Inspiration: How Art is Changing India's Biggest City

Graphic design for social change - here’s someone who’s thinking outside the box!


Printed fabric for car interiors isn’t really new.
I like to use dye sub on a fabric called Gaming Suede…
We don’t install it though. That part is up to you.
You can also use printed/lammed wrap vinyl to wrap interiors as well as exteriors.

That is really terrific! :slight_smile:

I love how one of the Taxi drivers said some people pay to sits and read then leave … don’t want to go anywhere. Just pay to sit and read … that’s awesome :smiley:

I wasn’t talking about the substrate. I was referring to the graphic application and reach of message.

I don’t know about this, PT. I mean I can see how one would find this interesting looking at it from the outside, but to me it’s just a reminder of how limited the reach of the message actually is, and what an uphill task it is to come up with a platform that can target a majority of the people in India.

The designer in the video is making tall claims. I wouldn’t really say that the taxi is the heart line of travel in Mumbai. Because it’s only affordable to the middle class, and that too those at the upper end of it. A majority of the people in the city travel in the local train. Ironically, I doubt the message is even targeted at the driver or the owner of the taxi.

This style of art is called Indian truck art – I guess one could call it common people’s art – which became cool after being appropriated by elite designers who used it to first to create t-shirts, coasters, mugs, cushions, etc. and started selling them in fancy shops accessible to people like them, and of course foreigners/tourists. This taxi fabric business is just an extension of that.

They haven’t put this art in the public space, like the designer claims; it was already there. Yes, the social messaging is something that these guys have brought into it. But then they’re targeting the same tiny bunch of people who have access to this kind of information anyway from other sources like the internet, books etc. Not that they still can’t use it in their lives, but the reach is quite limited.

Oh schweta, this is disappointing to hear. I suppose I was too optimistic and wanted to believe that messaging was getting out to more than the elite few.

Oh well, thank you for giving me a clearer perspective.

I’ve got kind of an off-the-wall question, Schweta.

You seem to be very comfortable navigating the gulf between Indian and Western culture (at least your posts suggest that, and your English is as good as anyone’s here).

With Indian designers taking advantage of the internet to market their work to, especially, Western clients, how are these Indian designers bridging this cultural gap?

Is Western culture so common in India that it’s not as difficult as I might think? If I tried to design something for an Indian audience, I think I would be stumbling over all kinds of things out of nothing but sheer ignorance. Yet I see some very good work coming out of India that could just as easily have been produced in Sydney, San Francisco or London.

Is Western culture so common in India that it’s not as difficult as I might think?

Just a guess, but a least part of their familiarity with western culture may be from watching films/tv. At least that is the case here in eastern Europe among many of the younger gen. I have a friend here in his early twenties, that speaks American English almost impeccably. Besides that he can switch over to a Texas or New York accent as if he had lived there, but he has never really traveled out of Romania. British English accent / vocabulary is not a problem for him either. Of course his familiarity extends beyond language as well. He is clearly talented with language, but He attributes much of his ability in the language to watching TV. Of course there is the irony that his view of Western culture is mostly the picture that Hollywood has painted for him.

You ask a difficult question, B. Someone needs to write a book on this. Or several. Maybe academics already have – I have no idea. But let me try to answer it briefly.

The collective head of the non-Western world has been for centuries turned – forcibly in the beginning but now kind of inevitably – towards the West and the Western idea of development. But let me just talk about India because that’s what I know – though needless to say I’m no expert and my understanding is contestable.

You might be aware that India was a British colony for 200 years, and the colonial agenda of establishing Western superiority was so successful that the country never could go back to completely reclaiming its roots after independence. Which meant that anything and everything Western (British mainly) became aspirational – Western education, Western system of medicine, mastery over the English language, Western entertainment (films, books, food, etc.), and even white skin. The British kept these things inaccessible to the common people, which meant that it was limited only to the upper and upper-middle classes. This trend continued after independence because the powers-that-be belonged to these classes and could not fathom an alternative.

Over time, English education became slightly more attainable, and by the time I was born in the mid-seventies, all white collar workers in the big cities who earned a decent living were sending their kids to schools that offered education in English. That’s why my English is as good as you say it is (in some cases it might even be better because I learnt it formally rather than as my mother tongue). I would call it my first language.

When India was liberalised in the 1990s, it was US companies that strategically flooded the market with satellite TV, Coca-Cola, MTV, Hollywood, multiplexes, big advertising, big brands, you name it. Interestingly, they also made sure the Miss World and Miss Universe crowns went to India in 1994 after they inundated the market with beauty care products. The companies set up production units in India, where they hired cheap Indian labour, giving them slightly better salaries than they were used to (but definitely far less than US workers). This increased the buying power of the workers, allowing them to indulge their aspirations of an American lifestyle, or like skribe says, Hollywood’s idea of it. These aspirations were now no longer restricted just to the upper classes, but also included the middle classes.

[Fun fact: There’s a strange mishmash of British and American English that a lot of young people speak today. So, for example, when they ask someone the route to some place, they will pronounce it like “root” (the British way). Whereas because the internet came to India after liberalisation, they pronounce router in wifi router the American way (“rout-er”). (It’s quite annoying.) We also use the American keyboard on all our devices.]

So, that’s why there is so much familiarity with the American culture. There is a direct relation between cultural elitism and closeness to the West. Young upper-class people who choose books, theatre, art, music, journalism, design, academics and activism as their profession could be so removed from their local culture and so ingrained in the American one that they could sit with you (as in an American) in a pub in New York, hold forth on racism on American television and you wouldn’t be able to tell if they were American or not. Except maybe their accents might give them away.

Apart from this group of people, for whom the cultural gap is not a gap anymore because their acceptance of the American culture is so complete, there are others who have had enough overall Western exposure for them to be able to speak in the same language (literally and figuratively!) as their Western clients.

You, B, could design for an Indian audience and you wouldn’t have to think any differently to do so, but it will be a niche audience. It’ll be the young people from rich and upper-middle class families for whom Western culture is like their own. Or even for slightly older people, not so rich, but in the upper-middle class range who are quite tuned into Western culture too.

You provided a fantastic answer, though. As an American, I have mixed feelings about the influence of British and, now, American culture around the world. What you’ve written has made me question it even more. I’ve been thinking about it for good part of the day now. Thank you for the first-hand insight!

Really interesting. Thanks for posting! :pray:

I’m glad you found it interesting, B, iraszl.

If you carry cultural imperialism to its logical conclusion, there would only be one culture in the world. And the biggest victim of that would be diversity.

Who can understand the tragedy of this better than creative people?

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This is has been amazing to read. Schweta, your words touched my heart.

Thank you :heart:

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