THE BANARAS PROJECT X SUMANTRA MUKERJEE
In October 2016, Purpose Climate Lab spearheaded the 100% Uttar Pradesh campaign. It was around the time of the state elections and the time when news was out about India’s vision to move towards 100 percent electric mobility by 2030. In July 2017, we partnered with the second phase of the 100% Uttar Pradesh campaign, along with Design Fabric to really push the message and build awareness around clean energy solutions through The Banaras Project.
The idea: To use Banaras’ e-rickshaws to highlight clean and green transportation by turning them into beautiful, informative travelling design on clean energy.
How: By launching a country-wide open call for entries that would led to a design-sprint with three designers to create Taxi Fabrics for the e-rickshaws.
Over the next few months, the three chosen designers – Neethi, Tarini Sethi and Sumantra Mukherjee – along with the teams from Purpose Climate Lab and Design Fabric worked relentlessly to put together these uniquely design e-rickshaws that were officially launched in Banaras on November 1, 2017.
The residency program really allowed the three chosen artists to explore, understand and interact with the city and its people. In order to achieve that collaborative way of working, it was imperative to understand the mindset of the people and speak to them in a way that they would understand. “The designs really needed to be easy to grasp by anyone – a tea stall vendor or a university professor”, adds Sakshi Bhalla, senior strategist at Purpose Climate Lab.
But this is simply the beginning for the team. “The 100% Uttar Pradesh campaign goes on for the next six months and we will continue to use the e-rickshaws in all our engagements. The Swacch Urja Yatra that included the e-rickshaws designed by artists Neethi, Tarini Sethi and Sumantra Mukherjee and that launched in Banaras on November 1, will now move to Lucknow and Allahabad, stopping in between both these places in several districts to engage and connect with the local audiences”, quips Sakshi.
VAHAN GANGA KINARE WALA BY SUMANTRA MUKERJEE
“As Indians, we are very complex, as is our culture and so, I didn’t want to look at only one point. My way of approaching the design was to include many layers of inspiration, many layers of influences and to really open up to this grand milieu of so many things together that is Banaras”, says artist Sumantra Mukherjee.
For his design, Sumantra’s concept was equal parts easy and equal parts complex. “I wanted to see how people would react to the Banaras craft and the religious overload given the situation we are in currently as a country. We are in a sort of hangover after years of the British colonial rule and it’s what I wanted to explore with my design”, he explains. To come up with his final design, the artist explored as much as he could – from talking to wooden (religious) doll makers in the city’s Kabir Nagar and the people who paint the e-rickshaws to understanding the local people and their way of seeing things.
He didn’t want to simply talk about Climate Change, but instead wanted to focus on the possibilities of it. “In Banaras, there are a lot of religious people who believe in the history of the land. They’re set in their beliefs and don’t necessarily see the evils of Climate Change. I didn’t want to hurt these people and their beliefs because what they believe is wonderful, so I realised that I would have to take a twist on how I was going to explain the harmful effects of something like Climate Change to them.”
With a heavy reliance on the local culture as well as popular culture, Sumantra’s design also has a subtle yet imminent religious undertone. The back cover has a flying Hanumanji which is similar to the toys made by the artists in Kabir Nagar with a few extra environmental elements like the windmills on the parvat that he is carrying. The design goes beyond the structural landscape of Banaras and delves into a more subconscious one. Tarot-card parrots and palm readers share space on the back of a seat, both doling out solutions to the crisis as opposed to a solution to your future. Religious motifs sit alongside popular culture ones in an attempt to “connect to the audience in a closer sense”. Through his design, he “wanted to bring popular culture back into the visual conversation with the audience”.
Ultimately, he adds, “as visual artists, we tend to sometimes keep an elitist mode on and I’m trying to break that, trying to diminish that margin between an artist and non-artist.
The Banaras Project is supported by 100% Uttar Pradesh