In 2019, Reena and Bhavesh Mistry of Humble Raja entered the Toronto design scene with their 2019 DesignTO Festival Week exhibition, ‘Forbidden Forest’, winning both a Juror’s Choice award and the DesignTO People’s Choice award for Favourite Exhibition. ‘Forbidden Forest’ was an exhibition exploring the curious creatures of South Asian mythology, reimagining twelve fantastic animals to breathe new life into ancient tales.
“Back in 2015, we had the idea to create a collection of illustrations that reimagined the legendary animals from our folklore,” explains Reena Mistry. “The creatures in the tales our parents told us as we grew up weren’t the ones we learned about at school, read about in books, or saw in movies. They came from the wild imagination of South Asia, and we realized not many people knew about them. DesignTO was the perfect opportunity to bring this idea to life and openly share it with others.”
With the idea of pairing contemporary design with ancient folklore, Reena and Bhavesh set out to create a set of vibrant illustrations for modern audiences that celebrated storytelling and their shared heritage.
“We are both of Indian descent and are genuinely curious about the history, traditions, and stories that our families have taught us and integrated into our upbringing in Canada. Having been raised in Toronto, a lot of our work pieces together our hybridized identity between both cultures,” says Reena. “Our work is a means to explore the past and future of our South Asian identity. It’s also our way of celebrating and representing the rich diversity that exists in our world.”
Through DesignTO, Reena and Bhavesh were able to share ‘Forbidden Forest’ with designers and the broader public as an exhibition brought to life in the Hallway Galleries at Artscape Youngplace. Each illustrative portrait came with explanatory text detailing the legends behind these fascinating creatures, providing entry for viewers into the world of South Asian mythology.
“It was exhilarating to openly share our work with so many people and connect with such a diverse group of people throughout the Festival,” says Reena of their experience exhibiting at the 2019 DesignTO Festival. “ Not only did we feel part of a greater design community, but we were able to share something so close to our heart with people of all ages and backgrounds, who also felt like they could relate to what we created.”
Two years after their success at the DesignTO Festival, Reena and Bhavesh decided to turn the illustrations for the ‘Forbidden Forest’ exhibition into playing cards. The duo created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacturing of the pieces, unsure whether it would take off. Yet 32 hours later, the campaign had exceeded its fundraising goal several weeks earlier than the deadline on October 27th.
“When we first exhibited our artwork at the DesignTO Festival in 2019, we were blown away by the response. The cards are like a tiny art exhibition catalogue, a way to own all of the illustrations in a compact collection,” says Reena. “We also like the social aspect of playing cards—combining cards with art creates a way to celebrate gathering and diversity in an everyday object. We want to bring diversity to the table and share our culture through design in the same way you’d enjoy sharing an Indian meal with friends. It’s all about enjoying the company of others with a taste of something surprising and delightful,” she adds.
“As designers, we strongly feel DesignTO provides a powerful platform to participate in the thriving creative culture of Toronto. Not only does it facilitate a way to share your work with the art and design industry openly, but it also plays an essential role in making art and design accessible to the broader community,” explains Reena. “This allows both ourselves as designers and the industry as a whole to meaningfully connect with people of all backgrounds, interests, and ages.”
How to get your own set of Forbidden Forest playing cards:
Until Wednesday, October 27, 2021 Forbidden Forest Playing Cards will be live on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform that helps bring creative projects to life. You can support this project by purchasing a deck. A portion of each sale will be donated to World Animal Protection to help wild animals stay wild.
For local buyers, please refer to the FAQ on the Kickstarter page for the local pickup option. After the campaign ends, the Kickstarter page will redirect to the website humbleraja.com where pre-orders can be made.
For Kickstarter backers, the expected date for the decks to arrive is February 2022. Orders collected after the Kickstarter campaign can expect to receive their decks later.