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Ideas of sustainability from India at the London Design Biennale, 2021

Nisha Mathew Ghosh, curator of the India Pavilion at the London Design Biennale, 202 talks of the showcase and the challenges her team faced to set it up

June 10, 2021 06:09 pm | Updated 06:10 pm IST

“We live in an age of hyper resonance… Everything we design and produce resonates. Designers, thinkers, artists and makers have the power to influence … using the mass networks available to them to resonate ideas and practices to help build a more sustainable future…” This is an extract from the curatorial statement of Es Devlin, Artistic Director of the ongoing London Design Biennale (LDB) 2021. The fourth edition of this global design exposition opened on June 1 at Somerset House, London, and brings together entries from 50 countries on design in the age of crisis.

Nisha Mathew Ghosh, curator, India Pavilion at London Design Pavilion 2021

Nisha Mathew Ghosh, curator, India Pavilion at London Design Pavilion 2021

The India Pavilion at the LDB was administered by Bengaluru-based Mathew and Ghosh sustainable Creation Care Foundation under the Curatorship of Architect Nisha Mathew Ghosh who was selected by the London Design Biennale Committee headed by Devlin. “Small Is Beautiful: A Billion Stories” maps and celebrates 150 seminal ideas of sustainability from Indian innovators, communities, architects, landscape architects, material scientists and local governments. These include an ice stupa, a smokeless chulah , a bio-alternative for plastic from coconut water and countless other stories. These are being screened under five categories of Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Earth, Clean Energy and Forest.

Architects Nisha Mathew and Soumitra Ghosh founded Mathew and Ghosh Sustainable Creation Care Foundation in 2017. The two work at Mathew and Ghosh Architects, which has executed several public projects including The National Military Martyrs’ Memorial and Freedom Park in Bengaluru as well as private commissions). Fifteen years ago, Nisha set up two empowerment project-studios called Anah-Anah and Eleatz. The former supports economically disadvantaged men and women by teaching them how to hand-weave stainless steel products for home use. Eleatz was set up to create a prototype to make home linen from new waste textile, thus preventing them from getting into landfills and leaching into water sources.

As the curator of the India Pavilion, Nisha talks of the exhibition, the challenges the team faced and the resonance from the works. Excerpts from an interview:

Art Installation at India Pavilion, London Design Biennale 2021

Art Installation at India Pavilion, London Design Biennale 2021

How did you select the 150 stories on show at the India Pavilion?

Since its inception, the foundation has focused on a search for ideas that address issues between ecology, people, and development with the possibility to create prototypes that can benefit communities. This is an ongoing mapping and we are excited to continue to see more. If we can support and enable innovation in sustainability at a local level, it can have a multiplier effect via collaboration and thus there is a possibility for this ecosystem to get built. Our team worked on research, selection and outreach for a year and a half. There was also a large-scale art installation that could not be shipped due to the pandemic.

Tell us about the absent art installation...

It is a bamboo and fabric structure meant to engage the viewer on its form and purpose. References of the traditional Indian pankha , the idea of flight, clean energy, and a will to choose sustainable ways via a playful reference to the Vitruvian man play on the mind. We submitted two ideas to the committee and this was the one selected. I collaborated on this with designer Sandeep Sangaru (Maker studio), with Soumitro as advisor.

Could you give examples of the stories you have fleshed out?

From the architecture and landscape category there is reclaiming Mumbai seafronts, Manikarnika Ghat of Varanasi, the conservation of the Karez water system of old, enabling resilience in a mangrove coverthe Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, recycling waste as affordable building components; a sustainable tiny footprint mountain cabin in a forest, a memorial for the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and a strategy for landscape using pollination patterns.

What is the Sustainability Ideas Labs project?

It is committed to help build the ecosystem for innovation in sustainability by supporting student innovation, talking about and creating inspirational advocacy via collaborations between disciplines, for ideas that are out of the box and across disciplines but focused on ecological renewal in some way.

How much did the pandemic shape the exhibition?

We live in an interconnected world and there is no doubt that a better and more responsible stewardship of our Earth and its resources, can be the only hope for the future. We are saying that the interconnections between the small and the local hold a vital key for a paradigm change that can be beautiful. This is not to deny the large or the scaleable, but to understand that there is a place for each. Health, jobs and livelihood are an outcome of a sustainable paradigm.

Putting the exhibition together during a pandemic must have been challenging …

The biggest challenge was raising funds, as obviously in this time money had to be used where it was most necessary. We have now set up a crowdfunding fundraiser to close some loans that were taken to make the showcase happen.

The world is talking about a post-pandemic green recovery. How far will design lead the way?

Due to the pedagogy of a well taught design education, a designer must typically have the ability to synthesise as a generalist in order to vision-out. The designer-generalist must work across disciplines and knowledge domains from history to engineering and envisage a poetic and efficient solution.

The London Design Biennale , 2021 runs through June at Somerset House, London.

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