Meet the young creatives who are driving the conversation in New York City's cultural circles


Meet the young creatives who are driving the conversation in New York City’s cultural circles

The artist, the writer, the furniture maker

By Anjali Kumar  November 18th, 2019

Sourabh Gupta – the artist

To try to define Sourabh Gupta’s work would be a fool’s errand. In his own words, he is a “multidisciplinary designer”, but that doesn’t quite capture the scope of his artistic imagination and talent. 

Born and raised in the small village of Hari Nagar in Jammu, Gupta had an insatiable drive to “just make things” from an early age. But traditional art supplies were hard to come by, so he got creative with materials instead. “I would pick up old receiptsor try to write as smallas possible in my school notebooks so that I could save pages,” he says. Once, he even turned some of his mother’s saris into curtains. “Resourcefulness has always been a virtue of mine,” he jokes.

Gupta, 29, always excelled at studies, and eventually found his way to architecture school in India and earned a master’s in interior design at Parsons in New York City, where he now lives and works out of his Harlem studio.

Sourabh Gupta sitting by his handcrafted paper flower bouquet sculpture at Tucker Robbins Design Showroom, New York Design Center

After leaving school, Gupta began making paper flowers as a therapeutic process, as he felt the need to make something. “I wanted to set up my potter’s wheel, but couldn’t for a lack of space. Paper was the most accessible material, so I started making flowers—I felt I had to, for my mental health and well-being.” But soon, The New York Times came knocking, followed by designer Tory Burch, who commissioned Gupta to create hundreds of paper daisies for her Met Gala gown this past May.

Gupta studying the wild strawberry flower and plant

“For a long time, people didn’t take me seriously because I was doing [many things] and they weren’t sure how to classify me or my work. People thought I had not ‘arrived’ at my medium. Until I discovered someone who works the way I do—making a chair, then an airplane, then a sculpture—and is one of the most celebrated designers in the world.”

This installation is a memory of the earthquake in Nepal

Gupta is referring to Thomas Heatherwick, who is responsible for the recently unveiled Vessel in Hudson Yards in New York City, the new Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, and the reimagined London double-decker bus. “Since Heatherwick can operate on so many different dimensions, he is able to translate things across mediums—that is how I want to work.”

As for what’s next, he is content to continue exploring the medium of paper flowers, with an exhibit at the Bolton Historical Museum in Upstate New York later this year. And when he is done with paper flowers, he will simply move on to something else. “I plan to keep doing what I feel like,” he says. “At some point, it all ties together.”

Photograph: Matt Novac (Strawberry flower)

Mayukh Sen – the writer

On the cab ride over to the 2018 James Beard Awards (the “Oscars” of the US culinary world), Mayukh Sen’s best friend and date for the evening made him prepare a speech.

Sen thought there was no possibility of him, a first-time nominee at age 26, winning the prestigious award, given the luminaries he was up against. But at her insistence, he did it anyway (on the back of a chewing gum wrapper). A few hours later, he was announced as the winner for Profile Writing.

Mayukh Sen

It has been quite a ride since Sen firstmade his way to New York in 2014. He was an undergraduate student at Stanford University when his father was diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer. He moved back to New York after graduation to help care for him, freelancing as a culture writer with a plan to eventually break into film journalism. Things took an unexpected turn when an editor at the online food publication Food52 reached out to him about a staff writer position. “I was sceptical at first. I thought I didn’t know enough about writing on food. But I realised I was hungry for the trust of an editor who would see my potential and trust me with longer, more ambitious pieces. As a 24-year-old freelancer at the time, it was hard to earn that [trust].”

Sen took the job, despite his concerns whether he would be able to write pieces that examined broader culture inequities through the lens of food. “I grew up thinking of food writing as so classed, so…white. But now, disrupting that [perception] has become a big part of my work.”

A stack of back issues of now defunct food magazine Lucky Peach

The year Sen spent with Food52 helped him hone in on his eventual beat: forgotten women in food, specifically women of colour. “Food52 was dependent on its community. I was writing about cultural appropriation and food, and race and food.”

One of the pieces he wrote during his time here—about Princess Pamela, a soul food icon who disappeared from the culinary landscape of the US—eventually won him the James Beard Award. Sen found out he was nominated the new-fashioned way: on Twitter. “I was comically down in the dumps the previous night, wondering if my work mattered. The concept of what I could accomplish in my life expanded in that moment.”

Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD), a museum dedicated to food history in Williamsburg

After a year at Food52, during which time his father passed away, and a stint at another publication, he began to freelance full-time. Sen, now 27, is working on his first book, on immigrant women who have shaped food in America (WW Norton & Company, 2021), which will also be developed into a documentary, as well as a follow-up story on Princess Pamela in the audio space.

Aaron Aujla – the furniture maker

Aaron Aujla and his partner Ben Bloomstein first met in 2010 as art gallery assistants in New York City . With backgrounds in painting and woodworking, they struck up a friendship…

…that eventually led to the creation of Green River Project, their Brookyln-based interior and furniture design studio, in 2017.

Named after a riverin Upstate New York where Bloomstein, 31, grew up (and from where many of their materials are sourced), Green River Project’s first piece was born of necessity, but has since become somewhat of a studio signature: the One Pine Board Chair.

Aaron Aujla (right) and his partner Ben Bloomstein

“Ben and I had been tinkering onour independent [art] practices and needed seating for the studio. We made a chair with one board, making as few cuts with as little waste as possible. The restrictions were the dimensions of the board,” says Aujla, 31.

Aujla’s paternal grandfather emigrated from India to Canada in 1923, which provides a deep well of reference
points for the duo, especially Chandigarh. The unique mix of “European design sensibilities mixed with the heart and soul of Indian craft” of the city can be traced throughout their work.

Aujla’s studio in Brooklyn, New York

The pair is also inspired by the design ingenuity and practical necessity of sustainable design in India. As Aujla notes, “There is something uncanny and random about the way things are made in India, but it somehow works. It is this juxtaposition that we really like; it is a huge inspiration for us.” Bloomstein continues, “It is practical, not theoretical. Everything is tried and tested. We look to India on a daily basis.”

So, what’s next? Aujla and Bloomstein haveprojects in the works in Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, which include indoor-outdoor pieces, and are releasing a collection of handles, door pulls and doorknobs made from studio offcuts.

One Pine Board Chair

They are also hoping to spend more time in India, deepening their relationship with a few local artists and developing a residential project while continuing to mine each of their personal histories for design references. “We look back to look forward,” they say, summarising it perfectly.

Photograph: Andrew Jacobs (Bamboo chair)