A century old building, a quiet corner of Bandra, a collection of art and the beautiful lady herself. This is the story of an afternoon chat with Lekha Washington
Words Aninda Sardar
Photography Roshni Manghani
Unless you’re familiar with Bandra, Veronica Street doesn’t sound like some place in Bombay. Or Mumbai to you lot. And tucked away in this nondescript corner of the commercial capital’s hip and posh ’burb, nestled on the first floor of a century old building that would have been more appropriate somewhere in Goa, is the land of the Lotos Eaters for art lovers. The beautiful Lekha Washington and the twinkle in her eyes would disagree but even those not familiar with classical poetry or Homer’s Odysseus would find something poetic once they push past the ancient double door with its egg shell door handles.
“These are mostly prototypes. What you see here isn’t what I would exhibit,” Lekha tells me and yet nothing here seems like a work in progress. Not the massive red chair she has named Dot, which she is sitting in and certainly not the mouse grey one named Sink that I’m sitting in. Grammar Nazis please note that you can’t sit on either of these two chairs. You will simply sink in and thereafter you will have zero to negative motivation to get up because they really are that comfy. Not to mention, they don’t look anything like chairs. You know on instinct that you’ve entered a place where even the usual stuff is done unusually. Even the names of the pieces she creates.
“Well, there’s no lengthy explanation for any of the names. They are all pretty much last minute decisions,” she laughs. “All the lengthy explanation that we give around the art we create is marketing really.” I nod with more enthusiasm than I should, partly because I’m smitten with her but more so because I’m smitten with her views. “Art should be able to evoke emotion. Most people have the ability to understand art and they do so on instinct. The lengthy explanations we offer is mostly because it’s difficult to market art without an explanation.”
Clearly the explanations work because her art is certainly marketable. I have seen her work on display at the Luxury and Lifestyle Weekend earlier this year at the Jio Garden in Bombay. She was also roped in for a workshop on design and art at the press launch of a car by the manufacturer. She even has her own product and art design company. Christened Ajji, she has chosen to describe it as The Odd Product Company. The name, translated from Kannada, means water and is super apt because everything you see either on the company website or at the studio has a flowing quality about them, be it the hanging chair (if it can be called that) named Drop or the Kiku Chandelier. And that description? That has been worded to near perfection because you won’t find a single replica of these anywhere. Every single piece is unique and worth every paise.
That she is successful as an artist is beyond doubt but it hasn’t been a cakewalk either for she has been on her own from a very early age. Lekha in fact started work at the age of 16 but that didn’t stop her from getting a degree each in lifestyle product design and film direction from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. For a while she gave in to her desire to be in front of the camera and enjoyed success as an actress in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi movies. She continues to dabble in the audio-visual format and is obviously comfortable in front of a camera but her first love is probably the art that she has taught herself.
Eventually we meander towards the topic I originally had in mind, something about whether the young can really afford art. You’d think the obvious answer would be a straight no, but here again Lekha is anything but usual. “Just buy original. There are numerous artists out there whose work will not break your bank,” she says before explaining that all too often a collector or patron will get carried away with the idea of acquiring the established names. The masters. Instead if we all shifted to a point where we all aspired to buy original works then art would indeed be affordable for the young. Now, wouldn’t that be a theatre full of dreams?