We have been ignoring our design heritage while trying to ape the West

We have been ignoring our design heritage while trying to ape the West

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 9 April, 2016
(L-R)The exhibition, “Scripting the Past for the future” at IGNCA, ran through 31 March to 8 April in Delhi and Dimple Bahl.
Dimple Bahl’s recent exhibition in Delhi was an attempt to highlight the value of Indian indigenous design patterns, which we see reflected in our ancient paintings, religious symbols, architecture and even in our fashion, writes Bhumika Popli.

Janampatri (birth charts), havankund (a utensil made of copper, used for offering prayer), ancient manuscripts, kolam or rangoli (sacred designs which are usually created on the floor during festivals especially in India) are the ancient grids from India. These grid-based patterns have formed an essential part of our lives for centuries. They have accquired a special place in our daily lives and become an integral part of our being.

The exhibition “Scripting the Past for the Future”, organised by graphic designer Dimple Bahl at IGNCA, Delhi, focusses on Indian grid structures with the main emphasis on Jain structures.

Bahl, a professor of graphic design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), says that she’s noticed how only western designs are studied as part of the academic curriculum of this subject.  “After teaching for almost 17 years,” she says, “I found certain gaps in the curriculum of graphic design. We hardly have any examples from Indian grids to teach our students. We always have to depend on foreign examples of grids which Indian students can hardly relate to. I came up with this exhibition so that people could relate to Indian grids and students could take inspiration without being intimidated. I have simplified the information which I have collected for the use of students.”

Bahl doesn’t totally rule out the significance of western designs but she is for the blend of the two. She says, “The aim of the exhibition is to underline the strong link between graphic design and Indian design idiom, and to highlight the possibility of evolving a strong, indigenous graphic language that could speak eloquently with its own vocabulary while adhering to the predominantly western principles incorporated into the syllabus of modern design education.”

“I have been involved in the project since its preliminary stages, and it has been a satisfying and delightful experience to see the exhibition alive today. It is a pity that there is no typified Indian design language as such in the domain of graphic design today.
We hope that this research takes its full course and finds its presence in the academic curricula and reaches the coming batches of students, who are allowed to extract the most from this study.”
 

Bahl stresses on the problem of such a syllabus where western principles totally undermine Indian grid-based design. “The challenge with western education is that it tends to ignore the  aspects which are evident in indigenous Indian grid structures. The Indian cultural heritage and its various manuscripts are good examples that could lend variety and perspective to the current curricula.”

Many design students have attended this interesting exhibition. Anupam Singh, who studies Fashion Communication at NIFT, is delighted to have seen the exhibition. He says, “I have been involved in the project since its preliminary stages, and it has been a satisfying and delightful experience to see the exhibition alive today. It is a pity that there is no typified Indian design language as such in the domain of graphic design. We hope that this research takes its full course and finds its presence in the academic curricula and the coming batches of students can extract the most from this study.”

Be it a Facebook page, the floor plan of your house or the daily newspaper, everything today is influenced by wester-style grids. Bahl says, “We hardly know our own design system. There are endless examples of grids that we know nothing about. The floor plans of temple architecture and the grid used in a saree design are a few such examples.” The exhibition aims to establish a linkage between the traditional Indian designs and graphic designs. The exhibition seeks to fill a lacuna that we see in our own design system.

Taking the viewer through an investigation about the presence and role of grids in the Indian scenario, the exhibition gives various examples of the same. Some of these include the following:

THE SWASTIK

First mentioned in the Vedas, it symbolises Brahma the creator, Surya the sun, and shubhlabh or good luck. It is seen as a power symbol and is also the emblem of Ganesha, the god of good luck.

THE JANAMPATRI

This is the Hindu birth chart that traces the positioning of the planets and their corresponding influence on an individual’s life. Divided into 12 houses, each house accommodates a heavenly body and also corresponds to specific areas of life.

THE VASTUPURUSHA

The Vastupurusha or the Vastupurusamandala is usually referred to the guidelines that the Vastusastras set for the construction of Hindu temples. However, this diagram serves as more of a ritual formula than an actual plan of the temple.

ARCHITECTURE AND HUMAN FORM

The human form itself was used as a reference grid for temple architecture. The analogy of the human body is constantly followed in the structural plan of the temple. Its importance from the holistic viewpoint of design was quite high. These conceptions of establishing a correspondence between different aspects of the structural features of the temple with the figure of man are naturally injected with the further symbolism of linking these aspects of the structural organism to the macrocosm.

 

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