doulatram Mansion nestled in Apollo Bunder. The space was “born out of an artists’ search for artists.” Its creator Illesha Khandelwal states, “Our space is open to local artists looking for space and community. We are committed to providing affordable studio spaces for makers, dreamers, thinkers, lovers, dancers, actors – and most importantly, a platform for them to build relationships and collaborate.” 

The Mumbai artist and native received her BFA in Photography at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston, and spent the past year as an Artist-in-Residence at Flux Factory in Queens, New York. When Khandelwal returned to her home city last fall after five years in the United States and Europe, she knew she wanted to create a judgement-free space that celebrates the art and music of Mumbai, while providing a family-like community. The idea stemmed from her time at Flux Factory where she says she developed an understanding of what a community can do for an artist and as a person when it comes to collaborating and inspiring each another. 

Laying empty for the past two years, the property, which dates back to pre-Independence, went through a four-month restoration. It now houses space for a number of Mumbai-based artists and collaborators including, Clement Isolde, Sankalp Kapur (@sankalpkapur), Sid Vetekar (@sidonaboat), Piran Tarapore (@iampirantee), Paridhi Mundra (@paridhi2118), Poorva Shingre (@poorvaroid), Kashin Patel (, Ayesha Kapadia (@kometjuice), Harsh Vora (@harsh.vora), Hasan Baldiwala (@nofunkyname), and Kim Kaul (@kim.kaul) who was an early joiner of the collective. Each bringing life to the art scene in Mumbai. 

The artists in the collective, including Khandelwal, collaborate regularly with other organizations in Mumbai, such as The Sister Library–a library powered by female excellence whose goal is to celebrate the contributions of women in the creative world and foster interests and understanding of the accomplishments of women writers and artists.

Khandelwal’s work, ‘The Book Jacket’ is a literal jacket with pockets perfectly sized to display her own handmade books of poetic prose and drawings about the landscape of Mumbai including the famous Mumbai crow–Khandelwal’s new muse. A site-specific, moving, bodily installation, the jacket was designed to hold and sell the books to raise money for The Sister Library. The books are part of Illesha’s series titled neend (sleep), includes a short story of her sleeplessness as a teenager and other images of the crows. 

The crows of Mumbai are everywhere, much like the pigeons of New York. The artist describes that she kept revisited an experience she had watching a flock of silent crows by the water at sunset. “I took a lot of pictures of them against that sunlight of them bathing and I made so many small paintings and drawings of that experience. Because I couldn’t capture that experience in a singular style or image and all of those little drawings came together into a book.”

Khandelwal’s own work is effervescent, fluid and has an ever-present connection between the viewer and an imagined or tangible landscape. She creates a psychology of geography–unfixed landscapes created through the collection of natural objects like stones and shells, along with clay, paper, textiles, and photography to build an intimate relationship between the viewer and the imagined landscape. 

This theme of landscapes connects with her fascination with the crows of Mumbai, exploring the crows’ symbolism in terms of their relationship with humans and the urban environment. As Khandelwal explains, “Stress, time management, bad health habits, inactivity, all have to do with the life we choose. No one is about to move out of the city, but how do we heal our relationship with that landscape?”

She observes the crows more as organisms that inhabit the landscape because of human actions of pollution. Healing that relationship has changed her own personal relationship with the city of Mumbai, revisiting the things we hate and trying to love them in an effort to heal that relationship. Her upcoming work uses a variety of mediums including using embroidery to create a fashion line using the image of the crows, as the artist described, “How can clothing begin to heal our relationships physically with the landscape?” 

Ikattha can be described as a co-working space and has provided open areas for events. So far this year ikattha has hosted musical gigs with performances by the bands Maiti Boy (@maitiboy), Gouriand Aksha (@gouriaksha) and Saltwater (@saltwatermusicindia). In February, ikattha hosted the FOAF Festival (@foundonallfours) providing a space for a performance art festival. This past March, they took part in the Bombay Zine Fest and on June 16th they had their first Full Moon Gathering Group Critique, where artists to came together on June 16th to discuss each their work on the night of the full moon to create an open and honest space for growth.

You can follow the Illesha’s work and the artists of Ikattha and their upcoming events on Instagram.

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