Art isn’t meant to be just displayed in our homes, it can become a part of our daily lives by assuming a utilitarian role. Continuing to work along this path, their latest outing with the well-known luxury Italian brand Etro, just takes the story forward. Roped in by Etro for its capsule collection of bags, they have come up with leather accessories that merge the Etro’s signature paisley print with their eclectic illustrations.

“We have injected something more into their DNAs,” says Sumir Tagra, showing us some of the bags at their studio, the duo describes as a thinking space. “We have been seeing this motif of ambi since childhood. It is an Indian motif. They (Etro) wanted us to take it forward and for us it was very easy. We could have borrowed elements from our paintings and put it on top but we wanted to make an impact so we took the Prince of Wales check or the houndstooth pattern, merged the two and developed a new pattern. Using that as a base, we added elements from our paintings and also designed the inside of the bags,” adds Jiten Thukral.

While Etro has already done a preview of the collection at Frieze Art Fair in 2013, the artists will give a peek into their collection at their upcoming show ‘Q’ in Mumbai where the bags will become part of an installation.

Etro’s collaboration with the duo will surely shine on their C.V. but Thukral also translates it as Indian market attaining significance for such crucial brands.

Their background in communication design enabled them to walk the line art and design with such finesse. Thukral completed his bachelor’s in fine arts from Chandigarh College of Arts, and master’s from Delhi College of Art. Tagra, younger to Thukral by a couple of years, studied at Delhi College of Art and then went on to postgraduate studies in Communication Design at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. The experiences they garnered working at Ogilvy and Mather, or as cartoonists for publications have also helped them evolve their language. “It is about how you approach art and design — on a macro level — is a problem solving exercise,” explains Tagra. And all their different projects, — ‘Bosedk’, ‘Put It On’, ‘Escape’ and many more — have been carried out using this approach to which they add their quirky symbols, a bright colour palette and a whacky execution.

But their 6 feet by 6 feet canvases are never lacking content. Their sociological concerns are presented to the viewer wrapped in dark humour. Bosedk — for which they had slapped a case on Aamir Khan for stealing the phrase they had registered under the Trademark Act in 2005 and using it in his film Delhi Belly — was a commentary on consumerism. “It was also borne out of the desire to break free and to rebel against what was happening. It was our reaction to over-commercialization of art. We never wanted to insult,” says Thukral. The artists brought varied media like paintings, sculptures and installations, clothes, bottles, to voice their concerns under the umbrella of Bosedk. It was one of their earliest projects.

‘Put it on’ was another project where they made an artistic intervention to address the issue of HIV AIDS. Their research work made them come out with quirky products and art tackling the issue head on. “We studied the NACO papers and analysed their communication strategy. We realized the need to come up with something that will have a higher recall value. Ads, posters…you watch and forget but for the idea of prevention and safety to work, we realised we need to make inroads into their living spaces, their bedrooms. So we came up with these flip-flops which will be there in a bedroom reminding you to ensure safety with all its imagery. And the fact that the flip-flops and underwears have been designed by artists, helped the cause further. They became collector’s items,” says Thukral. The duo accompanied by a doctor went to local weekly market and distributed the flip-flops in a market at a nominal price of Rs.5.

The duo feels it’s easy to create noise but difficult to make an impact to fuel a change. “Never in our life will we revisit this day,” remarks Tagra revealing that Foundation Thukral and Tagra, has been set up to aid them in this endeavour. The money they make by selling their art is invested into it to utilise artistic interventions work at the grassroots level. HIV, girl child, Punjabi culture and diaspora and migration are few of the issues the foundation is looking at. Right now, they are working on a film titled ‘Q’ which also happens to be the title of their next exhibition. “All our projects are inter-linked. One thing leads to another,” says Thukral. While ‘Q’ is inter-related to their work done on their series ‘Escape! For The Dreamland — which was a take on the fascination of the Punjabi youth for the foreign land — ‘The Beautiful Game’ an interactive pool table installation showcased at India Art Fair in 2011 emerged out of their ‘Put It On’ project.

The duo counts ‘Escape! For The Dreamland’ held as part of Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, among their most significant projects. “The timing of the show was also crucial. The show was mounted when lot of Indian kids were facing violence in Australia. We have done 10 shows on the project so far and now we plan to do a book on it.”

Believed to be a solitary exercise, how do two minds work together on one canvas? “It started during our college days. It was while sharing and helping each other that we developed our visual language together. We never decided to work together. It happened on its own. We realised that we were working towards one goal. And it helps that our work is so planned. We first compose everything on a computer which is then transferred on to the canvas. We first draw, then create the background using a spray gun, a technique that we learnt from my father, (an artist who runs an ad agency in Jalandhar). The huge canvases that we work on also allow us our individual spaces,” explains Thukral.