A few days ago, I was invited to ISDI Parsons (Indian School of Design and Innovation), Mumbai, to be part of an external jury for the students of the current year. This was my first ever Jury Duty, and believe me, my excitement did not go unrewarded.
Now, I want it made clear that I’m not writing this post to promote ISDI Parsons, nor have they asked me to be nice to them or paid me for the same. I’m writing this post because I’m truly kicked to be considered good enough at what I do to be included in the moulding process of design students.
I’ll leave you to do your own homework on ISDI Parsons by going over to their website to find out who they are and what they do, and I’ll concentrate on telling you about my experience instead.
I’ve been a judge for a few inter-collegiate and intra-collegiate festivals in Mumbai, but I’ve never been asked to sit in on a full-scale design project presentation by multiple groups of students from a particular class or course within an art or design school. When Anika Gupta, Visiting Professor for the Integrative Studio emailed me asking if I’d like to be part of the jury, I jumped with joy. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Cut to Monday morning, and me in formal clothes, cursing the traffic that’s making me late, knowing that I still had the security check to clear. Still, the excitement kept me going, and I managed to make it barely ten minutes late. I did and always will blame the crazy vegetable market under the bridge at Dadar that runs East-West, before the flyover that runs North-South.
The project here for all the groups was to visit a particular area of the city and carry out certain tasks. As I’m shown to my seat, the first group is already explaining their model. They were asked to visit Khotachiwadi, a small, quiet little pocket in South Mumbai a bit to the East of Charni Road station. I’ve walked through and photographed the area with the MWS (Mumbai Weekend Shoot) photography group before, and fell in love with the quaint neighbourhood instantly. I could see that these young design students felt the same way.
They walked us through their first ‘iteration’ or version, which was a two level bungalow built from wood, painted like the actual houses in Khotachiwadi, and filled with paper cutouts of the people of the area inside, with signposts showing aspects of each of the residents’ homes and lives that were included in the research. Now, this version of the project failed on multiple levels, but their second iteration fixed most of those problems, thanks to a total rethink and redesign of the project.
The new version was a set of handcrafted drawers fixed into a multi-storey structure of sorts, with very small spaces between each of the boxes, to represent the tiny spaces and pathways between Khotachiwadi’s actual residences. The boxes were decorated with graffiti inspired by the local wall art, as well as influences from the lives of local residents. Inside the drawers, were handwritten letters based on things the residents want to tell their loved ones, or simply put to rest; the myriad gate designs that are so individual, and yet form a basis of community, and several other parts of their lives. To go with all of this was a subtle bit of music by one of the residents they spoke to, along with the sound of his birds, something the students played at the perfect volume, creating an atmosphere around the project. While there definitely was a sense of flavour and smell missing, the project did work on many levels.
Next up, was the group presenting the Juhu Gaothan. Now here, we were all rather stumped when we saw what they’d kept ready. A flat bit of wood painted black with stenciled spray designs in white and a set of wire constructions that were later explained as railway lines that run over the Gaothan. What came next really caught us by surprise. The ‘table’ as we saw it, was opened up to one side, and a rather well designed lifting mechanism that pulled up a shelf from within each of the two ‘table legs’, containing a multitude of small and smaller boxes with locks on them.
Needless to say, the creativeness of the execution of their idea was rather joyous to experience. They asked us jury members to come forward and open the boxes ourselves, using keys from a ring. Why? Because key-making was one of the major occupations in the Juhu Gaothan. What was in the boxes? Textiles, food, objects, and hair. Yes, hair. It was one of their tasks to get hair cut in the area. When I popped the hair onto my hand, most of the students freaked out. After a quick laugh, we moved on, listening to their process of creation, and elimination of unnecessary bits and pieces. Once they’d completed their presentation, we played our parts and critiqued the work, explaining how the external structure needs a makeover in terms of the paintjob and that they should lose the wire structure. We added that perhaps adding imagery showing the history of the area, and its evolution might help, and that this could be done by cutting windows into the legs of the structure so that it could be pasted onto the back wall and seen once the lifting mechanism was activated.
Next on call was the group presenting Runwar Village, in Bandra west. We were led into a room – yes, their project took up half a classroom – and asked to take our places. The presentation started by explaining how they intended to capture all the aspects of the project through these ‘little’ windows that were created to look like shrines inspired from the Catholic structures all around the village area.
From here, we were led through a little gate held together by luck and tape into the interactive area of their project, where we encountered a dartboard that was divided into three areas corresponding to locations in the actual Runwar Village space, something that had also been done with this area of the classroom.
Having been asked to throw a dart each, we found ourselves starting in one of the three demarcated zones, awaiting our instructions in an ‘Amazing Race’ fashion. I started at ‘Ken And Mary’s’, a bakery and confectionery stall that showcased a family-run business in Runwar Village known for its bread and jams. My task here was to be blindfolded and guess the flavour of jam I’d be asked to taste. The prize? A small chit that had instructions to be read after completing all the tasks and collecting the remaining two chits. I gave the go ahead, and barely a half minute later, I’d guessed right (Raspberry jam) and had my chit in hand. Moving on to the second task : you’re in Runwar Square and have to sort through clothes on lines to find a hidden chit. Again, a task that wasn’t too tough, but only if you were willing to look EVERYWHERE on each piece of clothing.
The final task was to create a bit of graffiti within 30 seconds, as inspired by the wonderful artwork one can see in on the walls of Runwar Village. Complete the task, and you win your final chit. Chits in hand, you run to the final checkpoint, where you read out the instructions on the chits and carry them out, posing for a photograph at the end of it all. My chits said : ‘You are Mr. D’souza’, ‘Mrs. D’souza is mad at you for forgetting your stethoscope at home’ and ‘You love Mrs. D’souza’s homemade jam’. This meant I had to pick a piece of clothing off the line I mentioned before and put it on, rummage through a drawer full of props and pose with all the right stuff, including a paper face cut-out.
All in all, quite fun, and engaging enough to include everything they’d intended. We did have a few critiques about execution and materials, but all of it was taken on board willingly. Also, Anika seemed to be enjoying the spray paint bit quite a lot.
Group number 4 was now ready with their presentation, which was Banganga Tank, but shrouded in mystery. The lights were off, and we were asked to take off our shoes. As they moved apart, we were greeted with little diyas already burning from within a cave-like structure, and we were asked to come forward and light a diya each, to inaugurate the presentation in a sort of puja.
This done, a string was untied, and the cave structure was pulled apart to reveal an altar, the tank itself and the stairs around the tank formed by the inner structure of the cave walls. Accompanying this setup was a large papier mache ‘Sadhu’ head in bright orange with glaring eyes.
The house lights were brought back on, and the explanation ensued. Well spoken and explained, albeit the execution did leave a little more to be lived up to. We made ourselves heard, and advised them on how to improve the design and execution, and where the focus should be.
The fifth group had to present one of my all-time favourite areas of Mumbai : Crawford Market. A crazy, cramped space full of noise, people and everything you could ever need to buy all in there. Their presentation started off on a promising note, with one of the male students getting into character with the outfit and Kajal. A typically Crawford Market welcome from him led us to open the cabinet that was his Ittar store, made from pieces of scrap would the students found. It’s necessary to mention here that the entire cabinet was built by the students themselves in the woodshop with a bit of help from the carpenters (needed if the kids were to retain all digits and facial features, I presume).
Once the doors were opened, the girls took over, explaining their tasks, their journey and all the things inside Ittar bottles to represent the chaos and colour of Crawford Market using one of the most prominently sold items. From sequins and cloth to local food to locally sourced sewage, the bottles had everything they needed to show. Having said this, the execution of the interiors and exteriors of the cabinet left us disappointed, as much as the fact that the performance aspect, the sales aspect, of the pitch was missing and should have come from the male student in costume.
Leaving Crawford Market, we walked over to our final destination : Dadar Parsi Colony. I have a lot of Parsi (or Bawa as they’re affectionately known) friends, and quite a few live in DPC, so it’s an area close to my heart. Also, I love pretty much everything Parsi.
We were started off on our journey with a demonstration of the first iteration of this location, which looked highly juvenile in execution despite a decent concept in hand. The second iteration, however, was magic to me. From a tiny thermocol model, we were led to a little space between classes that had been transformed into a beautiful representation of the Parsi community and the things the students gleaned from the aesthetics of the DPC area.
While we were crawling and slowly, carefully inching our way through the joyous maze of fairy lights and leaves, interspersed with objects suspended from the ceiling, some students were explaining the things we were looking at and touching, as others prepared a cup of tea and a plate of the best known Parsi dish – rice and Dhansak – for each of us.
The whole idea of including freshly prepared cultural food and drink, along with names of the various buildings in the area hanging in the space gave us an added feeling of being in Dadar Parsi Colony, despite a few flaws in execution. A few typography changes and a little more structuring of the space with their materials to provide an easier path of movement would round it all off, we told them, and they agreed.
What I really loved about this whole experience, is that in this case, ISDI Parsons jettisoned the typical in-house jury method in favour of external jurors which allowed the students the experience of being in a situation of professional critique. It made them understand that a far higher and more complex level of ideation was needed from them, if they were to make anything of themselves. We had fun, and I can certainly say that I did, in being jury to a group of 38 fantastically bright and talented students, who were able and willing to voice their own opinions on their fellow classmates’ work without being derisive or snooty. I saw students looking to learn from the mistakes of others as well as their own by stating fact without ego.
This is a compliment to their faculty as much as to them, because their professors have put in a lot of hard work and effort to get these young minds working on the level we saw. As an art teacher, I know how tough it is to hold the attention span of a 6-year-old, leave alone a teenager.
I’m eternally grateful to Anika Gupta and ISDI Parsons for giving me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience the design skills of these upcoming creators. Keep an eye out for the students of this school. Their professors, I think, will have these kids produce some brilliant work by the time they’re done.