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Confluence Sohini Mukherjee MFA 2021 Boston University Graphic Design



We are the sum total of our experiences B.J. Neblett



Content

02–03

Abstract

06–25

Thesis Essay Part 01 Thinking about then~ 30–39

Ombor 42–57

Questa Indie

58–63

Krishna Sattā


68–83

Culture of Ornaments

88­–97

Conversation Part 02 Thinking about now~ 102–103

Time flies emotions remain 104–105

Everyday 106–115

Liminality


120­–133

The Anxiety Flexagon

134–135

Distance can be so disorienting

136–137

An Alternate Universe

140­–157

Snap Type 158–163

Was it a rat I saw

164–175

Found type


176­–197

The Art Row

198–215

The Printer is Broken

Part 03 Interviews ~ 218–227

Somnath Bhatt

228–245

Vaishnavi Mahendran

246–259

Ishan Khosla


262–263

Acknowledgement

265

Colophon


Abstract

Design has the power to transcend cultural barriers, challenge the norms and encourage engagement.

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This body of work explores cultural identity & displacement amid a global pandemic, the experiences, good or bad, that come with it. Anchored by traditions and culture in a modern global world, this body of work aims to look for alternatives to traditional design tools, create experimental & interactive work, and try to design through those constraints. It strives to express and explore. Express through an almost journalistic authenticity, documenting the nuances of experiences attached to presence & evolution, exploring the right way to communicate it to make it more perceivable at large. Authenticity & accessibility go hand in hand; we tend to be our most creative selves with the things we take for granted. Design should not be put on an unapproachable pedestal. Breaking the fourth wall opens up a more significant cultural exchange & hopefully builds a platform in the future for the much-needed conversation about self-awareness & societal consciousness. Abstract

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Something– put forth


Introduction The following is my atristic statement (edited slightly) that I submited for my application to Boston University Masters programme. Looking back, I thought it would be interesting to include this and see how it relates to my thesis and overall philosophy, working methodology. 01/17/2019 I have been raised in a middle-class nuclear Indian family. My parents were busy tackling adult life's usual humdrum, and my ambiverted nature dissuaded me from socializing. To curb the loneliness, I sought recluse in a world of imaginary characters and hidden patterns in mundane things. I believe those were my initial subconscious steps towards design. My work is an overarching exploration of my own Identity. Understanding myself and my place in the world is essential to me, and I explore these ideas by projecting myself into my work. What started as a pure means of escape slowly transformed into a quest to deciphering the various complications in my personality. Growing up, I had always felt out of place in a sea of sane and logical people; I felt that my thought process was bizarre compared to most, alienating me from the rest of the world. An oddball with a height of 4'11", I thought I wasn't designed to fit in. I came to uncover more sides to my personality in due time and slowly opened up to accept the ingredients of my construction. As I opened up to the world, and it greeted me back with open arms. I realized how much of a difference it makes to love yourself to make others love, respect, and accept you. My work has also evolved with the ebbs and flow of my growth and acceptance towards myself. It became a way of documenting my journey thus far. I am a person who strives for change because comfort never evolved me. One could rephrase this as I find comfort in challenges, taking risks, pushing myself, gathering new experiences. Being comfortable with a certain kind of life makes me anxious about not trying hard enough to grow. I like to be adventurous with my style and process to test my limits. I have inexplicable gravitation towards accuracy with which I have a love-hate relationship, not unlike many other designers or artists. Owing to my humble roots, I never had an overwhelming inclination to luxury and was very much aware of the value of money. I have always Confluence

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been a sensitive and empathetic person, and growing up in a country like India with many issues at large around me has always made me angry and frustrated. As I come from a family of limited influenciality, these issues were beyond my help at a young age. Being an adult professional, I feel it is my duty to address these issues and make conscious efforts to create change, however small or big. With experience, I have observed that more than creating lucrative work, I obtain true satisfaction with my work if it is about helping a cause that I believe in or seeing that my effort is impacting another's quality of life. As an Ambivert, my focus has never been to run after popularity or seek attention. However, I like to express myself very openly. Similarly, my work does not strive to make a statement but create an impact. I want to explore the uncharted territories of the human psyche and emotions. My work is redolent of familiar feelings that evoke a specific thought process, breaking barriers, melting the ice, creating conversations, constructing a safe space to think past judgment about the worldly ideas of perfection. To tease one's imaginations with questions like "What if?" and "Why not?". Sometimes my work represents studies with the theme of finding beauty in mundanity that deems appealing to me. I love to work on such subjects with hands-on mediums to convey the texture of vulnerability and the organic transience of life. As a creative, I am open to criticism, different perspectives, and feedback. I started with little to no exposure to the design world. However, with experience, I was intrigued by how a few things that might be of utmost importance to me might be something that another person from a different culture or context will not even consider. With my work experience and having worked with a varied range of customers, I have observed the stark differences in the idea of taste and what is considered to be "Good design." Thesis Essay

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It made me humble about what I might be regarded as decent work might be looked down upon by someone else who is conditioned to think differently. It makes me happy to live in a world with so many different takes on life and priorities, and I wish to explore this relativity of contexts to evolve my work further. My Interest in Boston University School of Visual Arts came with the sense of openness associated with the institute. The collaborative and explorative atmosphere of Boston University with a varied range of departments, culturally diverse talented students, and an excellent line of faculties makes me believe that the experience of an MFA at such an institution will be the experience of a lifetime and a life-changing one at that. I also love that the students are allowed to work with different mediums and choose electives that best define their directions. It will stay true to my self-exploratory theme of work while giving me the supporting academic knowledge necessary to support my dreams of becoming a designer worth looking out for.

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My work has evolved with the ebbs and flow of my growth and acceptance towards myself. It became a way of documenting my journey thus far.

Thesis Essay

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Express + Explore

Sandesh Children Magazine covers by Sukumar Ray and Upendrakishore Raychaudhury

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Part 01— Express I am going to begin with a short excerpt from an article to help explain the context-“Over the years, Calcutta acquired many names: City of Palaces, Black Hole, Grave-yard of the British Empire. In 2001, it was christened Kolkata— slower, rounder, ostensibly more Bengali-sounding.To me, it has always been the city of green shutters. They are a singular fixture of old Calcutta houses. They glow in the steamy heat of the afternoon. Trees sometimes sprout from moldy ledges. Calcutta today is as parochial as it is modern. It lives in the past as much as it lets its past decay. India’s first global city, it is littered with the remains of many worlds: the rickshaws that the Chinese brought; an Armenian cemetery; dollops of jazz left by Americans in the war years.. Calcutta from the start has confronted some of the most acute debates of modernity. Over three centuries, the folly and ingenuity of global capitalism have left their mark on my city, and then, too, so have the Communists, who have been elected to power for an uninterrupted 31 years. Now New India pokes its finger into Calcutta’s languid belly. The old houses are making way for tall glass and steel, their Calcutta Deco details tossed away like fish-heads. The hammer and sickle remains the refrain of Calcutta graffiti, interrupted now by posters for English classes, the hammer and sickle, you might say, of Indian aspiration today. ‘Great cities get old and somehow renew themselves’, said Mani Sankar Mukherji, whose remarkable 1962 novel, Chowringhee, chronicled life inside a roaring mid century Calcutta hotel. Calcutta, he confessed, cannot be called a great city.” [1] My birthplace Kolkata has always been doused with the junk of inheritance. It tries hard to fit into the contemporary narrative with the rest of the world, but what becomes of it, as a result, is a chimera of the old and new. It is common for people living in this city to not know where they stand. Some people dress traditionally but have liberal ideas. Some people look, talk, and appear like a product of western ideologies but are very much conservative at heart. And then Thesis Essay

Sat Isabgol Packaging

Children book cover by K.G. Subramanyan

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there are people like me who love this confluence. I love that Kolkata cannot be defined in a box; I love the coexistence of old, new, the mix of cultures, pizza, and phucka, planes, and hand-drawn rickshaws. Kolkata is plural, existing at different times simultaneously; the people from there also often tend to do so. My city defined my dislike to be boxed into one definition, one identity, one way of being as a creator. I like the dichotomy of existing in the old and new; I want my past and present experiences to evolve me organically. I think this summation is beautiful, sometimes flawed, but inevitably human. No one I was related to in my hometown knew what graphic design meant or existed, yet we interacted with it every day—the ripped-off movie posters on the walls of the streets, the hand-drawn political campaign murals. Sandesh magazine covers from my maternal grandmother’s collection, which was a a Bengali children magazine started by Upendrakishore Raychaudhury, they were designed by him and his son Sukumar Ray and this magazine was eventually passed on to his grandson Satyajit Ray. Children’s book covers by K.G. Subramanyan were also an all-time favorite. Movie posters by Satyajit Ray and his films inspired me. Being Bengali meant, our parents proudly expose us to his masterpieces early on in life. I was also attracted to some random packaging that used to be lying around the house. My favorite packagings were from a soap brand called Mysore sandal soap and a laxative company called “Sat Isabgul”! My mother’s family used to stay in Agartala, Tripura. We used to travel there by plane, and the few minutes up in the air used to make me highly ecstatic and curious. I used to re-read the flight evacuation manual every time and remember approving the Indian Airlines logo with know-it-all nods because I could spot the I and A. Years later, I learned that this logo took form at the renowned NID (National Institute of Design), the first design school in India introduced by Charles and Ray Eames. [2] I also had this strange hobby of collecting objects to designate a memory. I remember having a collection of nearly perfect spherical pebbles, which I searched for high and low. I had one which I collected from an amusement park which was almost spherical but slightly elliptical. I had brandished this accomplishment in my school, and the kids got scared and called it “Ghost!”, “God!” and “Magical stone!”. I remember being so proud of it. It used to sit on a cushion that I fashioned for it with a bit of this and that. I waited for

Confluence

Satyajit Ray, Devi, Poster, 1960. Image Courtesy of Ray Estate and Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives.

Satyajit Ray, Cover designs for Ekhan, a literary journal edited by Soumitra Chatterjee. Image Courtesy of Ray Estate and Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives.

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Satyajit Ray, Cover designs for Ekhan, a literary journal edited by Soumitra Chatterjee. Image Courtesy of Ray Estate and Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives.

Satyajit Ray, Cover designs for Ekhan, a literary journal edited by Soumitra Chatterjee. Image Courtesy of Ray Estate and Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives.

Thesis Essay

the day when it would grant me magical powers, but alas, that never happened. Similarly, I liked to collect fake gemstones and pearls that peddlers used to sell on the beachside in the seaside town Puri in Orissa. My family loved visiting that place just as much as I hated it, and hence I spent all my energy and attention looking for fallen-out gems in the sand. I did find a few! My parents bought the rest of my collection out of pity for me (they were cheap because they were fake). Likewise, I collected crazy bouncing balls; I was always on the lookout to spot size, color, or pattern that was rarely found anywhere else. My favorite were the ones that were clear with sparkling confetti inside. The craziness continued. I collected pens, tazos, trading cards, comic books, different kinds of figurines of small animals, jewelry, pins, magnets, etc. Eventually, this habit came into my work, and I started basing my work on personal experiences to collect those as memories and document my life and growth as a designer. Apart from all this, I also remember forming a powerful attraction to the handicrafts of Bengal. Leather crafts, block prints, Kantha embroidery, Dokra (metal craft), Pattachitra, and there were so many more! I was always very interested to see what innovative products they made out of these crafts and collected those that I could afford. I loved the idiosyncratic imperfections of the hand attached to the handicraft. These imperfections were a certificate of authenticity in the cusp of a digital age, which was very dear to me. Years later, this love for materiality and authenticity drove me to fall in love with textile design. My love and respect for ornamentation grew as I studied the different handloom weaves and textile crafts. I started appreciating local traditions, culture, and history more deeply. I started respecting the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi which celebrates the imperfect, transient and incomplete. It made sense to me because even though I strived for accuracy in my work, I never had a fascination for perfection. I also loved the product-ness, materiality of textile, and always looking for new ways to evolve the interaction between my audience and my work. Weaving gives me life because it feels like giving birth; the act of creating a brainchild out of raw materials that you can touch and feel and interact with was so magical to me. However, I wanted to learn more to increase the breadth of interactivity in my work over the years and hence decided I wanted to study graphic design. I always thought

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Indian Airlines brand manual

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Thesis Essay

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visual design was a powerful connection between materiality and perception. My love for motif making got translated into Typeface design, passion for pattern making became love for typography. The love for building a product became the physical/ perceivable form of my work. I was the first amongst my parents to travel outside India. Being a single child was hard for us to deal with, but unfortunately, the unforeseeable global pandemic prevented me from going back home. One and a half years is the most extended period I have been away from home. It feels very disorienting. Having spent a significant amount of time in Boston inevitably meant that I would imbibe some of its culture, visual frequency, and Western taste and ideologies. When I celebrated my culture, I did not intend to exoticize it; when I practiced swiss typography, I did not intend to abandon my roots. It made me feel guilty and gave me an existential crisis. It was difficult for me to accept a divorce from my precious familiarity, my city. However, I fathomed soon enough that my city is woven into my identity; it might be dormant but very much alive.

Glass of Beaujolais, 1994 by Alan fletcher

Part 02— Confluence This thesis is a body of work that celebrates this coexistence, this marriage of native culture, and imbibed culture with the lens of uninhabited, authentic self-expression and documentation of my memories and experiences through design. It explores celebrations, memories, funny incidents, accidents, collections, conversations, reflections, mindfulness and mind space, and finding inspiration in the mundane. According to November Studio[3] , Plurality accepts and respects the possibility of a multitude of experiences, opinions, and ways of life. In that sense, this body of work displays a complete acceptance of the plural narrative. In the article/ interview they mention that Pluralism is a practice that isn’t constrained by a field, style, medium etc. A practice that looks at all opportunities and projects as an excuse to experiment and explore through the widest possible angles. A pluralistic practice is not the same as being multi-talented or multi-disciplinary. It is also about multiple identities, realities and approaches.

Confluence

Poster for lecture, 'Things I had no words for', 2017 by Benedetta Crippa

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Part 03— Explore

Enshrine – The elements as freedom fighters: Freedom is composed of inseparable connective elements by Somnath Bhatt 2021

Bound togetherworkshop by Elaine Lopez

‘Confluence’ explores the very essence of a system like my design idol Alan Fletcher [4] used to do. It explores the meaning of authenticity in a digital age, or recontextualizing traditions in the current zeitgeist like what Benedetta Crippa[5] and Ishan Khosla [6] practices through their work. It explores the possibilities of personalizing tools, sometimes to use their glitches and errors to quench the need for imperfection like what designer and artist Somnath Bhatt[7] involves in his process. It explores various forms of making and interactivity, engaging the user and creating an intimate, personal experience like Georgia Lupi[8] practices through her expressive data visualizations. Tools and forms of making often determine the outcomes and the feelings they evoke. How can we repurpose that? Karel Martens[9] and Kelli Anderson[10] are popularly known to toy with those ideas. And last but not least, finding ways to engage the audience into the act of designing through finding tools that can easily be accessible for them to participate in. This communication opens up a larger cultural dialogue that is missing in the current design narrative similar to Elaine Lopez’s [11] design practice. This body of work might sound very ambitious, but whether successful or not, it is a manifesto of the work that can most hopefully be expected from me in the future. I would always like to keep unlearning, accepting, and fusing what I know and keep evolving.

END NOTES: [1] https://www.nytimes. com/2009/05/03/travel/03calcutta. html [2] https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/inthe-1960s-the-national-institute-ofdesign-trained-indias-first-designeducators/ [3] https://walkerart.org/magazine/ pluralism-indian-design-november-shiva-nallaperumal-juhi-vishnani [4] https://www.alanfletcherarchive. com/biography [5] https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/ what-is-visual-sustainability-and-

Thesis Essay

how-can-designers-challenge-power-through-form/ [6] Refer to interview at the end [7] Refer to interview at the end [8] https://medium.com/@giorgialupi/bruises-the-data-we-dont-see1fdec00d0036 [9] https://www.maharam.com/products/dutch-clouds/colors/001 [10] https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=3erffO75QCs&t=2s&ab_ channel=Typographics [11] https://makingcommonexhibit. com/Bound-Together

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About Sandesh Magazine http://aakarpatna. blogspot.com/2016/01/ sandesh-and-satyajit-ray-some-beautiful. html About Satyajit Ray's Graphic Design work https://www.artsillustrated.in/art-heritage/ drawing-new-meaning/


Synopsis –working methodology

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Golden Circle- by Simon Sinek Start with Why Sinek explains that 'Why' is probably the most important message that an organization or individual can communicate as this is what inspires others to action. 'Start With Why' is how you explain your purpose and the reason you exist and behave as you do. Sinek's theory is that successfully communicating the passion behind the 'Why' is a way to communicate with the listener's limbic brain. This is the part of our anatomy that processes feelings such as trust and loyalty - as well as decision-making. Successfully articulating your 'Why' is a very impactful way to communicate with other humans, define your particular value proposition and inspire them to act. Sinek's theory is that communicating 'Why' taps into the part of the listener's brain that influences behavior. This is why the Golden Circle model is considered such an influential theory of leadership. At an organizational level, communicating your 'Why' is the basis of a strong value proposition that will differentiate your brand from others. He gives the example of Apple in the video clip at the end of this article. How? The organization's 'How' factors might include their strengths or values that they feel differentiate themselves from the competition. Sinek's view is that 'How' messaging is also able to communicate with the limbic brain - the important part that governs behaviour and emotion. But his opinion is that organizations would do better to improve how they articulate their 'Why', in addition to 'How'. What? It's fairly easy for any leader or organization to articulate 'What' they do. This can be expressed as the products a company sells or the services it offers. For an individual, it would be their job title. Sinek argues that 'What' messaging only engages with the neocortex - the part of our brain that's rational. His argument is that this part of the brain is less of a driver of decision making than the limbic brain: the part that 'Why' and 'How' reaches better. Successful people and organizations express why they do what they do rather than focusing on what they do. [1] The diagram on the left explains the golden circle as a synopsis of my working philosophy and methodology behind my thesis work. Some of this is what I could like to explore more in depth in future. The following pages explain the criterias in more depth. END NOTES: [1] https://www.smartinsights.com/ digital-marketing-strategy/online-value-proposition/start-withwhy-creating-a-value-propositionwith-the-golden-circle-model/

Thesis Essay

Original TED-talk by Simon Sinekhttps://www.ted.com/talks/simon_ sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_ action?language=en#t-13091

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Then

Talking about the influence of —Cultural identity —The co-existence of old and new —Textile background —Respect for history & culture —Philosophy of Wabi- Sabi —Social responsibility

Now

—Adopted/ Imbibed culture —Cultural Displacement —Experiences —Being away from family —Pandemic —Mindfulness and Mental health

Confluence

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What?

Then

+

Now

Cultural Identity

Displacement

Thesis Essay

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Express

—Understanding myself —My place in the world

Explore

Pluralism Plurality accepts and respects the possibility of a multitude of experiences, opinions, and ways of life. In that sense, this body of work displays a complete acceptance of the plural narrative. Pluralism is a practice that isn’t constrained by a field, style, medium etc. A practice that looks at all opportunities and projects as an excuse to experiment and explore through the widest possible angles. A pluralistic practice is not the same as being multi-talented or multi-disciplinary. It is also about multiple identities, realities and approaches. – November studio Confluence

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How?

Express

+

Explore

Understanding myself & my place in the world

Thesis Essay

Pluralism

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Authenticity

—Journalistic approach to work– Journey to self-discovery and awareness of self and society. —Unbridled self–expression

Exchange

—Using tools and forms that are accessible to everyone. —Creating a safe space for engagement. —Encouraging participation to open up a cultural conversation

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Why?

Authenticity

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Exchange

Being uninhabited & real

Thesis Essay

Creating a safe space for engagement & conversation

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then

Thinking about–


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Thinking about– then

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Type design-web font building platform -fontstruct

Ombor

Ombor is a Bangla/ Bengali modular typeface built through the free font building website called fontstuct. It is an experimental typeface that explores whether one can create script typefaces modularly like latin typefaces. The inspiration comes from remembering the beginning of Autumn when the monsoon clouds depart to mark the Festive season's advent in Kolkata- Durga Puja. White fluffy clouds float across a stark azure sky; the sparkling sunlight brings in a feeling of excitement and anticipation of the festivities and joys of the following days.

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Ombor

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Vowels and matras

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Consonents and numbers

Ombor

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Conjuct letters

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Ombor

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Ombor

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Ombor

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When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?_ Confluence

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Thinking about– then

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modified exisiting type family-Questa, Fontstand

Questa Indie

I always stopped to observe the rippedoff posters on the walls of the streets of Kolkata. I liked to notice how the ripping off revealed the juxtaposed old posters below it, creating delightful compositions by accident. I knew I was a visual person, and maybe one day do something about it when I stopped to examine them for lengthy periods. I liked to observe the typefaces used on the movie posters pasted on the wall, and often they were pretty ugly; they got better over the years. There was something authentic about the rugged, rustic imperfection of the walls of the streets, and it inspired me to try making the typography by hand. Years later, Questa Indie was born a modified version of the typeface Questa, a print display typeface inspired by the idiosyncracies of the alphabets from the Bangla/ Bengali language. It is built to be used in movie display posters and promotional campaigns or brand identity logos.

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typeface design

Questa Indie

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Sohini Mukherjee 2019

Questa Indie

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Confluence

Original

Edited

Original

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Krishna Satta

Original

Edited

Original

Questa Indie

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12 shaft loom weaving

Krishna Sattā

My oldest memories of hot Kolkata afternoons were of my late grandmother telling me stories of Indian Mythology and Lord Krishna, his antics, heroism, and Radha’s love for him. This project was an ode to that memory, exploring handloom weaves in a 12 shaft loom with the theme of Indian Mythology. The project aims to bring out different Hindu God entities that come together to form his divine image as written in Mythological Texts. Confluence

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Krishna Sattā

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Mukuta — His Crown

Bansuri — His Flute

Mor Pankh — The Peacock Feather

Confluence

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Abharan — His Adornments

Rasleela—The divine love between Radha & Krishna

Bramhanda — The Universe inside his mouth

Krishna Sattā

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Confluence

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Krishna Sattā

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Thinking about– then

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Ornaments are tiny pockets of home that you carry with you_ Confluence

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Thinking about– then

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Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator

Culture of Ornaments

For this collaborative project, my partner Yuanwei Xu (Ellie) and I chose to exhibit two raw collections that were an intimate part of our lives. Divided by cultures yet unified by our love for adornment, we both possessed specific clothing ornaments which were deeply attached to our identities. Ellie’s style was driven by imagery and aesthetics of Japanese pop culture and I, given by my love for handicraft, had a distinct fascination with tribal and handmade jewelry. Print We chose to demonstrate the differences in our earring collections by enhancing them through the vehicle of illustration. Mughal miniature paintings inspired my self-portrait. Confluence

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Culture of Ornaments

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SILVER, BOUGHT FROM PURI, ORISSA, 15 YEARS AGO, GO-TO PAIR

OXIDISED SILVER, BOUGHT FROM PURI, ORISSA, 11 YEARS AGO, GIFT FROM PARENTS

DHOKRA EARRING, BRASS, FROM A TRIP TO BOLPUR WITH A FRIEND, 2.5 YEARS AGO

YARN, TEXTILE BEADS,HANDMADE, BANGALORE, GIFT FROM FRIEND, 7 YEARS AGO

METAL AFGHANI, BOUGHT FROM A SHOPPING MALL IN KOLKATA, 2 YEAR AGO

METAL, BEADS; GIFTED BY A CHILDHOOD FRIEND, 15 YEARS AGO

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SILVER, MEENAKARI (ENAMEL WORK), BOUGHT FROM PURI, ORISSA, 2.5 YEARS AGO

JHUMKA WITH MIRROR WORK, BRASS, BOUGHT FROM KOLKATA, 5 YEARS AGO

AFGHANI- METAL, MEENAKARI (ENAMEL WORK), INSTAGRAM PURCHASE, 4 YEARS AGO

AFGHANI- METAL, COLOURED GLASS, BOUGHT FROM INDIA STORY, KOLKATA, 4 YEARS AGO

KUNDAN EARRING, FOR WEDDINGS, BOUGHT 2 YEARS AGO FROM KOLKATA, WORN AT COLLEAGUE’S WEDDING

KUNDAN EAR CUFFS, BOUGHT FROM BANGALORE BEFORE CONVOCATION, 4 YEARS AGO, WORN DURING UNDERGRADUATE CONVOCATION.

Culture of Ornaments

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Sohini

Ellie

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Culture of Ornaments

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Sohini

Ellie

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Culture of Ornaments

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Sohini

Ellie

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Culture of Ornaments

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Sohini

Ellie

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Culture of Ornaments

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stopmotion studio

Sohini

Ellie

Video–stop motion The video component is a stop motion of the fabrics/ clothes we own, making them move like water to highlight their tactile quality. The video is divided into two parts first part representing my collection and Indian roots, the second part highlights Ellie’s Chinese heritage. Confluence

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Culture of Ornaments

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Culture of Ornaments

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Culture of Ornaments

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We tend to crave the human touch so much_ Confluence

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Thinking about– then

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google doc, Adobe Indesign

Conversation – Exchange

Conversation-exchange is documentation of a candid conversation between my classmate Claire Bula and me. We spoke about our lives, struggles, philosophies and dug deep into what makes us different as individuals but yet so similar as humans. It was interesting to see how we had a similar mindset about so many things even though we hail from entirely different cultures, the co-existence of vulnerability and strength that comes with a shared sense of self-awareness. We created a safe space to speak with complete authenticity, devoid of judgment.

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Conversation

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Original Format

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now

Thinking about–


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Emotions pile up and become part of this big ocean of truth over time. The more I get older, the more I understand the value of cleaning out the closet upstairs to make room for more experiences. It is essential to talk it out to let those piled-up emotions go. Time accumulates, but time also has the magical power to heal.

Artivive online AR tool, procreate app, motion created in designer Kiel D. Mutschelknaus’s space type generator

Time flies emotions remain

Download Artivive app from Apple store or google play store to scan and view the augmented reality. Please wait for a short while to let the image scan.

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Time flies, emotions remain

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The concept of this project was inspired by three excerpts taken from the book ‘Einstein’s dream’ by Alan Lightman describing the delicate relationship between space, time, and existence. Away from home and constantly questioning my identity and reality, these three connections were more personal. They are thoughts that have crossed my path during many such episodes of self-introspection. No traveler goes back to his city of origin. I chose this as the name of the project (which is also a quote from the book) because I feel great that once you move away from your city of origin and go back to visit, nothing remains the same. You change as a person after having traveled and gathered wisdom and experiences. The people back in your city also change because they have gone through similar changes but in very different contexts. The images utilize augmented reality. Please download the Artivive app to get the complete #AR experience. The result was an Instagram page with our collective work as a class, put together by our faculty Mr. James Grady. Confluence

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Download Artivive app from Apple store or google play store to scan and view the augmented reality. Please wait for a short while to let the image scan.

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Just beyond a mountain, just beyond a river lies a different life. Yet these lives do not speak to each other. These lives do not share. These lives do not nurture each other. The abundances caused by isolation are stifled by the same isolation. Liminality

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Download Artivive app from Apple store or google play store to scan and view the augmented reality. Please wait for a short while to let the image scan.

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In the time for a leaf to fall in one place, a flower could bloom in another. In the duration of a thunderclap in one place, two people could fall in love in another. In the time that a boy grows into a man, a drop of rain might slide down a windowpane. Liminality

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Download Artivive app from Apple store or google play store to scan and view the augmented reality. Please wait for a short while to let the image scan.

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Time flutters and fidgets and hops with these birds. The catchers delight in the moment so frozen but soon discover that the nightingale expires, it’s clear, flutelike song diminishes to silence, the trapped moment grows withered and without life. Liminality

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The anxiety flexagon is an attempt to formulate an abstract concept like anxiety. Since my childhood, having suffered from anxiety and the flexagon is a reflection of what anxiety feels like given by my personal experience. The triggers tend to repeat infinitely, closing up on me from all sides. Formatively of the structure of a flexagon accomplished to mimic that experience as it loops indefinitely, closing up on the center. The triggers shown here are: — The unbendable structures laid by any societal construct, — Responsibilities and how they have a tendency to keep piling up, — Bad Luck, — and Imposter Syndrome. The easiest way to explain this would be to feel like a comic sans in a room full of Didots. The final result is not only a representative of anxiety; it is also a therapeutic tool, a momentary antidote, as it acts as a fidget toy for overwhelming times. It incorporating the user into a personal and vulnerable experience with the goal of becoming more self aware. Confluence

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What makes you anxious?_

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Google Docs

Distance can be so disorienting Being oceans apart from home and my country amid a global pandemic has been hard to deal with. India, my country, is one of the worst-hit nations globally, and the arrival of the second wave at this time of poor governmental organization and poor infrastructure is the worst thing that could happen at the moment. The possible consequences made me anxious every day as I cannot stand beside my parents and friends in this time of need. It is disorienting to have your own set of problems to deal with every day and then realize how small your problems are compared to the bigger picture. My Grandmother passed away last year, and each day, I hear so much news of others who have lost their loved ones to COVID. This typography exploration was made in google docs to document this feeling of disorientation, distortion, and lack of predictability in our lives right now as immigrant students. Google docs was chosen because it was a fuss-free medium and hence the presence of lesser decision-making made it a quick mindful exercise.

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An Alternate Universe

Sometimes, escapism is the best policy

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How does your current confines inspire you?_ Confluence

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Type design- paper cuting and refinement in Glyphs mini

Snap Type

Snap type is an experimental typeface design inspired by the unique shapes of a friend’s broken glasses. Its stencil nature makes it great for spray painting signages, event posters, or masking images behind. It is a fun display font that is primarily small letters and can be used in various contexts. The project aimed at contrasting something via deconstructing construction paper, which made me want to construct an alphabet inspired by the shape of a deconstructed object! The typeface can be used in the brand identity of music festivals, concerts, and other lively events. Confluence

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Inspiration

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There was a rampant rodent situation at the studio at the time of this project which the authorities were trying to take care of. The rodents had created quite a buzz amongst some of us who used to work till late. Now and then, shrieks of fear used to fill up the silent studio owing to unwelcome chance interactions with the rats. I noticed one of my studio-mates started a dead mouse counter on one of the metallic whiteboards located at our studio to record the discovery of an expired specimen which I found pretty amusing. Since the board was metallic, I decided to work with magnets, ferrous powder, and vinyl. I had performed a science experiment back in school to figure out how the ferrous powder reacts to magnetic poles and chose to replicate it because the spikelike effect of the magnetic peaks imitated the textures of a rat’s fur. Under torchlight, it created exciting shadows replicating the feel of a horror movie. I chose to work with a wood type that had an organic, eerie quality to it. The palindrome ‘was that a rat I saw?’ worked to my advantage as I could play with the arrangement of letters and their readability to illustrate the mental state of a person who just experienced a jump scare. The installation was temporary and taken down after presentation as ferrous powder can be a potential health hazard just like rodents are. Confluence

Vinyl, magnets and iron fillings

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Found type

Found type project documents shapes of alphabets found in mundane objects, architectural structures in and around my dorm in Fenway, Boston, and near my school in Commonwealth Avenue. These images were taken pre-pandemic when the address 150 Riverway used to be my Dorm’s Mailroom. Hence, a lot of these pictures were taken in and around it. However, post-pandemic, the building was converted into a Quarantine center which has no access to anymore. It is fascinating to me how time changes the value, access, and utility of a space. Confluence

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The Art Row Commonwealth Avenue Cultural Hub

The Art Row is a visual identity design project for the cultural district at commonwealth avenue inspired by the architecture and rich cultural history of the area as the former Automobile Row of Boston. Confluence

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The late 20th and early 21st century marked a revolution in graphic design, as rapid advances in technology transformed the field’s practice. This digital evolution offered new tools to graphic designers, along with access to online and virtual spaces, new arenas that take design far beyond its print-based roots. In this exhibition, 17 designers from seven countries present a body of work that—while showcasing their original voices and personalized approaches to graphic design—also collectively reflects on the effects and influence that technology exerts on the discipline. With an unreliable tool as a framing metaphor, the exhibition’s works grapple with the uncertainty, anxiety, and opportunity of the current moment while also showcasing form-based and conceptual inquiries into how graphic design can Confluence

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exhibition design

The Printer is Broken – Thesis Exhibition

articulate, challenge, motivate, provoke, illuminate, comfort, and question. The Printer is Broken focuses a lens on the versatility of the tools, methods, and platforms of graphic design, centering the erratic nature of equipment as a potentially crucial factor to consider in the design process. Relationships with technology and tools underpin contemporary graphic design. By exploring when these relationships become problematic, the exhibition highlights the possibilities of disruption along with the beauty of unexpected errors, serendipitous discoveries, and innovative thinking when circumstances suddenly change. The same tools that enable and empower the designer have inherent limitations. Resilient and creative responses to these limitations can be rooted in personal experience and deeply held beliefs while also drawing on accumulated skills and knowledge. There may be no singular correct response in the face of a breakdown or malfunction, but rather various strategies and in-the-moment assessment, often leading to critical inquiry and further investigation. The misprints and projections of The Printer is Broken symbolize the intrinsic unpredictability of dynamic design processes. The works on display expose how the eccentricity of tools used to produce graphic design ultimately shapes form and impacts meaning.


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views

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Somnath Bhatt

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Somnath Bhatt is a Designer and Artist, who was born and raised in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. He graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2017 post which he associated with the Walker Art Center. Seeking the new in the old, and the old in the new is his favorite form of making. He advocates for the peer-to-peer model of designing and explains how decolonisation of the field cannot be taken lightly. He has worked with Nicolás Jaar, Hyein Seo, New Yorker, New York Times, The Atlantic, The Creative Independent, Border&Fall, Reebok, BOMB Magazine, Walker Art Center, AI Now Institute, SE SO NEON etc... In the past his work was shown at ICA, London, Art Week Dubai, Mécènes du Sud Montpellier-Sète, Acud Macht Neu, Berlin, Wrong Biennale Oslo, The Picture Room, NYC, Yale Odd & Ends Book Fair, and New York Art Book Fair, MoMA PS1, Brooklyn Art Book Fair, NYC. He has presented/spoken about his work/led workshops at California College of the Arts, Rutgers University, MacAlester College, UPenn, Interview- Somnath Bhatt

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Fig 1 Artwork for Misery, a song made in collaboration with Julian Tran. Somnath Bhatt 2021

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Babycastles, Guggenheim museum, The Packet in Colombo and Oakland University. SM SB

Could you tell me a little bit about your background? How did you get to where you are today? Have you always been creative?

My family tells me that I would draw all day long on any surface I could lay my hands on. My grandmother’s bedroom wall is still covered with my earliest drawings; as I got taller, the drawings of animals and figures crept further up the wall and became increasingly elaborate. Growing up in Ahmedabad was to live in a city constantly in the making and breaking. I was proximate to makers, objects, and stories that formed an exciting and messy hybrid of daily use, fantasy, craft traditions, rituals, and free market capitalism. The city had its own excellent museums, like the Calico Museum and Sarabhai Foundation, but the streets were their own sort of exhibition space. Thousands of nameless vendors at phool bazaar and the ravivari market created and articulated a complex visual grammar to arrange and display flowers, fruits, electronics, textiles. Until college, I had little formal training in art. I would mostly make experimental videos. I studied Graphic Design because it felt like the most versatile of all the disciplines, and design education taught me visual thinking, methodology, and systematization that were broad enough to apply to many forms. But as useful as design education was, I also often found it boring and cruel.

To those who haven’t seen your work before, how would you describe it? My family tells me that I would draw all day long on any surface I could lay my hands on. My grandmother’s bedroom wall is still covered with my earliest drawings; as I got taller, the drawings of animals and figures crept further up the wall and became increasingly elaborate. Growing up in Ahmedabad was to live in a city constantly in the making and breaking. I was proximate to makers, objects, and stories that formed an exciting and messy hybrid of daily use, fantasy, craft traditions, rituals, and free market capitalism. The city had its own excellent museums, like the Calico Museum and Sarabhai Foundation, but the streets were their own sort of exhibition space. Thousands of nameless vendors at phool bazaar and the ravivari market created and articulated a complex visual grammar to arrange and display flowers, fruits, electronics, textiles. Until college, I had little formal training in art. I would mostly make experimental videos. I studied Graphic Design because it felt like the most versatile of all the disciplines, and design education taught me visual thinking, methodology, and systematization that were broad enough to apply to many forms. But as useful as design education was, I also often found it boring and cruel.

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SM SB

The dichotomy of belonging from India and studying and practicing in the USA, how has this informed your practice?

I would push back on this East v. West dichotomized notion. I’ve been in the USA for 6 years which have been incredibly formative. I’m not sure if duration matters as much as the intensity of the exposure. Art scenes are small and have the same amount of cliquiness anywhere. I don’t think the “creative culture” in India is any less hyper-individualistic than that of the States. The Indian art scene can be way more hierarchical, loaded with social baggage, and filled with gate-keepers. I am happy to see the shift away from disdain and devaluation towards creative labor in India. Art and design education are increasingly valued, as evidenced by the increasing number and enrollment of design schools in India since I was there. The Indian fashion and film industries have always maintained their homegrown integrity despite the homogenizing efforts of neoliberal globalisation. I love seeing the volume of radical thinking and work that my peers in India are coming up with – part of me wishes to be amidst them in India. The way I create is always changing – that is a sign of a healthy practice. University in the United States didn’t change the way I create, I just became better at planning my time and verbalizing my thoughts. And, I get my interest in world music from my grandmother!

You have a style that I believe is one of a kind. How did you develop your signature style? Could you explain a little bit about your art/design process? I’ve heard others describe it as techno-mythic. We often end up with the descriptions others give to us. But identifying too deeply with that tag feels self-orientalizing to me.The purpose of the mythic register is to render the distant past as immediate to us as our own lives, to make the stories of long ago beautiful and painful now. However, I’m not thinking about either technology or mythology on a daily basis. My process entails a lot of anxiety. Typically, I plan a lot and then BAM! I sit down and hope that everything will just click into place. By default, as image-makers today we’re always co-writing with machines, co-writing with data, co-writing with algorithms. I work towards: – drastically altering our contact with these tools – re-encountering objects, bodies, and language as strange things – making odd, bent, overlayed, twisted forms – using tools for synthesis rather than editing

Do you believe in self-expression and authorship as a designer? How important do you think it is in the bigger culture-in-design conversation?

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SB

I do believe in self-expression. But not as self-assertion. Expression should be a means of discovery and not a claim to authority or a mode of status-signaling.

SM

How important are tools in the work you do? Do you try to break away from traditional design tools and techniques?

Lately I have been trying to. I do wish I had more time to draw. I try not to depend too heavily on Adobe CC, I recently commissioned my friend and animator Ted Wiggin to custom build an image processing software to draw in – this seems like a fertile direction to make my work within. Other softwares I use are TinkerYonder, Lizard Ladder, Aesprite, Golly and others.

Is there a spiritual side to your art? I am asking this because, to me your art has this mindful quality, feels resolved even though they feel like parts of puzzles of this bigger picture. Someone I am very inspired by lately is Acharya Vyakul1. I wish my practice could be like his. I am not sure if this spiritual aspect is unique to just me. I believe every human being has a spiritual drive, just as we have libidinal / biological drives. Part of being a person is the spiritual drive to deepen the understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.

There is also a lot of social commentary and political views that you express through art and design. How prevalent do you think dissent by design is? Is there any of your work on social reformation that you are particularly proud of? No, not really, because I don’t really actively reform the world at large through my practice. It’s not direct action. Usually I’m just pointing at the enemy. The only thing I would mention is Śilpa: Catalogues on Craft is a particularly meaningful project I worked on with Malika Verma Kashyap of Border&Fall [2], a cultural agency shifting perceptions of Made in India with an evaluative and inquiring lens. ⁣⁣⁣Śilpa (शिल्प) is a Sanskrit word whose translation includes art, skill, craft, labor, ingenuity, rite and ritual, form and creation... ⁣⁣⁣ The Śilpa digital catalogues are an ongoing non-profit initiative by Border&Fall with the goal of connecting consumers directly to karigars (craft-makers). It strives to be a crowdsourced directory of craft-makers in India. This was the only instance of direct action because it extends Border&Fall’s existing platform to a group of craftspeople who don’t frequently have direct contact with buyers online. It does the important, unprecedented work of creating a living database of contemporary craft workshops across various regions of India. Śilpa has published work by Mathew Sasa from Manipur, Khalid Amin Khatri from Bhuj, and Chato Kutsu from Nagaland, with many more to come.

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Fig 2 & 3 “Work is Love Made Visible” for the 40th anniversary issue of BOMB Magazine.

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The project connects people with singular makers, not brands – which is important because these craftspeople are often behind the scenes and their labor mostly anonymous. It is exciting to transition from viewing the hands that craft these objects to valuing the minds who make them.

SM SB

I love how you write and present your work. How and when did you find your love for writing? Do you have any recommendations to designers like me, who are not very gifted in this regard?

I am also not gifted in any regards either. Also, I think the way that we speak and the way that we sound in writing are always very different. I am curious and selfishly love talking to people. The interviews and the writing enable that. One of the promises I made myself in 2020 was to have a culturally relevant and research-based practice. One in which I develop my voice as a critic, ask questions, and engage with the field of design with a sense of poeticism. I want to write more about Indian craftspeople. My writing process is always more social than I anticipate – I am constantly in touch with other people and manage schedules to arrange an interview, which can take months of planning. I want to write humbly, lead with curiosity and carry a desire to learn. I want to thank brilliant editors like Elias Chen and Meg Miller for encouraging me and refining the things I write. Here is some advice the writer Mayukh Sen[3] recently gave me, it is specifically about food writing but it can apply to other things as well. Mayukh Says: “On the pure prose level of writing, there are small stylistic choices that one can make that have broader political implications. I teach my students not to italicize non-English food words, ingredients or recipe names. It asserts to the reader that this word can be part of one’s everyday vocabulary in the same way spaghetti or croissant can be. I’ve found that within food media, first person plurals like ‘we’ or ‘us’ always signals a certain kind of reader who is white, affluent and just barely left of center, politically. This kind of presupposition and centering of a flattened reader no longer serves us. I encourage my students to be as precise as possible in defining who belongs to those groups. I also try my best to avoid using declarative language when talking about certain national or regional cuisines. There have been times in the past where I’ve probably written stuff like, “Bengalis love X food” or something. But, Bengalis are spread across two neighboring countries and include a myriad of caste, class, religion and geopolitical alignments. There are a lot of nuances that you skim over when you write using declarative language. Qualifiers like: “some” or “many of,” can actually help bring a lot of nuance to writing.”

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Figs 4-7 Enshrine – The elements as freedom fighters: Freedom is composed of inseparable connective elements. Enspirit: air, the gentle messenger, flickering and fighting for freedom of thought and movement. Enchant: water, the empath warrior, who flows through sensitivities looking for truth(s) Enrage: fire, the warm agitator, transmuting rage into strength and solidarity Endear: earth, a champion who holds with care, through disruption and foundation building Somnath Bhatt for Kapy Earth. 2021

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SM SB

You have formed your own brand of ornamentation that to me, feels like this fusion of folk tradition, language and technology. What is your relationship with ornamentation and how do you define it in a design context?

I often think of this Quote by the poet Anne Carson: “What is an adjective? Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names. Adjectives come from somewhere else. The word adjective (epitheton in Greek) is itself an adjective meaning ‘placed on top’, ‘added’, ‘appended’, ‘foreign’. Adjectives seem fairly innocent additions, but look again. These small imported mechanisms are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity. They are the latches of being.” I believe “ornaments” are visual adjectives.

I believe “Ornaments” are visual adjectives.

END NOTES:

1 https://64.media.tumblr.com/364ea714e3555eacb43c0f683e838c89/ccb629e387c82a4c-d5/s1280x 1920/7cfed53298d7fe9f678b65b9a68d55ce87b865b6.png [ ]

2 https://www.instagram.com/borderandfall/ [ ]

[ ] 3 https://thisismold.com/profile/ gut-vision-mayukh-sen

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Vaishnavi Mahendran

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Vaishnavi Mahendran is an Indian-born designer and researcher based in New York City. Vaishnavi holds an MFA in graphic design from the Rhode Island School of Design, an AAS degree from Parsons School of Design and an MA in Marketing from Durham University, UK. Her practice centers on exploring cultural synergies & examining decoloniality, with an emphasis on re-structuring archival power through documentation and translation. In her MFA thesis EthnoGraphemes, she explores linguistic systems through metaphorical iconographies, arguing that preserving indigenous languages and cultures through visual translations can shift historical and future narratives. From 2013-2018, Vaishnavi was a co-founding partner at BLŌK, an award-winning Mumbai-based multidisciplinary studio that focused on designing brand identities, packaging, books, posters, installations, signages and objects for corporate and cultural clients. Vaishnavi currently teaches typography at the School of Visual Arts at Boston University. Interview- Vaishnavi Mahendran

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Fig 1 Lost in Translation, Installation, Poster series Augmented Reality, 31.5×40in. Vaishnavi Mahendran 2020

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VM

Hi Sohini, tell me a little bit about yourself—I’m curious about where you are from in India!

SM

I’m a Bengali and I’m born and brought up in Kolkata. I did my Bachelors in textile design from Srishti institute of art, design and technology.

Back when I was in Mumbai and running my studio BLŌK, we would have a lot of portfolios sent in from different art schools and I always found Srishti as one of the stronger schools portfolio-wise. We had a few students from Srishti intern with us as well. I’m always happy to see the student-work coming out of there. Yeah, I loved my school, it was a lot of fun! I feel that that background really helped me as a designer in general. Going ahead, I think because of my interest in textile I always put a lot of importance into culture and authenticity. Right after my undergraduate years, I worked at a small home studio run by a French designer which was almost like a passion project and she used to work combining Kantha hand embroidery of West Bengal and kind of mesh her own Western aesthetics into it. It was very interesting, but unfortunately it shut down because she had to move back to Mauritius. Soon after that I joined a fashion house in Kolkata and worked there for two years and then I came here. Yeah, I think that’s one of the strengths of our cultural foundation, growing up in India as a designer. I feel like working in India offers you a valuable, hands-on training ground for a lot of things that you might not perhaps have the opportunity to have access to elsewhere as easily. As young designers, you have the option to pursue design through art school, but there’s also so many opportunities to train and learn on the job with a large range of entrepreneurial enterprises in the handicraft industry and independent, small-scale studios which are popping up all the time, so there’s plenty of chances for hands-on work experience and learning on the job right after school. I am from Mumbai by the way, I’ve always wanted to visit Calcutta—as people used to call it back when I was young—(laughs) but yeah, great! I’m ready whenever you are!

OK so I think my first question will be how do you think culture in design has evolved during the pandemic like since we are so far away from local and social interactions, how do you think is changing? We see a lot of work is becoming digital these days. Culture is a broad term, so we’d need to talk about specifics in this case. In general, I think it’s pretty early to comment on any of it because right now we are in the process of kind of seeing what the transition from last year is going to be like because we’re living all of this in Interview- Vaishnavi Mahendran

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real time and don’t have enough distance from these times. It has not even been a year so I think it’s pretty difficult to speculate or gauge in any kind of definitive sense since we’re still in a nascent phase of this. I mean, no one knows what’s going on! It seems like it took around six months for many of us to adjust and figure out how we were going to adapt our practices to this situation. Especially for artists and designers working in industries like textiles, or anything which has a lot more physical engagement, it’s taken some time to recover from the initial hit and build towards a semblance of previous strength both artistically and commercially. I was writing my thesis at the start of the pandemic, wrapping up a lot of what my thesis was. A lot of my research required a lot of travel, physical prototyping and working with artisans and people between here in the US and rural India. For that kind of collaboration, we had to adapt and figure out alternate tools and platforms of making and communication. Through the power of tools like 3D digital fabrication we can realize these ideas through virtual showcases and exhibitions. I think I see a shift which I don’t think is going away, I think there’s going to be a lot of virtual happenings with in-person optional. Last year when I reached out to 3D printing companies to create these prototypes that I was working on for my thesis, it was really great to see how quickly they turned around their usual process and had online methods of adapting their mechanizations as per the specifications of artists and designers who are working remotely from home, to sent them back really quickly. So, I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years but right now I would say it’s still early to sort of tell what the impact of culture in a wider sense, because in my view culture is a macro phenomenon that we need a bit of distance from to understand it. I feel like we as designers are in the process of essentially creating this new creative culture right now through our everyday shared experiences.

SM

VM

Yeah, I was actually asking this because I was thinking about that project I spoke to you earlier about, I was wondering, if you eliminate physical interaction from design how does that work out. I was trying to think, how designers are adapting to it which is kind of interesting to me because a lot of artists and designers used to base their work on interaction and installations and a lot of work has kind of shifted from that kind of a language essentially because of all the necessary social distancing restrictions. It’s interesting to me to understand how people are adapting or thinking about it in terms of creative solutions, and workarounds.

I don’t think that kind of the physical aspect is ever going to go away entirely. As I was saying earlier, I think we’re still in this interim period where we are figuring out how much of this is permanent or is in this ‘now’ for these specific times. We’ll only really know, hopefully next year, or the year after because there’s a lot of us who still want to go back to that kind of practice with physical engagement, as opposed to you know, completely removing it or going virtual in a permanent manner. As such I think it really depends from artist to artist and you based on Confluence

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what your practice is. The minute that our demographic has access to the vaccines I definitely want to bring back that physicality and materiality to what I’m working on (laughs).

SM

I miss that too! (laughs) so I guess my next question will be do you think that apart from language which you largely focused on in your thesis, ornamentation has a hand in preserving culture? …ornamentation and decoration essentially…

Can you expand on what you mean by ornamentation in this case?

I mean minimalism/ modernistic approach is considered likely neutral/ standard but when it comes to ornamentation it’s different in every cultural zone essentially so by preserving those idiosyncrasies do you think it can also translate to preserving culture in a way? Yeah, I mean to put it simplistically, yes? The very act of archiving is preserving these different time periods of cultural evolutions of how these ornaments came into being. With minimalism, I mean if you’re referring specifically to Western graphic design movements and such, or if you just look into the history of graphic design that we are introduced to in art school, you will see it’s often a response to the sociopolitical climate of that time period and how that impacted what artists, designers and intellectuals were making. So yeah, I think what’s interesting is to think about what one would consider ‘ornamentation’, ‘decoration’ or perhaps the who and why we define what is ‘neutral’ or ‘standard’? It’s interesting to look at ornamentation from different time periods and cultures both historically and structurally. In my experience when you deep dive into it’s never arbitrary. That’s why preserving endangered cultures has so much value to it. There’s such uniquely specific knowledge to that culture and communities’ understanding of their environment which reflects in their expression through their artifacts, scripts and language. So, what is interesting at that point is to question our notions on ‘decoration’ or embellishment which often has a frivolous connotation of having perhaps only surface level aesthetic value. I would recommend my classmate Aleks Dawson’s thesis[1] which you might find interesting. He was in my RISD cohort and had researched extensively on ornamentation looking at its context both historically and in contemporary graphic design.

My next question is do you think imperfection or human touch is important in representing a culture? This can mean many different things based on what our specificity of culture is here. For instance, if we are speaking about human touch in relation to perhaps AI, the digital revolution and contemporary societies that could be a different conversation. I guess you could say, in your case as a designer, if you are working on an artifact or manuscript perhaps that Interview- Vaishnavi Mahendran

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Fig 2 Chromascript– Synthestic Composition Generator, Vaishnavi Mahendran 2020

Fig 3 Sonic typeface,Vaishnavi Mahendran 2020

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VM

specifically represents an ancient culture, for example, in India would your focus lie on preserving its existing imperfections?

SM

Yes.

OK so I see what you’re saying. For instance, in the space of endangered cultures as a graphic designer you might be working ethnographers, you’re working with type designers, you’re working with anthropologists and then you’re also working with people in the community. If you have this 200-year-old alphabet chart or a manuscript that is kind of like dilapidating and dying out, the intentions of preservation of different people in this group are often very different. So yes, I’m documenting the object in its entire authenticity and if by that you mean the imperfections of the human touch, I think that there is a lot of value in that, but I think us as graphic designers, we also have this really wonderful space for speculation. There is this idea of static preservation versus active preservation that cultural anthropologist Genese Sodikoff [ ] 2 puts forth that I reference in my thesis as well. Static preservation is often seen in anthropology where it’s preserving a community’s culture as a ‘frozen ark’. Then we might also consider a fluid, non-static or ‘active’ methodology to preservation, where we consider culture as living processes. Once you have that initial act of anthropologically ‘preserving’ an artifact for example how can we speculate for future narratives of how that object could perhaps exist and evolve in contemporary and future time periods as well. So, when you go to that next point in the spectrum of archiving, or what I like to consider as active archiving, it’s interesting to speculate on what lies beyond the imperfections. That being said, as a graphic designer I think there are ethics that one has to strongly be self-aware about when we are working in this space of cultural conservation and preservation. We can’t work in these isolated silos but must consider a collaborative approach that engages the community because these things don’t belong to a specific person but to the group at large. That makes a lot of sense. I think the terms active and static preservation do define that act of cultural preservation much better and let us reflect on what we can do as designers and how our approach can be evolved.

You talk about the importance of language in preserving culture. We belong to a generation where computers are one of the main tools of communication and the keyboard is based on the Latin/English language. So, it’s easier to type in English rather than any other language, especially the world script languages. What is your thought on this and have you ever thought about this kind of restriction that we have in approaching design particularly?

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Monoweight 60pt

Monoweight 300pt

SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB MAR WL LAVU NATTU VA PATTA YAW RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN

SORA SOMPENG SANS MONO, TEXT 14 PT

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GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY-ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAWCALLIGRAPHIC AAMN ENQUM 400 PT KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAW DAWKIW GNAB. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY

A

ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY-ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB RAAW HARO KAKAW. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDR-AW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BABDA CTTUZ DAW. DAWKIW GNAB MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM. KTDRAW UHDA OTY ER ZHGUN. SNUDU GAWNIW BAB-DA CTTUZ DAW DAWKIW GNAB. MARA WL LAVU NATTU VAW PATTA YAW. RAAW HARO KAKAW QAADN XWAW AAMN ENQUM.

Fig 4 & 5 Ellipsis– Sora Sompeng script revitalization typeface design, Vaishanavi Mahendran 2020

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VM

I don’t know if you’ve been following the work done by Unicode [3], there’s a significant amount of type designers and linguists coming together to work on this for languages worldwide, in terms of adapting these machines which were created in the western world that are now global objects. There’s still so much work to be done in terms of adapting keyboards to work intuitively non-Latin languages and scripts. In India most widely spoken regional languages have been adapted on the keyboard for tablets and smartphones. Interestingly in the case of when I was working on the Sora project which was a remote tribe in Orissa, some of the translators and people who were working with me had their keyboards all set in Odia.

SM

oh really?

Yeah and they were you know typing away in their language in all their devices. We’re constantly seeing more progress and representation emerging and there’s of course definitely room for a lot more. yeah that was super fascinating. I didn’t know that keyboards in another Indian language exist! There’s a couple of other designers who have given a very interesting type talk that you might be interested in where they kind of talk about how they’ve adapted marginalized African Scripts for the smartphone keyboard. The studio is called Jamra Patel— take a look at their talk [4] and take a look at their website [5] as well, you might find their work really interesting. Oh yeah, I think I had seen their website actually… They also did a lot of research on the Bengali script I think. Yeah! Go through the talk specifically, they really take you through some fascinating process details of the way they approached this language specifically, because of course the Latin alphabet has 26 characters in upper and lowercase but as we know even in the case of with Indian languages it can go into hundreds of characters, conjunctions and half letters. I cannot even imagine what it would be like with a language like Chinese, there’s so many characters! Yeah! Thank you I’ll look at it.

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SM VM

I wanted to ask you something similar to what you just the link you just sent me I was researching on Bengali script and the kind of typefaces that exist currently and I realized there are very few and mainly I saw that Jamra Patel was one of those people who were researching on it. I also found Fiona Ross..

Actually I had the opportunity to speak with her and she’s in my thesis book as well! Yeah, I saw the interview in your book and I was like oh wow! Yeah! Yeah, I mean if you’ve read the interview, she was not just speaking about her work but also gave some really good advice for designers interested in multilingual, specifically nonLatin type design and are looking to expand further on the work done in this field. She has a ton of talks online that you should definitely look at.

How did you feel was your experience talking to her? She’s got such encyclopedic knowledge in working with non-Latin type, and has been instrumental in the expansion of this area since the late 70s and so she’s just been iconic for the work that she has done for South Asian particularly Indian languages and scripts. It was just really inspiring to learn about her views. A lot of what I’m interested in my own practice is to kind of bring together this confluence of different streams of research groups and expertise into the project. Also, as graphic designers, we tend to work within our specific space and established graphic design parameters. Fiona kind of takes down those invisible walls and opens this up. I mean she has several linguistic degrees and a PhD in Indian Paleography, connecting that to her type design work it’s such a powerful force in terms of bringing a complex level of nuance and understanding of culture while designing for scripts that’s not native to you. It was just great to learn about her process and advice for those who’d like to bring different streams of research into their own practice. And she is very nice as well, so!

Fiona built typefaces for Bengali, a language that wasn’t native to her and similarly, you also designed the typeface for Sora Sompeng. How is that experience of building something for another culture but being authentic to it? I think at the core of things, projects like these are about community-lef collaboration and us as designers not taking a ‘prescriptive’ approach. Traditionally, in commercial graphic design where we’re working with a client, we’ve heard for decades now about how graphic design is about problem solving. When you are designing for culture, community and especially when it’s Confluence

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not for your own community or culture, the question is how do we as designers kind of locate ourselves in that space? I feel it’s really about listening and absorbing first and then having constant dialogue with the community throughout the project. Absorb as much as you can, ask as many questions, and involve as many relevant contributors from that community that you’re working with where it becomes a truly collaborative effort. I think it’s really about being a mediator rather than being sort of a problem solver or providing a prescription for an issue to be solved. It sort of puts everything in perspective where you really don’t have to be from that culture but you’re basically facilitating and providing any kind of resources, tools we as graphic designers have access to and facilitating collaborations and bringing together a plethora of perspectives to the table. There is something that we as designers can distill from that and I find that to be a really exciting space to work within.

SM VM

So, do you enjoy the research part more or do you enjoy the form making of it more?

Yeah, good question. I think that with form making and research, what really started to evolve for me when I think about my semesters in grad school to towards the end of my MFA and now current practice, is that the more I started to research, speak to other people, and keeping making in parallel, I stopped looking at them as separate things was beginning to understand them inextricably woven, where form-making could be a method of research and vice versa. I think that the line starts to shift and blur the more you start to question them being binary or perhaps looking at it linearly. A lot of times when we are doing commercial work for a client, you would perhaps start with doing a lot of online research or you have like this interview sort of meeting with the client and then you go and sit in front of your computer and you start designing things. I feel like that linearity of research and then making is what a lot of traditional graphic design, client-driven projects exists upon and I think that that’s of course value in that process for certain aspects, but when working with community-led projects I think the lines of research and form making get a lot more blurred because there is no specific linearity of process.

Did you face any challenges during your thesis like while researching the Sora Sompeng tribe, did you face any challenges and how did you overcome it? I am asking this because obviously when it comes to ground research there are a lot of unwanted delays that happen or something always goes wrong. Yeah, I think that for me it was really about distilling all of the research from different fields since I was speaking with NGos, making my own field notes, looking through research papers by linguists and ethnographers, as well approaching this project through the framework of the decolonization movement. With each field there’s a universe of research so it was really about dipping into these different worlds and then building arguments from insights of each field Interview- Vaishnavi Mahendran

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without the danger of getting lost or overwhelmed in these research rabbit holes. This was one of my biggest challenges because it’s like, Oh my God, am I writing a paper on anthropology (laughs) in a graphic design program?! Because, sometimes it would just be days of speaking with people and meeting with people and reading. At some point I found myself reading for days on linguistics and semantics and French philosophers! I think it really was kind of looking at the balance between immersing yourself in these pools to gain relevant insight, while also not drowning yourself in the process. I also think speaking with my thesis advisors and various faculty not specifically limited to the graphic design Department was really helpful to manage these challenges. I was reaching out to professors and students in the Global Arts and Cultures department as well as friends in non GD departments like architecture and industrial design and sharing my work-in-progress and being like ‘what do you think?’ I also think one of the key things with all of this is time management with such cross disciplinary approaches to working. I was told projects like these working with language revival usually go on for many years so compressing this into an MFA thesis was really about effective time management which was definitely difficult to do!

SM VM

So you worked on this from the start of your MFA?

My interest in cultural conservation and endangered language began prior to my MFA, more so from my own experiences in the lack of diversity in type design while working as a design professional for many years before. So, while my work with the Sora community did start during my MFA at RISD a lot of the preliminary research and my interest in this area and the potential role of graphic design began maybe a few years earlier.

One more question related to this is how do you communicate with the Sora Sompeng tribe? since I’m guessing they were a different language altogether like how did you communicate? It was both synchronous asynchronous in the sense that I had the help of a patient translator from the Sora community for one and I also had a lot of email conversations with organizations, and nonprofits that worked in the space of language revival not just in India but in the US as well. Thankfully after a lot of cold emails and cold calls one of the NGOs put me in touch with this translator who has worked with people from Nat Geo and likes in documenting the Sora culture. So thankfully, I found a Sora native to kind of help me out. But a lot of the preliminary conversation that I was having with the tribe was asynchronous. I would send in voice notes or texts and then he would send me the translation and then I would check if that’s accurate to what I was trying to ask them particularly with the type design project where a lot of their input was needed. Then of course, when I visited the tribe I went with my translator. It was interesting because Hindi is such a universal language in India, where even if you don’t know the language you kind of understand it anyway and that’s how I could find a common

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ground in terms of communication between the locals and myself. A lot of really broken Hindi, apart from you know them speaking to each other in Sora and translating back to me!

When working with community-led projects, the lines of research & form making get a lot more blurred because there is no specific linearity of process. Fig 6 & 7 Ellipsis– Sora Sompeng script revitalization typeface design, Vaishanavi Mahendran 2020

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SM VM

Yeah, I worked with the Dhurrie rug (flat rug) weaving community in Warrangal,

Oh, where is that? Warangal is in Telangana. And... I don’t know any Telugu (laugh) I’m South Indian but I don’t speak Telugu but you could kind of, sort of, you know get by with the basics of understanding it if you speak one of the South Indian languages. I mean I speak Tamil so yeah, there were some basic common words that you know the neighboring states share. I think that’s why my friend who was Kanadiga, she could speak a few words and get by but I was like completely isolated with one family and I was standing there awkwardly thinking can we start working...? (laughs) That was another challenge, which was interesting especially when you are doing ethnographic field research for the first time and you know traveling to on-site areas to interact with locals. One of the important things for first time field note-ing that I took away from it was to really be prepared about your methodology of translation. A lot of times I had maybe like I would say a 3-minute question with multiple parts that I had posed for the group and then they’re speaking to my translator in Sora and they have a 20-minute response to it. He would translate it back to me as a 1- or 2-minute response. yeah (laugh) ...one way to do it is to always have everything recorded that you can go back to later and then select specific parts for your translator to do a long form subtitle-styled translation where you get word to word. A lot of things which translators often do when it’s live spoken translation that is happening in conversation is to take subjective liberties to edit themselves but through this, we sometimes miss out on those little nuances which us as designers find so valuable. So, it’s really important to document, document, document! Record everything that you see when you’re on-ground, during your field research. I would say if I had to put a percentage to it it would be maybe 75% of the time just being a sponge, absorbing and recording as much as you can and then 30% of it asking questions. Then you can kind of take all of this back to revisit and analyze. That’s really good advice. I faced the same thing. We had gotten a translator for our initial visit and we just got a summary of the whole conversation! Yeah, I know sometimes you miss this little anecdote that they share or maybe a little reference that they make to a specific thing that you’re talking about or they make a cultural reference

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that the translator might miss out on while translating that back to you. I think it’s just super important to have everything recorded as a sort of macro archive that you can then keep returning to and distill things from.

SM VM

You are an Indian designer practicing in the USA. How does this dichotomy of identity show up in your work?

I think it’s an organic thing that happens with so many of us designers who have either grown up as part of the South Asian diaspora here, or have spent half of our lives here, half our lives there, so it’s inevitable I will say! I feel like this is something that is uniquely based on your own lived experiences and reality, in both places and how you perceive and react to the world around you and express yourself. What’s always exciting and fun for me is when we discover patterns and commonalities we have as shared, similar experiences. I completely agree. One feedback I received from someone outside college, was that I should incorporate more of my culture into my work and that was the only semester when I was trying something different, trying to learn something new. Yeah…... What did you say to that? I didn’t know what to say! I felt extremely guilty, I didn’t know if I was doing something wrong... Then I realized well I don’t need to be guilty! This is an important issue and such a complex terrain. I would urge you to bring these questions into your thesis work as well. I feel it’s not really about pointing fingers but perhaps understanding how different people perhaps perceive you and how you perceive yourself and this unintentional guilt or subconscious cultural guilt that many of us designers who are POC experience. I think there’s a lot of value in more of these stories being shared from subjective, personal experiences of POC designers because so much of what we make and put out to the world stems from how we see ourselves, whether it’s like subconscious guilt of should my work be more ‘Indian’ or if I’m in an art school in America should my work fit better to suit the canons of Western graphic design principles. It’s just a very, very complex and necessary subject to have a constant dialogue on. Yeah, I’m sure that’s why I feel that I’m also stuck in that lingo where I don’t know where I belong or which way to go. I think a lot of us are. I have two Instagram accounts. One is very illustration; pattern and one is like oh serious typography (laughs).

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2 2 1

Fig 8 & 9 Ellipsis– Sora Sompeng script revitalization typeface design, Vaishanavi Mahendran 2020

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VM

It’s interesting that you make those demarcations, like who told us that they were separate? Who told us that pattern and type cannot be interlinked or are not part of the same world? I’d love to see how you explore these synergies in the context of your own personal, evolving voice and identity as a designer.

SM

So my last question is do you have any advice for someone like me or some anyone who is into this like space of design trying to find their way?

I think that I think we already kind of touched upon that and I’m really happy that you brought it up and my advice to you know young designers who kind of come from different worlds is to feel less guilt and more curiosity of how these different worlds can evolve into new worlds. It’s really not so much about ‘I need to represent my culture’ but more so that we now have this exciting canvas to create new interpretations of what we perceive our culture to be and what being part of a global diaspora means to POC artists and designers. I feel like it’s a good time to be a designer who comes from a spectrum of cultures. There’s a lot more conversation brought to the table about inclusivity and expression while understanding the nuances of people’s cultural backgrounds. I would say speak your truth, bring your personal experiences into your work and you’ll see exciting things shape up that you want to explore for yourself. I would say that this is coming from just my own subjective experience, once I started to really drop many preconceived ideas about what other people had for me and then you think, “OK well what do I want to make? What are my experiences?” Those prompts spurred the projects that were most fulfilling for myself. Yeah! I would urge you to pursue that for yourself as well. Thank you, that was great advice! I hope this was helpful for you! Definitely, certainly! thank you for your time!

END NOTES:

1 2

https://thesis.aleksdawson.com/

3 4

https://home.unicode.org/

5

https://www.jamra-patel.com/

[ ] [ ]

The Anthropology of Extinctinction: Essay on Culture & Special Death [ ] [ ]

Beyond Letters: How an African Typeface Project Became More Than Just Type Design. https://vimeo. com/331480676 [ ]

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Ishan Khosla

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Ishan is an artist and designer who works on a range of projects that combine design, technology and craft in different ways. He has an MFA in Design from the School of Visual Arts (SVA), New York and moved to India in 2008 to start Ishan Khosla Design. Ishan has spoken at various forums in places such as Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and in India. Ishan Khosla Design has been called the 100 Best Contemporary Graphic Designers in the world by Charlotte and Peter Fiell in their book, New Graphic Design. He has been published in India: Contemporary Design — Graphics, Fashion and Interiors (V&A London), Bi-Scriptual: Typography and Graphic Design with Multiple Script Systems, Tokyo Type Director’s Club Annual, Asian Graphics Now! and several other international books and publications. Ishan teaches design at various Indian and international universities and colleges. He also conducts workshops on typography. He also is very interested in international collaborations and exchanges in design and culture and projects related to ancient to contemporary art. Interview- Ishan Khosla

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Fig 1 Exhibition at Atelier Muji– Ginza, Handcraft for the digital : Type design from India, December 2019- March 2020

Fig 2 Exhibition–Bold, India Design Pavillion at the London Design Festival, Godna Typeface on Display, August 2017

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Typecraft initiative is a Type Design initiative found by Ishan based on India’s Rich Living Craft Tradition.They work with Indian craftswomen to create beautifully designed typefaces, while also inspiring them to learn design skills via training workshops.

SM IK

Hi! Thank you for meeting me today!

Yes, before we start could you explain again what your thesis is on? Yeah, so my thesis is connected to expressing my cultural identity and displacement. I am using the tools through which I can further explore the idea of interactivity and accessibility - tools which are easier for people to try out on their own. So that is why I was looking at the typeface building website called fontstruct and tools that are available online, or tools that people can customize on their own, without the need of specific softwares that is hard to have access to. In that way I am exploring the accessibility of the ability to design. I feel it is very important that my work is accessible for others to try out. To start off, my question is, what was your design education like and how has that experience shaped you as a designer? I had both non-design and design education. I did my undergrad in computer science and then I did my masters in Design. Design education exposed me to a lot of work, people and ideas which I was not aware of before that. For me that was my main design education. The kind of faculty we had at SVA and how they expose you to all sorts of ideas and concepts and read this book and here is where you can get that resource from. And then, of course, their own ideas that they would bring to class and how they talk about their work, so I think that was the learning other than any lecture or class. I will say my education was from that whole environment plus I also learned a lot from my peers who had already done undergrad in design and related fields and I also think that there is merit in liberal arts education. So earlier I used to regret that I did computer science because I’ve wasted five years. And I did it for five years instead of four years because I also did a lot of other courses like architecture, art, and photography. Actually those courses did help. So, I don’t regret it now, but back when I was younger maybe your age, I used to regret it that oh why did I do this, I should’ve just done design. But actually it’s useful to have a non-design degree in one of the two degrees. So, if one does an undergrad in design then they should do a Grad in non-design, in my opinion, but everyone has their own Interview- Ishan Khosla

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thing to decide so yeah that and I mean of course, I also feel that I learned even more when I started working in all the different design studios and then, of course, starting your own studio in India where I learnt the most. I learnt more about running a business, dealing with clients and all that entrepreneurial stuff but in terms of design knowledge, it was more detailed in college, but I would say I learnt more on the job than college.

SM IK

That is very interesting.

I wanted to ask you about the dichotomy of studying in the USA and then practicing in India. How was that experience, and do you have any interesting observations?

Yeah, I mean it’s true I studied in the US and I’ve worked in the US also. But not for as long as I have worked in India and now I’m teaching also. I don’t know if you know that but I am a full-time faculty. Yes, so that’s another change but yeah to answer your question, I think the main difference for me were two things. One was that when I was in the US, I was always an employee. I never had my own studio so I was always at the mercy of whatever job was given to me. I had to do that job. There was no freedom in that sense, of course, some of the jobs were great depending on which studio I worked at, I really enjoyed some of the work, but some studios were more corporate. I always preferred more cultural work. So that was one change and the other, of course, was the whole cultural aspect of India, the work culture, the client culture is very different from the US especially when I returned in 2008, which is 13 years ago. I think now India has come a long way in design, but at that time, most people you talk to about design, they think it’s fashion Design. Yes! Clients had no clue about what design is and what I can do for them, you know they thought it was more about beautification and colour and that is it. (laughs) So a lot of it, I realised, is education related. So it was about educating the client. It was as much about education as it was working as a designer. So I think that was a big difference for me. Yeah, I can understand that. I have to explain to my relatives again and again what I do, but they still go back to fashion design, but I did work in fashion for a bit, so I am like okay, at least, they are not wrong! you know I did do that. (laugh) You worked in fashion? Yeah, I was actually a textile designer, I studied textile design in my undergrad, so I worked in fashion for two years before getting into graphic designing. Confluence

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SM

IK

My next question is, do you think we have to unlearn certain things to be able to design effectively in a cultural context? I mean in terms of design education, the things we are learning are part of the curriculum, do you think we have to let go of some of those notions, to be able to think in a more cultural lens. Because you know it’s more ornamental it’s more handmade. So, in that sense did you also have to forego some of those rules?

Yeah, I mean it’s very specific to the context one is working on. Overall, design education is still very Westernized whether you’re doing it in the West, or in India. There is this whole topic of decolonisation which talks about looking at non-Western, non-white narratives, which to be honest, I never thought about when I was starting design. But uh… I mean in a way TypeCraft, is that. It is a type of decolonization but it was not started with the intent to, “decolonise design”. But in that way when you look at it, it is through the lens of our own context, so in that sense you’re right. When it depends on what you’re working on, but if I’m doing a corporate branding or identity, corporate reports, something very more I guess global, then design education does help a lot with that. But when you’re doing something very contextualized, very cultural, it could also be a brand identity for a culture or region. For example we made this visual identity for Kutch, or a community or something very specific, then you have to put on a different kind of hat, but I think a lot of the skills we learn as designers in college, even though we call it a “westernized” or whatever, they are still valid. That type of design thinking, deconstructing, diving in deeply into something, it just depends on how you express that or how you unbox that. I think a lot of times, we will get tempted by peers and what they see on Instagram and then copy that or take inspiration from that. I am not saying I am not convinced, I’m sure everyone subconsciously does it too. But I am saying try to look at the local context more deeply and I’m sure others do too. I personally consciously think how can I make it something with each project that is relevant to the context. And that is a crucial education.

Now I will get more into the kind of work you do. So, what do you think is the right way to preserve culture in a constantly evolving world and should we strive to blur the boundaries or celebrate them? I think I do both, but I am interested to hear your inputs. I feel culture is itself also evolving. It may not seem so always. A lot of time it does seem like it is static, but it is not. Even small things like Rakhis, when I was a kid, used to look very different from now. In terms of the materiality they use plastic and you actually get LED Rakhis[1]. I mean I’m just talking about materiality and very simple things like that, an instance example, but even other crafts and other cultural context, yes, maybe the message, the story is the same, but the medium or the way it’s being transmitted has changed somehow or even in Kalighat actually, in fact I’m about to be working with the artist from Midnapore, so you must have notice a lot of the Patchitra [2] artists in their scrolls or pats- they talk about Interview- Ishan Khosla

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Fig 3–5 Paakko Typeface and Type in Embroidery

Fig 6 Bhaunri- Book Cover design by Ishan Khosla using Godna typeface

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Fig 7–8 Rabari Typeface and Type in Embroidery

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contemporary issues like Corona. So yes, the style may not have changed that much in terms of rendering in this case, but the topics and the subject matter changes, a lot. I also don’t think that Culture or Craft should be ‘preserved’, it should not be put in a bottle and put on a shelf. Of course, museums do that, and anthropologists and other experts can study it in the future, so there’s nothing wrong with that, but as designers I feel it is really about now, the zeitgeist, what is relevant now, and what can we do now to engage different people and communities. So, I don’t know if that answers your question!

SM

Yeah! I totally do. I love the fact that you said that it’s about the now and that totally makes sense to me.

What does your project timelines for each typeface look like roughly, since the process is so intricate and detail oriented?

IK

Yeah, it varies project to project and various other factors. Like now because of the pandemic we have been working with the artisans through Whatsapp messages, Whatsapp videos, giving them feedback through audio recordings or messages. Or they take pictures of their work and send it and I would annotate, we put numbers and then explain later what the numbers mean in through voice message or something because it is difficult to write in Hindi, then we may have a conversation, so it’s quite complex overall. But then again Typecraft is basically not a profitable venture. The idea was not about profit in any case. It’s just surviving on getting grants, CSR grants, so just that grant is enough money for us all to work on it. A lot of the people are putting their time and effort without any cost, most of the money goes to the crafts people, or it goes into maintaining, website promotions, or entering competitions once in a while, we put in some money to just entering a type competition, or a book or something, just to get the word out. So, a lot of people who work on it, like my designers and all they are volunteering their time. So it also depends on their time. Firstly, type design itself takes a long time, and secondly is that they are also busy people and it also depends on whether typefaces are a Latin script or an Indic script. We have Paakko (fig 3) which is a Gujrati typeface. So the Paakko embroideries have been done already, two to four years ago, and all the embroideries were done by the artisans quite a few years ago. But it’s then it went to the stage of scanning and then characterizing. Now it’s in Glyphs where the font development is happening, but it’s been happening for more than a couple of years because it is complex and does factor time. Whereas there is another typeface called Barmer Katab (fig 9), which is a Latin script typeface, that was just done last year. We were with the artisans and the craftsmen last year in February just before the lockdown. We were really lucky we went there and we did it, so that was just a two-week workshop and then within one-year Andreu Balius who was the partner of Typecraft, he produced it. Basically, we scanned it and digitized it and then he worked on the font development and it’s out already, it was out last year in fact, so less than a year. I’m also working on another version, because there are two fonts we created in that workshop one is a patchwork

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Fig 9 Typeface Barmer Katab

Fig 9 Barmer Katab Applique

Fig 11–19 Haikus written with Barmer Katab typeface

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Fig 10 Barmer Katab Patchwork


and one is an applique. So, the Katab (fig 10) is a patchwork because it’s cut and stitched. The applique one, we are calling it phool patti (floral-foliage)(fig 9). That one I’m working on my own, and I’m not a font designer actually so I’m going to use Glyphs on the go, I thought this is a good way to end up learning and practicing Glyphs. The letters are now finally on Glyphs but it has taken a while to scan, digitize, tweak the forms and all of that stuff. But, I’m teaching and doing other things. Whenever I get time I sit on it for an hour and two hours to work on it, so it really depends. So yeah, technically I should be able to finish it very quickly, but the point is the time commitment because one doesn’t always get the time.

SM

IK

How important do you think is the role of encouragement is for the work you do? Like towards your artisans. I love the fact that you give the artisans authorship for building the fonts which you go in and tweak later. And how open are they to trying new things? I like that in a small way it lets them break away from the pattern of replicating age-old traditions and kind of mould it into this modern context.

Yeah, so I think it varies from person to person. Some are already very motivated. And you know, some are, I would say it’s all about them. Not being motivated sometimes since it is overwhelming for them to do something so different. And that’s one of the reasons for the letters is that it’s so de-contextualized to their motifs and patterns, so it forces them to think in new ways. One of the ways we try to overcome this overwhelming feeling is by doing workshops and that’s something that came up after the first project of Typecraft is very obvious that one should do a workshop instead of just going and expecting them to start making letters from day one. That’s not the solution. So, the workshop is really a slow process, ideally, two weeks minimum you know which is not enough, sometimes, but at least you know. Then the first day just goes into breaking the ice, getting to know each other and talk about things and then we go away. The first two days, three days we don’t even think about letters actually we’re just thinking about the project and looking at different aspects of form making. Like maybe they can do a diagonal form, etc. It’s like teaching font design in very small ways from the beginning. We look at diagonal forms, we look at straight forms, we look at intersection, curves, and then curves and straights and how they intersect in different forms. So basically just looking at the vocabulary, but even before that we sometimes look at their motives and their backgrounds. A lot of it also requires educating ourselves. What does their motive mean? What is the context of this craft? Has it changed over the years or not? We ask them these questions in person also. Well, you know, the use of it is as well, not only the form. Like Rabari embroidery was used as bridal trousseau, but now that has been stopped and they are turned into purses, bags, cushion covers, all kinds of other products, which was never used to be made 20 years ago 15 years ago, maybe 30 years ago. It was always a garment, and it was always worn by the person who made it and there was no money attached to it. So, it’s changed a lot actually. Crafts are changing and their context is changing, due to various external extraneous factors like economy and other things so yeah to answer your question. The way to reduce their fear or intimidation is through these workshops and taking small steps. Interview- Ishan Khosla

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SM

IK

So, the next question is, I saw that you provide constraints as guidelines to the artisans to build upon for developing the typefaces. What has the ease of communication been like? Were there any language barriers and how did you overcome them like while giving them the constraints and instructions of how to go about it.

Sometimes there are many barriers like if you’re working with Gujrati craftsmen, or maybe even if I go to Bengal, because I want to work with kantar and other crafts as well at some point. It would be really nice to do that. But then again language would be a problem. I think in Bengal, less so, because a lot of people do speak in Hindi but in Gujrat, they didn’t speak Hindi at all, at least the few places I went to. So that was a challenge, the other thing is that, being a man and most of the craft people are women who I worked with so far. So that’s again something I learned after first experience, you know that maybe they find it awkward to talk to me or also you know, I have to sit there, and right next to them to explain something and they feel awkward. Some of them do, some of them are okay, mainly the tribal women are totally cool with that, but some of the other women and other communities don’t want me to sit next to them. Like especially the ones who are married and also, they become very awkward, so I learned that over time, these are all cultural things that you pick up with the exchange and when you go to different parts of the country it is different actually. So, then I always go with a woman employee or a partner or someone else like my wife comes with me sometimes. There needs to be at least one woman (laughs), because that just eases them like even last time when we went to Barmer and my wife could only have one week out of the two weeks, but they really, really loved her, they all became friends, with when she was going back, they wanted her to stay, they just got the “Saheli (female friend/cousin)” feeling (laughs). They kept asking when is she going to return? She could sit with them very easily like I could not sit there, it was awkward for them. So then I would move away, and I would just document and give them inputs. But I would not sit next to them or tell my wife that, okay, maybe they can try this or that. And she was sitting with them, they were crowding her, she was drawing so it’s a very different thing being a guy so that is another challenge I guess. (chuckles) That is fascinating!

What does the process of building a type specimen look like to you? After you’re done with designing the typeface, how do you go about making the personality around that?

Yeah, it’s a good question. I don’t know if you saw the ones I made for Barmer Katab, where I made these typographic compositions with haikus. (fig 11–19)

Yes, I remember.

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IK

They're basically different like phrases. I actually once visited Jaisalmer when I was your age. I travelled alone, and so it was a lot of fun actually and that time I wrote a poem. Because of the desert and the extremes of the desert. The heat in the day and the cold at night, and you know, basically, the colourfulness of the clothes that people wear against the starkness of the landscape. I thought we did this thing in Barmer last year, so when time came around to let you know, bring it out into the public, I thought it would be nice to look at those poems which are from the desert which was very close to Barmer. So, I guess it depends on the font. Sometimes what happens is I try to do type specimen initially and it's not that great and revisit it after a few months or a few years, and then I can get more ideas and like to give it more personality and to understand its personality to express it again. So, it's one of those things, you know that one tries and tries again. Also, whenever I work on something like a talk for a conference, I try to revisit some of these specimens again because once again it's a good excuse to show something new.

SM

Is there any like specific pedagogy that you follow like when you're teaching based on how you instruct artisans like, for example, the process you followed to teach the artisans how to build the Soof typeface, I saw that you were also applying the same methodology to teach students, can you share some of those ideas?

No, it's just a methodology I created again just from experience, from working with different crafts and I realised, before Soof, we worked with the Rabari embroidery and we realised that the Rabari women don’t know how to draw. In fact, most of the women who do embroidery don’t know how to draw. Before Rabari we worked with Godna (fig 6) and Chittara [3] crafts and both of them were very focused on drawing. Godna craft is used for tattooing on the skin. So they do draw, they are used to drawing on the saris and on the walls of their houses they have Godna designs. And Chittara is the same, it’s drawing on the floors and the walls, so they are used to moving their hands in that way. But with embroidery, this only you realize we go somewhere and you start a workshop and learn that they don’t know how to draw. We even asked the NGO before going, “do they know how to draw?” and they said oh yeah, no problem. This is how it is sometimes in India you know they'll very convincingly tell you that, “yes, they will be able to draw”, and we are like, “can you please check?”. And then you arrive on site and ask the artisans to draw and they are completely blank. They cannot even draw their own motifs, forget about asking them to draw English letters, Latin script. So that was a big challenge, with Soof we didn’t want that to happen. Soof is much easier because it is very geometric, kind of like working in fontstruct, and so you have these basic elements and we made a kit out of it and I gave them the kit and it did seem to work. Actually the kit idea came before I met the artisans, I’d gone to Scotland to University of Edinburgh to do a workshop with design students on Typecraft. And there I thought of this idea of using paper and just scissors on computers, because we're so used to working on the computer as designers and design students. I thought

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Fig 12 Soof Typeface

Fig 13 Hetal Ben in Typecraft Workshop

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that, how do I get them to think about Typecraft and different craft, so we did Barmer applique, we did Soof. We did a few, which are very easy to do with paper. Just paper and scissors. So that’s where the idea came from and it was quite successful so I did the workshop in India as well in some colleges where I taught, and then brought it back to the craftspeople and actually, they enjoyed it! They said that they had never done this before and I remember that very clearly. Hetal Behn said that whenever they go to a workshop, they just give them the fabric and ask them to start working. They said that these were two days when they didn’t have to worry about anything. They just had to play around with the forms and create letters. They just kept doing that, they played with different letters and we took a picture. Then they did the next one, they would just have a lot of fun with it. They said that playfulness wasn't there earlier and that is something that they really enjoyed. Well, I hope all this information was useful for you!

SM

IK

Yes, very much! Thank you so much for answering all of my questions so thoughtfully! So yeah, I would not want to keep you any longer!

You are welcome!

END NOTES: [ ] 1 https://www.hindustantimes.com/more-lifestyle/ raksha-bandhan-2019-significance-facts-and-history-of-the-festival/story-CgDtNFp8ZBwpPb6TuxzRrO.html

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Pattachitra [ ]

3 https://www.typecraftinitiative. org/chittara-typeface [ ]

Interview- Ishan Khosla

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Token

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Acknowledgement I want to express my sincere gratitude to my Ma; without your, strength, endurance and your endless toil, I won’t be here today. Thank you for supporting my pursuit of happiness. Baba, for not understanding what I do but supporting it nevertheless. I am extremely grateful, thank you for everything. Thank you, Pratik. Your love, care, and support helped me get through these two years. You are my cheerleader and the wind beneath my wings. I want to thank Christopher Sleboda, for being such a great mentor and Thesis advisor, for your constant encouragement, and for sharing your knowledge and resources with me. Without your guidance and generosity, this thesis would not be possible. Nicholas Rock, thank you for being such a great mentor, understanding my quirks, and encouraging my crazy ideas. I am grateful for your typography class; it has taught me everything I know today! Thank you, Mary Yang, for your insightful guidance and kindness; your tips on type refinement helped me make this book! I appreciate getting the opportunity to work with you as your TA. James Grady, thank you for encouraging me to explore and experiment with different tools, platforms and mediums. It led me to think of ways experiement with them for my thesis. Kristen Coogan, Yael Ort-Dinoor, Paul Karasik, thank you for your guidance, for sharing your knowledge and for allowing me to express myself with authenticity. You will always be an inspiration to me. Thank you, Jessica Cacamo and Dana Clancy, for giving me this opportunity and privilege to be a part of such a reputed institution and give me every kind of support, help, and guidance. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I won’t be here without you. I am eternally grateful. To interviewees: Somnath Bhatt, Vaishnavi Mahendran, and Ishan Khosla, thank you so much for your time despite your busy schedules. Your thoughtful responses and insightful comments on your experiences are inspirational. Your contribution is invaluable. Your valueable resources and recommndations helped me formulate my thesis ideas into writing and put it in persepective. Special thanks to Julian Parikh, it was a pleasure being your TA, we have known each other for a short time but the conversations we had subconsciously shaped various parts of my thesis. I am really grateful for that. Confluence

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Mahnoor, thank you for your constant presence. We made it! I was grateful to share my highs and lows with you. Arjun, thank you for being such a great friend, philosopher, and guide. You are the little brother/ grandfather I never had. Ashwini, for being a sister and a friend. Thank you for spoiling me with your love, gifts and food! Treasa, thank you for being such a great roommate. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Your positive energy is infectious. I deeply cherish our hallway conversations. Winnie, thank you for helping me out through those initial confused days. You taught me everything I know about printing and product photography. Ana, Olivia, Olga, Faith, Byori, Anissa, Ellie, Chaitali, and Anvi, thank you for all the love and laughter. You are all so talented and inspiring, and I cannot wait to cheer you guys on with everything that you do in the future! To my cohort, class of 2020, I am so inspired by each of your talent! Thank you for all the memories, feedbacks and conversations. Thank you, Om Kaku, for making me feel at home and sharing your experiences with me. It is a pleasure to talk to you always. Damayanti, thank you for always being such a great, great friend, oceans apart and cheering me on even during the times I found it hard to believe in myself. Your manifestation becomes my reality. Pritha, thank you for all the memories. I cherish our friendship greatly. Namrata, thank you for being my go-to person. I can't wait to resume our adventures together. Thank you, friends from back home, for your love, support and encouragement. I understand it is a tough time, and I wish you the best of health; I will strive to give you every bit of help, strength, and positivity that I can impart. Last but not least, I would like to thank Eshaani Jayaswal and Nivedita Banerji for sharing their kind recommendation letters for my application to Boston University. Thank you for believing that I am worthy of your support. Your belief in me gave me this journey. Acknowledgement

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Colophon

Confluence © Sohini Mukherjee 2021 Boston University College of Visual Arts, MFA Thesis in Graphic Design Written & designed by Sohini Mukherjee Thesis Advisor Christopher Sleboda www.confluence-thesis.com Typefaces Editorial New Migra Neue Machina from Pangram Pangram Foundry This thesis is for academic purposes only. All images included in this book that are not the author’s were reproduced without permission for educational purposes only. If there are objections to the use of any images, I will be happy to remove them from further editions.




Sohini Mukherjee


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