Traveller of Nomadic Origins
Mukul Bhatia is an internationally published and exhibited photographer and founder of Nomadic Origins who has been working across a variety of projects, from artisan sustainability across Asia, to cultures and tribes that are unheard of. Beyond photography, Mukul is a designer, writer and Instagram-influencer who believes in story-telling beyond the usual. His work celebrates cultures, travels and societies that do not confine to set pattern of the guidebook and is in the likes of global names like Forbes America, The New York Times, Majestic Disorder, Tedx, Huffington Post Australia, Verve Magazine etc. Chosen by GQ magazine in one of nation’s ‘Best-Dressed List’, His unique sense of cultural curation in his work and wardrobe is inspired by diversity and tribes across the globe.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing the world as an outsider, even as a kid I was the observant one who would look outside the window at family drives for hours, and the idea of ‘other world’ was very attractive. This early influence was the seed to something bigger and deeper. After graduating from MCRC, Jamia with my master’s degree in Photography and Visual Studies, I set for my first ever self-funded journey of 7 months across an unusual itinerary and that really defined the course of my life and work. From living with Nagas in Maha-Kumbh, to Osho commune in Goa, to Quranic schools in war torn Kashmir, to transgender sex-workers in Pune. This was my chance to see the ‘other world’ as an outsider, and I photographed every single space with my own vision. This defined my earlier works shot mostly on film and thus, it grew into many things I am doing today. My earlier influences were Ren Hang, Antoine D’Agata and Jacob Aue Sobol. I really like how all the photographer really go deep into their subjects and are very personal and honest in their approach.
Nomadic Origins is my benchmark project that celebrates identity, expression and diversity across the globe. Initially funded by MATTER Prints, Singapore, it’s a digital anthropology of modern nomads and has grown to over 350+ cities, across 42 countries – and to be honest it’s overwhelming and satisfying at the same time to make it happen. There is a lot of information and learning that you get as you travel to so many newer spaces and meet people, and to structure those thoughts and ideas is really a task – but it’s been worth it.
While taking Nomadic Origins to more countries, I want to further invest more time into my personal projects. In 2019, I hope to work deeper with my personal work in Himalayas, and create a voyage where I get to live with the inhabitants and hidden tribes of it’s length and breadth across Nepal, India and Bhutan, and this time I get to narrate the story not just of the people around me, but also how I fit into their space, and an intimate documentation of my own journey and thoughts. It crazy how much diversity, thoughts, beliefs and old world cultures exist in those majestic mountains, and I’ve always been very drawn to its sense of mysticism and culture, where nature or earth is still bigger than what a man may comprehend.
Idea of being a ‘global-citizen’
It sounds existential or philosophical, but I believe that home does lie within you. The idea of a static space sounds comfortable, but I find the joy in abandoned airports in new territories, (I am writing this interview on a flight to Tokyo) and spaces where I am unknown, unseen, and no one gets my language. It allows me to hear my own voice with clarity and that is the best way to translate it into the work that you do. For me being a global citizen means to not be patriotic about the passport you own, but responsibly and belong to the entire planet and its inhabitant. To develop sensitivity beyond borders, and seeing the way with your own eyes and how you fit in it, beyond the conditioning from society and culture you grew in.
Before globalisation ‘McDonaldised’ the world and made us believe that you only wear black for winter – there existed an entire pool of cultures across the globe – where people celebrated identity and uniqueness and wore it with pride. What we wore was made with hands, love and threads that signified a tribe, meaning and certain kind of grace of belonging. I belong to that world. Coming from India, a country that’s so rich with cultures, mythologies and stories, I find guilty pleasures in collecting textiles heavy clothes that have stories, anecdotes and insights about a particular culture or tribe. As I love diversity, everything that comes along with it from motifs, colours, iconography etc make an integral part of my wardrobe and thus identity.
Role of designers, photographers, and writers in the dialogue of celebrating cultural diversity
Across the long, yet narrow passage of time, what remains of a ‘historic moment’ is the art and culture that the era produces. Photographers, freeze and preserve time, designers and writers elucidate more on it, and give form to a culture. A striking example of a project that translates that is Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away, a long extended photographic documentation around the world of rare tribes, and cultures that are soon going to melt into the global current. The subjects are photographed in their traditional attires and around their homelands. This narrates the proper amalgamation of humanity and it’s celebration.
Indian design globally
When the wave of sustainability hit the international media earlier this decade, it was something grand. Fashion and luxury became more human, the right questions were finally asked, and generation old artisan crafts were admired and respected instead of it being passed away. This was around the same time when I started documenting sustainability in India, and crafts that were dying started booming in a never seen before way. Rural artisans who were moving from their indigenous spaces were returning, jobs were created and craft-techniques were preserved, and a whole new industry is born. Right now, the crafts and textiles are at a boom, but there isn’t enough supply for the demand, and fast fashion has re-created a newer, cheaper, way of manufacturing these textiles to meet the demand, without involving these artisans, which loses the purpose of it, which makes things harder for artisans.
For us as Indians, our strength lies in our culture but our weakness lie in not appreciating and developing it. Japan imported and inspired it’s earliest cultural arts and spirituality from India. It further developed it into something beautiful and original that’s still esteemed globally, and modernity hasn’t dwindled it but added character to it in the best way possible. India however, with one of the richest cultures, but with a heavy colonial hangover and Bollywood inspired conditioning, simply Americanised it’s ideals. Tradition isn’t channelized into art forms in India, it’s looked down upon – and that’s really sad. I hope we get to celebrate and grow our culture in it’s pristine, instead of letting it go.
Sustainable in traveling and fashion
Quality over quantity is definitely the motto. When we travel slow, we don’t just go for sight seeing, but immerse in the culture and give something back to the spaces we go to. Small measures like not using plastic bottles and refilling, and choosing sustainable resorts really go a long way.
In fashion, the true rebellion lie in not following the trends, buy buying things that are made well and would wear at least 30 times. Fast fashion brands are the worst pollutants on earth, not just do they underpay the real workers behind the clothes, the pollution created by clothes that aren’t worn enough is simply degrading the planet like nothing else.
One of my favorite pieces in wardrobe is a Yohji Yamamoto simple black linen kimono – I’ve proudly worn it over 200 times, and still cherish it. We need to shift the way we thinking, not re-wearing clothes again simply because it’s already Instagram is a very toxic idea, it’s time we shift the status-quo to a more conscious one.
The Craft Project wishes to document tangible anthropology i.e material culture of a place and comment on its relevance in the contemporary space. We also wish to bring together a community of cultural travelers and craft entrepreneurs and create a collective of common motivation. The Craft Project celebrates Diversity in culture through objects, folk arts, crafts, and design. Through this project, we will be conducting community-sourced primary research and publishing about crafts and will involve brands, NGOs, collectives, makers, designers, curators, thought leaders, other publications etc.