Reflective essay pushpibagchi

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  • 1. CONTENT A reflective essay on using design as a tool to initiate social dialogue. Pushpi Bagchi MA Graphic Design makers
  • 2. INTRODUCTION RESEARCH Semester 1 THE ISSUE Semester 2 FORMAT Semester 3 CONCLUSION LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS BIBLIOGRAPHY All content for this book is for academic purposes only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without permission from the author. Content, editing and design by Pushpi Bagchi Printed and bound in Edinburgh College of Art. Contents 0302 04 06 12 20 25 28 29
  • 3. Introduction We are surrounded by design which directs our lives, to choose one thing over another or value something more than the other (Ilyin, 2006). As more aspects of design become part of the main- stream, the responsibility of shaping our visual culture falls on graphic designers as they are the ones packaging content. Looking back, my aim of doing a Masters was to enable myself to become a content maker instead of merely supplying the packaging for messages that promote consumer- ist culture. The responsibility of communication designers is to deliver messages effectively, but as Kalman (1998, p.8) says, “What do you communi- cate-Burger King or something meaningful?”. The premise of my design research has always been contemporary India. The challenge lay in focussing on a topic or issue that was of signifi- cance to me, relevant to the rest of the country (India), and ideally a global audience as well. Initially I explored contemporary Indian visual culture and attempted to identify visual trends-particularly in the field of graphic design. However, graphic design is a language or a means of communication, not an end product and I wanted to identify issues concern- ing vernacular culture to create engaging content. I decided to change my research method and explored ethnographic techniques. The variety of people that make up the Indian subcontinent bring together the influences and inspiration of many different cultures and this culture has been evolving constantly for hundreds of years (Cooper, Gillow, 1996). Choosing one aspect of this vast cultural pool that could hold a varied audience’s interest was not an easy task. Language and culture are part of the world’s ‘ethnosphere’, and our ethnosphere is degrading rapidly at the cost of development (Davis, 2007). The aim of this project is to initiate dialogue about the loss of traditional culture and linguistic diversity and encourage people to become active partici- pants in the preservation and evolution of their culture.This essay is a reflection on my attempt to work as a design anthropologist to introduce new perspectives on the cultural complexities that exist in contemporary India; mapping the process from research to the final execution. 0504
  • 4. Figure 1: Clockwise from top left; Geetika Alok, Englishes [online image]. Shirin (2012) The Hinglish Project [website], Hand painted type (2012) Painter Kafeel [digital font]. 06 RESEARCH As a country, India is extremely diverse with tradi- tional crafts and visual culture changing drastically across states. As digital technology gains popular- ity, there are emerging trends in communication design across cities such as the use of clean vector lines in typography (figure: 1). The inten- tion behind doing a comparative study of recent typographic projects was to evaluate where I placed my personal design aesthetic. In my studio practice I was experimenting with analogue and digital print techniques that took inspiration from traditional handmade crafts (figure: 2). The aim was to avoid following trends and or succumbing to western aesthetic styles without resorting to kitsch. Along with my studio work I conducted an eth- nographic experiment where I asked friends and colleagues from varied international backgrounds to share their opinions on what they visualised as contemporary India (figure: 3). While most were expected cliches of traffic stopping cows and Bol- lywood, there were some unexpected responses such as the country or IT experts, corruption and good education. The common thread across the various responses was the contrasts that people Semester 1
  • 5. perceived. The aim of the experiment was to find trends or metaphors that could be classified as quintessentially Indian, however this proved to be naive. Attempting to quantify ‘India’ was proving to be impossible and unnecessary. The country’s diversity and extreme contrasts were what made it unique. Having come to this conclusion I reevalu- ated my research and considered issues that would introduce the cultural complexities that exist in India today. Since the primary audience of my project was the community in Edinburgh, I wanted to introduce a fresh perspective that moved away from the idea of India as an ancient exotic land. The loss of vernacular culture and tradition at the cost of globalization is an issue that many identify with. I chose to focus my project on the signifi- cance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a character trait of contemporary India. Many believe that Indians are losing touch with regional languages because English has established itself as the country’s lingua franca (Satpathy, 2012). Others are of the opinion that India’s multilingual- ism is not recognized or celebrated (Bhattacharya, 2009). I set out to explore and critically evaluate the issue using ethnographic research techniques as well as literary reviews. Figure 2: Pushpi Bagchi (2012) India Contemporary [letterpress and stop motion animation]. 09
  • 6. Figure 3: Pushpi Bagchi (2012) Ethnographic Research [digital image]. 11
  • 7. 1312 THE ISSUE I have often been asked, how do you say ____ in Indian? India has over a hundred spoken languages and hundreds of dialects and there is no singular language called ‘Indian’. There are twenty-two official languages as listed in the constitution. Language, regionalism and preservation of culture are politically charged topics in India today. There are several aspects surrounding this issue; there are many who feel that the predominance of the English language in the country is at the cost of losing the vernacular linguistic diversity with much negative press on English becoming the country’s unofficial national language (Joseph, 2011). I wanted to contest this opinion since most educated Indian’s are multilingual with English being one of many spoken languages and fluency in the English language was not at the price of losing the vernacular. In a country with such strong attachment to tradition and culture could the loss of local languages be truly imminent? Yet one cannot discount the importance of knowing English as it is the Indian language of commerce and proficiency in English leads to opportunities (Satpathy, 2012). I conducted six interviews of Indian post graduate students in Edinburgh to discuss the loss of linguistic diversity and the significance of language as part of a person’s cultural identity. While the opinions were varied, most felt that Indians were unlikely to lose touch with their mother tongues Semester 2 as the language is often deep rooted in familial values and there is an emotional attachment to local languages. For a language to exist, it must be spoken and spoken languages evolve, the intermingling of different Indian languages in everyday conversation and slang offers an interesting alternative to the dominant use of English. Perhaps by allowing languages to freely evolve is one method of insuring their existence. Having identified an issue, the next challenge lay in communicating the complexities that surround the topic in a succinct way. The parameters for the final product were that it had to be an exhibition piece and would have to engage a primarily international audience since the Degree Show is part of the Edinburgh Arts Festival. Drishti Bommais (evil eye doll) are masks that can be seen all across Southern India. Hung outside houses or painted on trucks, these masks are believed to ward off negative energy. Using them as a metaphor I created a mask for each of the twenty-two official Indian languages to ward off the negative attention on the loss of local languages and establish their presence (figure: 4). The masks also act as talismans to remind the viewer to safeguard the vernacular and linguistic diversity for future generations. Using the metaphor of masks helped visualise the concept and create graphic images that would engage an audience. The design of each mask
  • 8. Figure 4: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) 22 Tongues [digital illustration]. 15
  • 9. 16 was inspired by the aesthetic styles of traditional crafts of the geographic region the language was most spoken in. The construction of a selection of masks was done in collaboration with Amanda Mattes, a recent graduate in MFA Performance Costume. The masks were created using materials and techniques inspired by traditional Indian crafts (figure: 5 and 6). The masks have been used for a poster series that introduce different points of view about the state of India’s linguistic diversity. Five of the masks (Gujarati, Bodo, Bengali, Kannada and Malayalam) were chosen based on geographic location to cover different linguistic regions and a sixth mask represented Sanskrit, the classical language of India that has very limited use in contemporary vernacular but is still listed as an official language because of its cultural significance. Figure 5 & 6: Pushpi Bagchi, (2013) Masks [digital photographs of handcrafted masks]. 17
  • 10. 18 19
  • 11. 21 FORMAT Why a poster? Since the platform for the project was a curated exhibition a method of com- munication that would engage the audience in a short time was required. The poster is one of many organisation tools that aims to shape public opinion, the benefit of it when designed well is fast, impactful communication. According to Poynor (2012), activist posters these days cannot merely be emphatic displays as they risk appearing dogmatic. I would agree with his opinion as the audiences’ aesthetic sensibility today is quite de- veloped and restrained but persuasive images pos- sibly work more effectively (figure: 7). The objec- tive of the poster campaign is to communicate my thesis research using a visual style that is inspired by my cultural roots but bridges craft and contem- porary graphic design. The visual inspiration for the poster designs was lithographic Indian film posters from the 1950s and 1960s (figure: 8). The graphic style of these posters are striking but restrained in terms or overall colour palette and typography. The layout of the posters have a clear hierarchal format (figure: 9) and an interactive element of a quick response code (QR code) for a viewer who would want additional, in depth information on the subject. The intention of graphic messages is to attract attention and encapsulate an issue that will Semester 3 Figure 7: Michael Thompson (2011) Freestylee [online image]. 20
  • 12. 23 inspire an audience (Poynor, 2012). The inclusion of an interactive online element also allows for easy sharing of information which in turn helps publicize the issue. While the QR codes add another dimen- sion to a printed poster, there was a concern that it was not an inclusive element. To access the code, the viewer must have a smart phone or e-reader and a QR code scanner installed in it. The project is intended to be widely accessible and to extend access of the ‘additional information’ to a wider au- dience I edited and redesigned my research to short printed publications that will be available for viewers to read. When any form of art limits itself to certain sections of society it assists in the maintenance of social and economic divisions (Poynor, 2013). Figure 8: Malayalam Film Poster [online image].
  • 13. 2524 “Content makers can expect much more exacting assessment than those who simply supply the packaging”, (Kalman, 1998). While this essay is a reflection of my Masters thesis, the true test of its success will be at the Degree Show. While the response so far from my mentor, tutors and peers has been positive- they are a sympathetic audience who intrinsically appreciate the visual metaphors and aesthetic styling. My thesis project can be considered a work in progress. One possible direction, the most obvious one would be to complete the physical construction of all twenty-two masks and create an exhibition piece that is a complete collection. The masks are also a metaphor that can translate to other languages and other countries, extending the project to a large series that speak of preservation of linguistic diversity and vernacular culture the world over. The other option would be to assess the success or failure of the project based on the response of the viewers at the degree show and reevaluate the step forward. While this project may not have a commercial value, it does succeed in bringing attention to a topic that is of relevance and does so in a manner that is not intrusive but rather aims to make the viewer reflect on their personal opinion. Conclusion Figure 9: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Information Hierarchy [digital image]. Image Lettering Definition Issue
  • 14. 2726 By presenting various points of view, the audience is made to speculate on their stand on the loss of linguistic diversity and what they value in terms of culture and identity. It is not change or technology that threatens the integrity of the enthnosphere but power and domination. There are people who consider ‘ethnicide’ integral to development. Then again do we want to live in a monochromatic world with a homogenous culture or embrace diversity? (Davis, 2007). Do we continue to dwell on the dominance of the English language over local tongues or focus our attention on the preservation and evolution of the vernacular by finding new and innovative ways to communicate and celebrates our rich diverse heritage and make it relevant today and for future generations to come.
  • 15. Listof illustrations Figure 1: Alok, G (Date unknown) Englishes [online image] available from php?/projects/englishes/, Shirin (2012) The Hinglish Project [website] available from http://thehinglishproject. com/. Hand painted type (2012) Painter Kafeel [digital font] available from Figure 2: Bagchi, P (2012) India Contemporary [personal image]. Figure 3: Bagchi, P (2012) Ethnographic Research [personal image]. Figure 4: Bagchi, P (2012) 22 Tongues [personal image]. Figure 5: Bagchi, P (2013) Sanskrit Mask work in progress [personal image]. Figure 6: Bagchi, P (2013) Masks [personal image]. Figure 7: Thompsoni, M (2011) Freestylee [online image] available at feature/why-the-activist-poster-is-here-to-stay/36068/. Figure 8: Malayalam Film Poster [online image] available at malayalam-film-posters.html. Figure 9: Bagchi, P (2013) Information Hierarchy [personal image]. Bhattacharya, U. 2011. Reducing the “Indian” in the New York Times. found in translation, [blog] 2nd March, 2011, Available at: [Accessed: 9th July, 2013]. Bill Cunningham New York 2010. [DVD] New York: Richard Press. Cooper, I., Gillow, J. and Dawson, B. 1996. Arts and crafts of India. New York: Thames and Hudson. Farrelly, L. 1998. Tibor Kalman, design and undesign. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson. Heller, S. and Finamore, M. 1997. Design culture. New York: Allworth Press. Ilyin, N. 2006. Chasing the perfect. New York: Metropolis Books. Joseph, M. (2011) India Faces a Linguistic Truth: English Spoken Here. The New York Times, [online] 16th February. Available at: asia/17iht-letter17.html?_r=1& [Accessed: 16th February, 2013]. Kalman, T. and Kalman, M. 2000. (Un)Fashion. London: Booth Clibborn Ed. Bibliography 2928
  • 16. 3130 Kalman, T., Hall, P. and Bierut, M. 1998. Perverse optimist. London: Booth-Clibborn Ed. Poynor, R. 2013. Inkahoots and Socially Concerned Design: Part 1., [blog] 26th June, 2013. Available at: feature/inkahoots-and-socially-concerned-design-part-1/37948/ [Accessed: 1st July, 2013]. Poynor, R. 2013. Inkahoots and Socially Concerned Design: Part 2., [blog] 2nd July, 2013. Available at: feature/inkahoots-and-socially-concerned-design-part-2/37949/ [Accessed: 2nd July 2013]. Poynor, R. 2012. Why the Activist Poster is Here to Stay. observatory., [blog] 15th September, 2012. Available at: why-the-activist-poster-is-here-to-stay/36068/ [Accessed: 3rd July, 2013]. Ranjan, A. and Ranjan, M. 2007. Handmade in India. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing Satpathy, S. 2012. Let a hundred tongues be heard. The Hindu, [online] 27th September, 2012. Available at: hundred-tongues-be-heard/article3939291.ece [Accessed: 9th July, 2013]. TED Talks (2003) Wade Davis- Dreams from endangered cultures. [video online] Available at: endangered_cultures.html [Accessed: 13th April, 2013].
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