1 October 2013 -
Typography in Brazilian the 19th and early 20th century: A History told from Brazilian type specimens
An engaging paper in which Isabella, along with Professor Priscila Farias, sort to establish a design history of Brazilian typography from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. The paper, the subject of which has been widely ignored in the context of Latin American and global design histories, presented rich archival evidence of the development of Brazilian typography, noting a wide range of European colonial influences in the late 19th and early 20th century, before Brazilian designers embraced German based modernism, producing typefaces such as Funtymod, as an aesthetic alternative.
The paper noted that, like many design history discourses on national identity, the emergence of Brazilian typography is a complex one. Throughout the majority of its colonial history, technology for moveable type was under strict control of its Portuguese colonial masters. Indeed, printing technology for moveable type was only accessible from 1808, following the transfer of the Portuguese court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal. However, this early import of technology was still under the strict control of the royal court and its printing shop, the Impressão Régia. Even following the Royal court’s return to Portugal in 1821, typographic production still suffered from lack of expertise and materials which still required support from Portugal.
Through a variety of examples, the paper presented the multiple influences on Brazilian typography and its rapid development over a 150 years period, exploring the narratives of strict colonial control on graphic production and the post colonial typographies still heavily influenced by European aesthetics.
The Wall Project: Discovering Indian Identity Through Design Activism.
In this paper, Malika Soin addressed the question of identifying an authentic Indian design identity, and in doing so, suggests we should broaden our vision from its focus on the traditional crafts that have dominated notions of Indian identity and include contemporary examples of public expression.
She looks to The Wall Project, an attempt by three designers with the support of the local municipal corporation to “give character to the dull walls” of the city of Mumbai. Placing this project in its larger historical context Dhanya Pilo, art director and founder of The Wall Project, notes that “wall art has always existed in India on temple walls, village houses or old Bollywood art, creating a personality unique to each township” and this project provides a platform for this expression to continue.
The issue here -one that was raised in a spirited and efficacious debate- is to what extent the limitations imposed by the project organisers hinders public expression. To be allowed to paint on the city walls one must first seek permission from the local governing body. The project organisers also advocate a no political, social or religious content policy which clashes with the very essence of graffiti as an anonymous, untameable form of public expression and one cannot avoid contextualising a project such as this within the larger context of graffiti culture.
The Indian ‘Handymen’: Technical Education in the Indian Army during World War II
Calling upon a rich seem of archival research, particularly a recruitment clip for the Indian army of the same name, Kajal’s paper sought to define the often-overlooked contribution of Indian nationals drafted into service for the British Second World-War effort. Challenging the established design history narratives of the Indian Craftsman during colonial rule, the paper sort to present a new story of the craftsmen being retrained in the model of western industrial techniques, albeit for the service to colonial powers.
Her focus for this project was on a group of army recruits called the Bengal ‘Sappers and Miner’s (also known as ‘the engineers of the army’). Recruitment occurred through India, from cities to villages and was driven by the promise of non-combative roles and technical training that could be transferred into work life after the war. However, the focus of the retraining had a specific purpose for the British; rather than to train craftsmen in techniques useful for the development of Indian industrialisation, the training was central to recruiting Indians into engineering cores specifically.
Meghani provides a detailed historical account with a focus on the Thomason College (known today as the Indian Institute of Technology) in Rooke in what was then, the North West province of British India. She also highlights technical training as an “indicator of modernisation” in India at this time, and the subsequent tension between traditional modes of craft that were seen as anti-industrial, preserving generational teaching as apposed to the technical training that was now present in art schools. But the Bengal Sappers and Miners occupied a unique position in this context, described as ‘handymen’ (Meghani describes how the meaning of this term held positive connotations of an “expertly trained craftsmen”) they were a half-way point between the artisan and the industrial worker.However, as Kajal revealed, the mass-employment following the cessation of war failed to materialise, in fact, in many cases, the handymen returned to India to retrain in traditional craft techniques in order to fit the demands of domestic employment. She also stated that the lasting impact of this training after reintegration into society is an area for future research.Meghani’s research benefited from the Student Research Travel Grant, awarded by the Design History Society, follow this link to read her report on her research process.
Peripheral Design: mimicry and nationalism in Polish Graphic Design
Forming part of the Graphic Design and National Identity session, Agata presented a thoughtful paper on Poland’s attempts to form an identity through graphic design. Touching on some of the familiar issues in the use of design for national identity, such the complexities of defining a global identity while also being reflective of national perspectives, the paper focused on the unique tensions in Polish graphic design.
Many of the attempts presented in the paper took place against the backdrop of various occupations throughout Poland’s history - with each independence gained, a Polish typographic style was attempted. However, most striking was the use of Poland’s most recent attempts at defining a graphical style in the aftermath of the Russian communist control.
The paper documented the tensions of a country looking for acceptance from the West, taking direction from western European design philosophies of Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, while needing to incorporate references to its Eastern roots, even though there were seen as regressive in the face of western modernity.
Through the presentation of several typographies, a revealing portrait of a country was shown, attempting to fit the global design standard of corporate graphic design of the early 90s, while trying retain its own identity through its visual and material graphic design culture.
Exhibiting Independent India: Textiles and Ornamental Arts at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1955
In 1955, the Museum of Modern Art (New York) held the exhibition entitled Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India and in doing so, set the tone for how post-colonial Indian craft and design would be perceived in the US, as argued by Elise Hodson at this years Annual Design History Conference in Ahmedabad.
The exhibition was originally organised by Edgar Kaufmann Jr. who was the director of industrial design at MOMA at the time, with the intention of portraying a modern India through its visual culture. Hodson explained his vision for an exhibition that would “mark a turn in the way westerners regard Indian design”.
But Kaufmann resigned before the exhibition was completed, passing the directorship to Monroe Wheeler and as a result, the exhibition was said to have steered away from Kaufmanns aim of representing a modern India through its design and slipped back into representations of the exotic ‘other’.
The political aspect of the exhibition was not missed in Hodson’s paper. In fact Kaufmann states that the intentions of the show were to improve India-US relations in the context of the ongoing cold-war struggle at that time. And many steps were taken in relation to this task, such as downplaying the involvement of British Museums to Indian representatives whose relationship was described as "awkward".
The exhibition would also play an important role in establishing relationships that would influence how western design thinking would be exported to India. Indeed, the very building that this paper was delivered in is a result of these relationships that would eventually lead to The India Report by Charles and Ray Eames and founding of the National Institute of Design in 1961.
A New India – Leisure Space in Navi Mumbai
While Navi Mumbai, a township situated across the harbour to the east of Mumbai, was primarily developed to ease congestion in the main city itself, it was also developed as a unbridled expression of modernism, couched in the utopian concepts so evident in cities such as Chandigarh. As with the modernist templates it tried to emulate, socialist principles were at the core of the city plans, the designers intending the assimilate city should be aimed at the common man rather the than the affluent. However, the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 saw the utopian concept for the city erode and Navi Mumabi emerged as a haven to middle and upper class income groups.
The paper charted this change through three case studies of contemporary Navi Mumbai leisure spaces: the Central Park, the gated community of the Seawood Estate and the hyper commercial space of the Raqhueela Mall. Setting these modern examples against archival evidence of the original city plans, Priya documented the change from the cities utopian ideals to a city in-tune with the global economy. One in which local culture is overshadowed by an international design style and global consumerism.
Indeed, what the paper revealed was that Navi Mumbai can be taken, loosely, as an allegory to the development of India – the city the country’s own barometer to change from post-colonial to the a city integrated into the global economy, reflective of India’s own global ambitions of the 21st century.
Packaging Design and its Contribution to the History of Perfumes
Camila Assis -a doctoral student at São Paulo Federal University- traces the national history of perfumes in Brazil and its changing cultural implication through an investigation into the history of perfume packaging via museum and amateur collections.
These collections allow for a rich resource into an arguably unique area of packaging design, one that perhaps relies more heavily than most on semiotic interpretation to convey meaning about a product whose function is purely cosmetic.
Assis’ study was thoroughly detailed and outlines a extensive history of perfume manufacturing and consumption in Brazil, exploring both cultural and technical changes and noteworthy Brazilian brands such as Boticario and Rastro, whose perfume Rastro Lavender was argued to be the first Brazilian perfume to be considered a luxury item.
Her paper concluded with an analysis of the contemporary aesthetics of perfume packaging in relation to globalisation and the close relationship to the fashion industry.
Visions of India: Creating Nationalist Identity at Indian Congress Exhibitions, 1901-6
Denise’s paper explored the development of a modern India through analysing the presentation of itself at Indian National Congress (INC) exhibitions. Focusing on a specific five-year period between 1901 and 1906, the paper presented the importance of these exhibitions as a foundation for an independent Indian national identity, some 40 years before this was finally achieved.
Noting the important fact that these were the first exhibitions organised and managed by ‘South Asians’, the exhibitions included wide range of items. From examples of local trade and craft to typical Indian art, the exhibitions also exhibited goods manufactured using Western industrial techniques. Indeed, it was the juxtaposition of old and new that challenged the existing visions of India under British colonial control.
While the INC gained clear political creditability from the exhibitions and the suggested Indian modernity on display, the exhibitions were also a catalyst for debating the importance of industry and its relationship to craft on the sub-continent. To exploit this point, a case study of the 1905 exhibition at Benares was presented at which key figures discussed the essential role of industrialisation in any future independent India.
Although the paper notes that the exhibitions were still under a degree of colonial control, the paper presented an important narrative in Indian design history in the early 20th century, a complex picture of national identity was formed, in part presenting a vision of an industrial future while also referencing the typical trades and crafts of its past.
Fashionable European Adaption of India Embroideries c.1850-1914
The appreciation of Indian textiles (such as the Shawls of Kashmir and the Chintz fabrics) by the British is well documented, with the consumption of these textiles mainly occurring through trade, colonial acquisition or exchanges. But the production of “regional Indian embroideries in the colonial times and their consumption by the British” is a subject that Pallavi Patke argued, has escaped scholarly attention.
Her paper- delivered at this years Annual Design History Conference in Ahmedabad- explored this consumption of regional Indian embroideries, highlighting alternate routes of influence on British design by Indian crafts through such means as the possessions of British women who visited and lived India as officers’ wives during colonial rule, being introduced to these forms of embroidery through such events as courtly appointments and dinners.
English writer Flora Annie Steel is one such example who was said to be fascinated by the technique of Indian embroidery and remained in India from 1867-1889 as the wife of Henry William Steel, a member of the Indian Civil Service.
Patke spoke of a hybridisation of Indian embroidery as Indian designs became adapted for British means both in design and in use, showing examples in British museum collections of this form of adaptation such as the ‘Child’s Cape’ at the V&A, described on their website as “Anglo-Indian?”, the question mark perhaps hinting at a gap in research that Patke is attempting to fill.
Through in-depth research and well chosen examples Patke’s contribution to the wider discourse is clear, furthering our understanding of the cultural exchange of ideas and designs between India and Britain during colonial rule.
Hacking Nature; A Vernacular Technological Approach to Design Production and Consumption
A fascinating paper that investigated vernacular design of Amazon tribes people, its comment on the nature of material culture under colonial and post-colonial rule and its re-interpretation by western designers and companies.
Using the work of Brazilian based designer Andrea Bandoni and the Objetos da Floresta (Objects of the Forest) project as a departure point, Gabriele presented a series of objects that were improvised as and when they were needed by using manipulation of naturally occurring artefacts from their environment. So, for example, a backpack or bin is created from naturally occurring flora. Lingua de pirarucu, or piranha’s tongue, once dried, is used as a grater in cooking. As the objects are naturally occurring, once they have reached the end of their useful life, they simply discarded and left to degrade naturally.
The paper exploited the tension in this ethos of design that, while for the people of the Amazonian is simply a common sense approach to finding the tools they need around them, challenges the western concepts of materiality and modes of consumption. Indeed, much of what is presented in the Objetos da Floresta could address the theme of sustainable design in western design, feeding into, as the paper presents, low-scale domestic material manipulation technologies.
Janus faced Orientalism: Russianicity and the Ballet Russes
A rich and revealing insight into the complex and multi-layered discourse on the Ballet Russes, Portia’s paper set out to investigate two sets of contexts for the impact of the famed, Parisian based ballet company.
Firstly, using the company’s contentious production of Schéhérazade as a case study and departure point, Portia presented the several disciplines of visual culture that the ballet encompasses, including costume, gender and historical stereotypes of the East. Indeed, it was this combination of disciplines that was key in the construction of the ballet’s complex identity, a form of self-orientalism, based on the Western, specifically Parisian, ideals of the East and Russianicity. The issues were particular evident in the rich archival material that supported the paper.
The second context presented was that of the archival artefacts themselves and the context in which they should be considered. Indeed, how should items, particularly the ephemera from the Schéhérazade, that reinforce a form of colonial imagery - potentially even more so when they are removed from the original context of the production - be displayed as objects in there own right?
In keeping with the rest of the conference, Portia’s paper revealed the complexities of viewing objects imbued with values of a colonial past when reading them through 21st century narratives.
Joana Ozorio de Almeida de Meroz
The Culturalisation of Objects/ The Objectification of Culture: For a Multicultural Dutch Design
In defining a nations design history assumptions are often taken in what it is that actually makes up that history. Who are the groups that form the nation’s identity and are they fully recognised in the national identity that is trying to be expressed?
In Joana’s paper, these questions were specifically posed of design history in the Netherlands, a country home to a rich and vibrant design culture and in which immigrant communities make up the nearly a fifth of the overall population. Yet despite this rich culture of design, there has been little investigation into the allochthon design culture and its influence on the broader design historical culture of the Netherlands.
The paper went onto to suggest that part of the issue behind this lack of investigation lies in the stereotypes in Dutch design, repeating the same, famous examples, as the route of a Dutch national design identity. Joana went to suggest that a new, revisionist approach is needed to Dutch design history.
An enlightening and important paper in which the concepts put forward by Joana are applicable not only to Dutch design but other Western design histories which fail to reflect the multicultural realities of the their cultural histories.