Home > Culture > Art & Design > Interview: Sam Kulavoor on his latest collaboration with Nicobar
Interview: Sam Kulavoor on his latest collaboration with Nicobar

As visual artist Sam Kulavoor launches a new collection with Nicobar, here’s a sneak peek into the elements that inspire his art and the art scene in India.

Clean lines, whimsical logos, and breezy products—all done in black and white. That’s Musafir for you, the new limited-edition collection by Sameer Kulavoor and Nicobar. As the name suggests, the line is inspired by travel—a running ethos for both Kulavoor and Nicobar. The minimal design aesthetic is breezy and ideal for the Spring and Summer months.

nicobar musafir
People Espresso Mug. Image: Courtesy Nicobar

The range is spread across clothing for men and women, home and personal accessories. Think shirts, kurtas, bowls, mugs, cushions, laptop sleeves, make-up pouches, and more. The line drawings on these signature Nicobar styles are the hand-drawn artworks from Kulavoor’s own notebook.

This isn’t the first time Kulavoor has collaborated with a design brand. Back in 2013, his Ghoda Cycle Project was picked up by Paul Smith, resulting in a collaboration of T-shirts representing the cycling culture of India. If you’ve been to Lodhi district in Delhi, the art splashed across walls and the murals in Block 17 are courtesy of Kulavoor. From the World Design Capital Helsinki (2012) to India Art fair in Delhi (2019), his work has been exhibited far and wide. Drawings, paintings, zines, public art projects—Sam Kulavoor’s art transcends mediums, and constantly tries to understand and make the viewer understand why things exist the way they do.

He talks about bringing Musafir to life and everything before that.

Sam Kulavoor
During City As Objects + TaxiFabric. Image: Courtesy Jimeet Pawaskar

Travel has always been important for you. How was the experience of creating Musafir?

”A line is a dot that went for a walk” is a quote by Paul Klee had stayed with me. It brings together two important parts of me–my work/drawings and travel, seeing new places and the growth that it brings in oneself. I had some ideas already when Nicobar reached out to me for a potential collaboration back in mid-2018. When I suggested this idea, they felt it was also in line with their philosophy and approach, so it was a good match. I also like what they do as a brand. My work was done by the end of 2018 and since then the design team at Nicobar have been testing, sourcing, and producing the range. We had occasional exchanges of ideas during the production stage and I was pleased to see the detail that has gone into each aspect of the collection.

Your favourite products from the line?

My personal favourites are the ceramic Musafir Espresso mugs and the Musafir pocket shirt that sports a lovely little detail around the pocket.

Sam Kulavoor
Paul Smith + The Ghoda Cycle Project. Image: Courtesy Sam Kulavoor/Paul Smith

When did you realise art and design are your calling in life?

As a 6-7 year old, my neighbour back then was a school art teacher and I remember seeing her stunning work in her sketchbooks. She was encouraging and so were my parents; my dad would take me to the galleries in Kala Ghoda (Mumbai). So, I was exposed to art early in life and started drawing and creating.

What inspires your art?

I am interested in why things look the way they do; constantly exploring and understanding the impact that time, culture, politics, and socio-economic conditions have on our visible and invisible surroundings. In this age of visual overload, my work involves filtering, dissecting, documenting, and defamiliarizing commonly seen subjects through the act of drawing, painting, and design.

Mumbai seems to be a big influence on your designs. Could you throw light on this?

I think I am primarily inspired by what I see–my surroundings and the experiences they bring. Since I was born and brought up in Bombay, naturally it has left a mark on the way I live, think, and work – directly and indirectly. Having said that, I feel like if I were to spend this kind of time growing up in any other city I would respond to that place.

Sam Kulavoor
At Lodhi district, Delhi. Image: Courtesy Sam Kulavoor/St+Art India

You’ve worked with your sister on various projects. How would you describe your working equation with Zeenat?

Zeenat is a talented designer and Arabic/Urdu typographer. We complement each other’s work and are fortunate to be working together. If some aspect of my work requires design typography expertise, she is the first person I go to for an opinion. She also designer the Musafir logo unit. Working together is cause for friction at times but by now we both understand when we need to give each other the space we need. She is hugely responsible for me being able to do what I do.

Do you have a process when it comes to inspiration and execution of your art?

Observation is key. I maintain a sketchbook practice whenever I am out and about and my phone camera is a good tool to keep a record of things that can trigger thoughts. Being informed about what’s going around me matters. Otherwise, I don’t have a standard process. For me if there is a set process, things can get terribly boring.

Sam Kulavoor
TARQ booth at India Art Fair 2019

You work exists across different media–how do you choose which one for each project? Does the media follow the subject or the other way round?

I would say the subject decides the medium most times. In 2011, I made a zine/art-book about the unique yellow-black Xerox shops –the zine was photocopied as a way to embed the subject into the work itself. In April 2018, I had a solo show ‘A Man of the crowd’ at TARQ gallery (Mumbai) about multiple narratives that exist within a metropolis and I thought I could best express it by several paintings.

Could you tell us more about public art and the increasing awareness of art & design in the country?

Public Art is evolving in India very fast due to the efforts of artists and organisations like St+Art India Foundation. I have worked on public art projects in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, and Chennai and I think it is a great way to engage with people on the ground instead of limiting oneself to the confines of a gallery.

Musafir is available at www.nicobar.com and these stores: New Delhi (The Chanakya, Khan Market, Ambience Mall, Basant Lok); Mumbai (Bandra, Kala Ghoda, Palladium); Bangalore (Walton Road); Chennai (Rutland Gate); Hyderabad (Banjara Hills).

Megha Uppal
Senior Associate Editor
An innate love for travel and food has translated into many a trips since childhood for Megha; it also fed her curiosity to know about local cultures. When not writing, she is on the lookout for three things: A great dark chocolate dessert, a beautiful pool where she can practice her backstroke, and art that she can save up for.