Concepts evolved by designers across India are showcased in ‘Dekho: Conversations on Design in India’

Appearances are deceptive they say. The proverb proved true when one entered the Queen’s Gallery at the British Council recently to take a look at an exhibition titled ‘Dekho: Conversations on Design in India’. The room, full of cardboard boxes placed as triple deckers, at first seemed incongruous. But a close scrutiny unravelled a unique world of design and content conversation — as colour printouts pasted on them.

Though reading through the long design ‘conversations’ with small pictures seemed rather tedious, a book compiling all these with an innovative cover comprising an open eye against the backdrop of florescent orange hue and black alternate lines, was a refreshing option.

So, what is this exhibition all about? It is a first-of-its-kind effort at self-publishing an Indian perspective on the practice and context of designing for and in India. The book picks up 12 people from rural, semi urban and urban India who have made their name with design concepts and products that are unique in nature. It dedicates few pages each to these people and informs the reader about what they do (through conversations), where, how and why, also how successful they are. What makes their design concepts/products special and the responses they have received from their Indian counterparts and end users.

It largely highlights people who have tasted success with their unique approach to design ideas and their use in different fields — from social service to commercial ends. For instance, it showcases Ajmal, Gurpreet Sidhu and Orijit Sen of People’s Tree. It narrates how after passing out of National Institute of Design they started hand painting T-shirts and didn’t stop at the traditional approach to designing on it; how an abandoned pathology lab of Gurpreet’s father was utilised as an initial designing, painting and drying facility; finally the selling point of such innovative T-shirts with anything from a dholak to a Guru Dutt-Wahida Rahman signature picture of the 1960s’ super-hit film Pyasa. It also narrates their reaching out to Raghunath in Kaladera, 50 km from Jaipur, to learn the dying art of block printing.

Working in rural Rajasthan, Lakshmi Murthy who developed a tool of effective communication with the rural audiences by using kaawad — an age-old story-telling device. Through Vikalp, her NGO, she utilised kaawad — a wooden box with multiple doors — to teach women about unspoken health and hygiene issues.

She would first make them draw their stories/issues on paper, understand them and then make use of kaawad to educate them. Vikalp’s design solutions have been used effectively by government health programmes, the book notes.

In the chapter ‘Letters from the East’, Dekho documents Manipur’s Neelaksh Kshetrimayum whose innovative design has helped in saving a dying Manipuri script, Meitei Mayek. Neelaksh learnt the script and made some extremely interesting revelations.

Nominated for U.K.’s Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award, Dekho is the only short listed nomination from India this year. It is written, edited, designed and published by Codesign. The Designs of the Year show has recently opened in the U.K., to be on view till July 7 where Dekho is on display along with nearly 100 other design entries from across the world.

Says Rajesh Dahiya, Founder, Codesign Brand Consultants Pvt Ltd., “To make Indians as well as Europeans aware of what unique work Indian designers (not fashion designers please, he pleads) have achieved, such a documentation was necessary.”

Though selected for its meaningful content, the book troubles the eye for its minute font sizes, too much dabbling with colourful writing and compromises in picture quality.

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