Sunday, February 10, 2013

Open Elective - Rags to riches

Who does not enjoy a good story? Bedtimes, lunch breaks, vacations, occasions...contexts are unending, yet the feeling of wanting more is probably universal. Story times are occasions of taking a journey to the magical kingdoms or to ancient lands or maybe just a break from the reality. The best of our story tellers, our grandparents, could hold our attention for ages through narration as well as the content. Many elderly have interesting stories to tell - from the past, probably a lot regarding the present and some about the future.

During the Open elective course at NID this year ( we explored the narratives which come so naturally to our elders. The umbrella theme for this unique 2-week module from 21st January-1st February 2013 was ‘Active Ageing’. The course was organised and conducted along with Sajith Gopinath, an industrial designer and faculty at NID, Gandhinagar (  Sajith is interested in understanding the “concept of play/playfulness” as a tool for designers. He is also interested in designing play spaces as well as creating interactive space for children. We were also joined by a group of craftspeople from Ahmedabad. The aim was to capture and narrate these stories in a tangible contemporary visual story telling form using textile techniques and practices such as hand appliqué, hand embroidery and machine stitching. We wanted to combine the traditional craft with the contemporary aesthetics of the students who belonged to diverse design streams (textiles, film and video, exhibition, information and interface and product).  The final result was a small exhibition that included products as well as an installation. 
The stencils made by the students for doing the applique work forms a screen near the entry of the exhibition
We spent the first 3 days connecting with elderly people both familiar and unfamiliar and expressing these stories and experiences using visual mediums. The idea was to sensitise the students to the world of the elderly and understand the power of communication. 

On the left is the work of Sarah, exchange student at NID from Manchester School of Art and on the right is the work of Neha, a textile design student at NID. Both used different mediums to express their collected stories and share it with the group on the second day of the elective.
Panels prepared by Aarushi and Gowri, design student at NID to narrate the stories of technicians or kakkas as we fondly call them at NID. For them the character of the person was more important than the face and hence they have used shadows to express the stories
On one of the afternoons, students visited senior citizens in their homes and in old age homes and day care centres for a one to one interaction session. They came back filled with the warmth that one often associates with our grandparents.    
Sarah illustrating the profile of a resident.

Anamika with an elderly person at the Red Cross old age home in Ahmedabad.

Shruti’s depiction of her interactions with Dr. Armeti Davar in Ahmedabad
We gave creative freedom to the students and had interactive sessions with them where they were encouraged to narrate these stories and other insights using a medium of their choice. As part of the elective we also engaged experts like Dr. Anwar Ali, an occupational therapist, Mr. S.Sethuraman, an independent design practitioner and Mr. Massey from Helpage India. The end results of these interlaced interactions were low cost high value products like story books, boardgames, and craft products, all designed with a positive message for the greying population. The students worked along with the craftspeople learning the craft as well as translating it into a finished product. For the installation, the students worked on a 10” x 10” textile square and interpreted a story of their choice using hand appliqué and patchwork.  

The students working in the courtyard along with the craftspeople in NID
Sonika choosing the fabrics for the appliqué.
From Left to right: Anupreeta, Aashish & Shaheen's interpretation of their chosen stories using textiles
We added another layer of symbolism to the concept of storytelling through textiles. For their final product, the students were prodded to introspect, connect the dots and realise a product that had a deeper meaning – either something that the people whom they had interacted with could take away something from or something inspired from their lives and stories. It was challenging in the limited time to actually ‘think’ and create an out of the box product that had a message. 

From left to right: Anamika's reminder softboard, Vivek's Gamcha, Aashish's experience notebook & Aishwarya's Shadow lamp
 Each of the students also compiled all the work they had done during the workshop in a journal. 

A page from Lola’s Journal showing her ideas for the final product and an illustration of the craftspeople.

The final installation was well received by the visitors.

For me it was an extremely satisfying experience to hear all the stories and guide the students to transform them into textile pieces. All the students worked very hard and there was never a moment to complain. The craftspeople enjoyed themselves and left the workshop having learnt newer avenues to utilise their craft in. Excellent support was provided by the Open elective team and workshop staff at NID in realising the final installation. And with Sajith around everything seemed possible. ‘Rags to riches’ was an exhausting but I hope good learning for all the participants.