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December 19, 2020

Viraj Khanna Is Creating His Own Visual Language

Text by Akanksha Pandey. Photographed by Neal Bhaumik

The Kolkata-based collage artist, sculptor and fashion entrepreneur is developing new ways to merge his varied creative interests

How do you find beauty, inspiration and a fresh perspective in the midst of a lockdown? For 25-year-old Viraj Khanna – brand director at Anamika Khanna and co-founder of clothing label AK-OK (he is also one of her twin sons) – it was about discovering a unique, personal artistic vision. The University of Southern California graduate began experimenting with collages during the pandemic, oblivious to the fact that they would go on to become the creative foundation for the prêt label. AK-OK’s second drop explores Khanna’s art and develops a new visual language that appeals to a young audience and reflects a contemporary spirit.

Verve talks to the artist about his brand, business and craft….

Were you always interested in art? When and how did you discover your creative side?
I have grown up looking at art in different forms, especially textiles. This helped me develop a certain eye or taste. I always enjoyed seeing and understanding art, but it is only recently that I have started to make things on my own! I randomly decided to start cutting up magazines and putting different objects together in order to create different structures. These collages form the basis for my sculptures and paintings as well.

When did you start making art collages? What led you to do this? Did you make these with the intention of using them as prints on fabrics?
I began working with collages during the lockdown; it’s something I always wanted to get into. I think the free time and the solitude at home during this period just struck a chord. I do believe creativity thrives in boredom. I just picked up a couple of magazines, encyclopedias and other books that were lying in the studio and started putting things together. People believe the stereotype that an artist has an inborn talent or it’s “in the genes” but I don’t think that is true at all. Creativity is something that’s cultivated, and passion is something that’s built only after you get deeply involved in a particular subject. That’s what happened with my collage work, and now it’s moved into many other genres. Only after a few months into the process did I decide to use them as prints.

Is the convergence of art and fashion at AK-OK specific to this collection?
I think my collages are going to be used as the basis for the prints and shapes for a long time. I cannot say for sure how we will keep moving since that really depends on what we want to create. But recently, since the collages are so diverse, we have been able to use them as the foundation for various directions that we want to move in.

Do you follow a certain process when it comes to your collages and sculptures?
I create the paper collages first and then use them to make the sculptures. I begin by cutting up images of various unrecognisable parts of bodies, products, animals, etc. and combining them in order to create a new figure. This method results in paper collages. The sculptures are also made keeping in mind the unusual placement of the different objects. When you see a sculpture or a collage of mine, you will notice the “discontinuity” in some of them as a result of this unique process.

What inspires your work? Who are the artists on your radar?
Hannah Höch is my biggest inspiration when I make the collages. I also really like Annegret Soltau, Stuart Davis, Rashid Johnson, and Jogen Chowdhury in India.

What was the thought behind AK-OK?
AK-OK is the luxury prêt line of Anamika Khanna. We wanted to provide a faster-moving, yet super-luxurious product for aspiring clients. The demand for younger, sportier clothing is growing at a rapid pace in India, and we felt it was the right time to introduce a new brand.

Define yours and Vishesh’s roles at AK-OK. Whats it like working with your twin brother?
So, Vishesh and I actually never fight or argue. We both know that whatever we decide or do will be for the benefit of each other. If I make a decision, he doesn’t interfere and vice versa. Luckily, we barely have conflicting opinions anyways. We both look into the overall design and management of AK-OK. Who plays a larger role in design or management depends on the collection. There are no fixed roles yet.

Are there any similarities or differences in Vishesh’s ways of working and how do you resolve them?
Vishesh likes to delegate work, and he really researches and understands something before getting into it! I, on the other hand, enjoy jumping into things and learning on the way. So the combination of us working together actually helps us balance things out!

Who is the audience that you want to dress? Do you have a muse a person or an idea that guides your collections?
The product is for anyone who wants something luxurious at a comparably reasonable price. Sonam didi [Kapoor Ahuja] is our forever muse! She looks amazing in anything she wears.

What has been your biggest takeaway watching your mother – one of Indias most successful designers – at work?
Hard work! I have never seen anyone work as hard as AK. She wakes up at 5 or 6 a.m. and starts designing. Goes to work after that…then returns home and designs again. It’s the kind of passion that I have never seen before, even now after so many years. It goes to show how the passion that drives hard work is the most important quality to continuously excel in any field.

What have you brought to the older label? What have you imbibed from the aesthetic of AK?
I mainly looked into the finance of the older label. AK-OK was our toy to experiment with and do literally everything we felt like. I have imbibed a taste for excellence in quality and design. It has also helped me understand subtle nuances in colour balance and the importance of perfecting every element in order to create the best product.

What are your thoughts on sustainability? What measures do you take to make AK-OK a sustainable brand?
We ensure that the pieces we make are of the highest quality, which the consumer can re-use and wear for a long time. Fabric and material are upcycled to create the pieces. There are upcoming collections that will be completely upcycled.

What’s in the pipeline?
We are actually launching a new collection for AK-OK very soon! I am also doing an art exhibition in February at Quest Mall in Kolkata. I am working with the gallery Art Exposure, which is representing my work.

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