Earlier this month I spent time in Delhi with my old pal Arti Sandhu, putting up our exhibition Overlap at the Mocha Arthouse. Arti and I have been intersecting across the globe for a decade now – in New Zealand, India, Hong Kong and the US. Sharing a fondness for hand-rendered, vernacular artforms, we conceived the show around our varied perspectives of Indianess – touching on the desi and diasporic, the traditional and typographic alongside explorations of language and locality.
My own work included two series which I designed and had executed by sign-writers in Ahmedabad and exhibited previously at the Glasgow School of Art. The English of India series came from noting that visitors to India are so often surprised by the amount of English one encounters – on the street, peppered through films and even in remote villages. I aimed to capture the localisation of the global spread of English through the flair of local sign-writing.
The second series, Bollywood Soul – A Vernacular Walk of Fame playfully created a set which displays divas and heralds heros of national cinema, employing local portraiture and typographic styles commonly used to decorate rickshaws. I collaborated with a local legend who earns his living painting rickshaw mudflaps from his roadside studio – and committed his brush to rubber shoe-soles for the project.
Arti grew up in an Army family which meant she covered a lot of ground in India from a young age. A love of drawing and customising her barbie to look more Indian led her to study fashion at NIFT in Delhi and later in the UK. Since then she has lectured globally and is currently an assistant professor of Fashion Design in Chicago. Her artworks explore identity and migration and provide insightful perspectives on the eccentricities of the modern and mundane in India and abroad.
On annual visits home to India Arti began to notice the idiosyncratic qualities of everyday life which she had previously taken in her stride. She drew on these observations to create the ‘A’ is for Akshar series in which she re-visits her motherland and language while providing a visual commentary on India through the lens of a migrant.
Exploring cultural baggage and excess baggage, Arti’s Mahila Moments series is inspired by Madhubani folk art. Here she delves into the dilemmas of modern day India, fashion and migration with a love for line, pattern and repetition. Reminiscent of Ganjifa playing cards, the series crosses borders of locality and globalisation in an interplay of what Indian womanhood has come to mean at home and further afield.
Included in the exhibition was a large format poster by New Zealand-based graphic designer and typographer Anton Hart. A few years back he landed up in Bombay on a work sabbatical. Like many before him and many to come, he was smitten. But the touristy tabernacles of Agra and Rajasthan were not what caught his eye. Instead he was enraptured by the truck painters of Bombay and farther afield. His Horn Please typeface and ornaments are a tribute to their flamboyant creativity.
The show Overlap: Intersections of Desi and Diasporic is hosted by the good folk at Box Design & Research and will be up at Delhi’s Mocha Arthouse, DLF Promenade, Vasant Kunj through March, 2010.