South Asian creatives are about to get the digital platform they deserve.
Anuva Kalawar and Jasmine Vasandani of A1Bazaar.
Courtesy Rain Embuscado for NEW INC.
With north of one billion residents living on the Indian subcontinent alone—joined by some twenty-four million South Asians from across the globe—artists Anuva Kalawar and Jasmine Vasandani decidedly belong to the world's largest diaspora. But where the networks that connect these populations are concerned, viable routes to authentic representation, meaningful engagement, and critical support remain staggeringly limited for artists and creatives-at-large.
Acknowledging this deficit, the New York-based team set out to build a platform that lets South Asian creatives and entrepreneurs share their work on their own terms. In a recent interview for NEW INC, Kalawar said that the resulting project, A1BAZAAR, has been in "psychic development" for some time. "Living in diaspora is what defines both of our existences," Kalawar said. "We navigate the world through a lens of migration and cultural experimentation and re-negotiation.”
In their search for inspiration, the pair said they turned to the marketplaces that are all but ubiquitous to South Asia and their communities in diaspora. "They are multi-sensory and defined by fluid categories," Vasandani explained. "'Bazaars,' from the Persian word 'bāzār,' are places where you not only exchange goods and services, but also experiences. Bazaars are sites where culture is created, remixed, and dispersed.” In short, the project takes its cue from (and emulates) the logic of the bazaar.
Artists and inventors of all practices are invited to create accounts and engage with fellow users in an international ecosystem, where work is presented, exchanged, and supported in kind. According to Vasandani, the pair conducted "user-centered" research to ensure that the platform supports their community-first approach. "Of course, A1 is something that we know will make it to market because we’re creating it with our community in mind,” Kalawar noted.
Vasandani and Kalawar describe the project as serving dual purposes: First, to offer South Asian creatives a public forum designed by and for them; and second, to open up the dialogue, which they hope will complicate and change the prevailing (and often times harmful) popular narratives that describe South Asian experiences.
With a soft-launch around the bend in January, along with a series of programs throughout the year, NEW INC invited A1BAZAAR to discuss their work in deeper detail. From the premium they place on community, to their future ambitions, read up on the project in our interview below.
A clothing store in Singapore's Little India.
Photo: Marcin Konsek via Wikimedia Commons.
1. Tell us about A1BAZAAR.
Jasmine Vasandani: A1BAZAAR is a platform where anyone can buy from and discover creative entrepreneurs of the South Asian diaspora. Our goal is to provide creatives of the South Asian diaspora across the globe with a platform to showcase and sell their work. We chose the name A1BAZAAR because it references a history of creative entrepreneurship in our diaspora. “A1” is used as a prefix in business names by many immigrant and global small business owners to indicate that they provide quality, A1 goods (and to conveniently show up first in the phonebook).
Anuva Kalawar: Bazaars originated in the Middle East and spread across the globe and Asia through the Silk Road and into diaspora through trade, colonization, and migration. They’re more than just marketplaces. Bazaars are sites of cultural experience and exchange. Bazaars appear wherever the diaspora goes and are sites for community-building and syncretic cultural production.
JV: Bazaars are also part of my lineage. My mother was a co-owner of her shop called “New Indian Bazaar” in the Philippines, where I was born. The shop was not only a place to buy things, but it also helped bring South Asians in the Philippines come together in community. Wherever there are diaspora communities across the globe, you will almost always find a South Asian bazaar nearby.
2. How do you incorporate community-building into A1BAZAAR?
AK: Community is at the core of our philosophy and mission. We started A1 because we identified (and personally experienced) a lack of representation and inclusion for artists and creative entrepreneurs in our communities. We want to disrupt the lack by creating a platform that celebrates our legacies and abundance. We plan on supporting diaspora creators through marketplace creation and sharing resources that engage their creative power. In addition to the bazaar marketplace, we’re developing workshops that will uplift entrepreneurs and small businesses. Cultural equity and economic equity are the same thing for us.
JV: We’re taking a holistic approach to entrepreneurship on our platform. We want to be the place where entrepreneurs can promote themselves while also being able to reach out to each other and to us for help. As queer people of color, Anuva and I know that the struggle is real, so we’re using our own experiences and putting them back into A1BAZAAR. We’re more than just a marketplace. In our personal lives, we value our communities — they are the people who are always there for us. We want A1BAZAAR to have that same element of community in it, where the users actually feel like they can reach out to and be there for each other. We’re proud to be a niche marketplace that supports South Asian creative entrepreneurs, because that’s a community we love and want to help build.
A1BAZAAR cofounder Jasmine Vasandani’s mother inside their family shop, “New Indian Bazaar,” in the Philippines (1983). Courtesy Michelle Vasandani.
3. Why is it important for A1BAZAAR to exist?
AK: A1BAZAAR facilitates an ecosystem for a populous albeit underrepresented group of creators and entrepreneurs. The South Asian diaspora (one billion in South Asia, and another twenty-four million in diaspora) is diverse and significant. We speak several hundred languages, indulge in millions of traditions and legacies, and have impacted cultural production and ecosystems both ancient and contemporary. But we are still generalized by identity and saviorism despite our global creative and cultural impact.
JV: There is a wealth of creative entrepreneurs spread out across the globe, yet there is not one place where you can engage with them. At A1BAZAAR, we’re providing that much-needed home that gives these entrepreneurs opportunities to be in community with each other, to be seen by the world, and to thrive economically by doing what they love.
4. What motivated you to create A1BAZAAR?
AK: I know that experience first-hand as a queer gender nonconforming creator. I’m a practicing visual artist and curator. I’ve also worked in tech and interactive media production. Despite my qualifications as an artist and entrepreneur, I was having difficulty selling my products and services and finding equitable work. I felt lost in the sea of marketplaces that didn’t fit my needs as an entrepreneur — and I realized I wasn't the only one experiencing that. Context really matters, as does a network of peers, mentors, and supporters. So Jasmine and I got to work on how to solve these gaps we observed and experienced. That led us into entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurs that inspire me every day are the queer/trans/poc/immigrant/undocumented folks on their hustle to thrive for themselves and their communities. Folks like my peers and my parents. Being a visible entrepreneur and taking that risk is really important to us. A1BAZAAR is a reflection of that and a celebration of these vast and fortifying networks.
JV: I grew up in a working-class family where entrepreneurship was a means of income. What motivated us to pursue business ownership was the idea of “being your own boss.” Whenever I have conversations with immigrant families in the US about their ideal employment, I almost always hear the response, “I just want to be my own boss.” To me, what being a boss translates into is doing what you love, working in community with others, and earning equitably from it. Opportunities like that are hard to come by, especially depending on who you are. A1BAZAAR is an attempt for creative entrepreneurs of the South Asian diaspora to be their own boss by doing what they love, making money doing it, and working in community with likeminded individuals doing the same thing.
5. Where do you see A1BAZAAR in the future?
JV: We hope to continue to expand and become more inventive with the ways that we provide support for our community of creative entrepreneurs in the diaspora. No matter what happens, we will stay true to our commitment to supporting our communities. Anuva and I are in it for the long run.
AK: We want A1BAZAAR to be a sustainable hub for the diasporic community. Our vision is long-term and we want to keep innovating at the intersections of design, technology, and culture. Jasmine and I have a lot of products up our sleeves. And we want to stay dedicated to inventing things that truly generate economic and cultural equity.
Initial research and editorial support by Evan Berk.
Editor: Rain Embuscado