For the History of Design course for the Industrial Design students at the National Institute of Design, Vijayawada, we strapped ourselves tightly and zipped onto a roller coaster time travel… yeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, like a virtual reality experience, especially customised for your personal choice 🙂 don’t believe me??? then read on…
One lazy Saturday morning, we took the college buses to visit Kondapalli, a globally renowned craft cluster with its own GI (shhhh… don’t tell me you don’t what GI is! come on… look it up) and, in the day and age of various hi tech ways of finding our way, we did the oldest known thing – we got lost😜 so we had to find our way by asking around, which wasn’t easy as we didn’t know the local language – we did feel like a bunch of lost travellers on a different land and time … with the help of the only student who could skilfully guide the bus drivers (who were already exasperated with us and we weren’t even close😳) we reached the tiny town… thanks Kavya 🙂
We started a small trek up to the Kondapalli fort – Kondapalli means ‘fort on the hill’ 🌄 more about it in another post…
On the way back, after a sumptuous meal, we met with our tiny friends, in different stages of their existence. Some were still at their most raw formative initial form while some were about to take off!
We spread ourselves through the town snooping around in the hope of selection, study and analysis of a traditional product from this handicraft cluster and design a contemporary response to it. This was to be a way of inclusion of critical thought, in the socio – cultural, financial, political and historical contexts, with an understanding of how these are integrated into design thinking and practice.
So we carried on in our investigation and figured that the local wood, Tella Poniki, was used for crafting these fantastic figurines. While some men of these 40 families would gather and cut the wood, roast them over hot sawdust to remove the moisture from them to make them easy to chisel, refine them with super sharp tools, the women from other families would paint them and bring them to life and define their personalities. Earlier vegetable colours were used but now bright acrylic ones which have transformed their personalities and made them photo-good also 😍
The figurines, known as ‘Bomallu’, translate inadequately into the English ‘toy’ from Telugu (the language of the people of the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana). They are not “toys” but actually representations of Indian gods and goddesses like Ganesha, Dashavataras (ten incarnations of Vishnu) and mythological stories. They also create vignettes of local life ranging from farming to household activities, which I found similar to modern day social media updates, but in 3d!
They are small, can be clutched in your hand and easily fit into your life 🙂 no wonder they’re popular with children, though mostly adults purchase them for proud tierred display for the two important harvesting festivals of Sankranti (in early January) and Dusherra (in early October).
With loads of shopping, a large collection of stories and multiple questions we unravelled ourselves from the mysterious world of Kondapalli. Why mysterious? Because I didn’t tell you, huh?😎 The Kondapalli crafts community claims to be from Rajasthan, nearly 2000 kms away, and that they settled here nearly 400 years back. Why did they travel so far? What motivated them? Were they making figurines in Rajasthan like the puppeteers? Is there any link between puppet making and Kondapalli figurine making? Who were their patrons here? When did they start making these figurines? How did they settle into the local context? They have no connection with Rajasthan anymore but where did they belong to in that arid, desert state? None of us could get our hands on any information that would help dig through these puzzles – if anyone knows then they could gladly pitch in 🙂
The students returned to reality and gave a host of exciting futuristic design proposals which included intense empathetic ones for making the crafts community safe and comfortable in their work spaces, develop new products and ideas for promotion and marketing of the figurines. Some aimed at making tired souls in the world wake up to this vibrant craft tradition and treasure them through challenging games and kits.
Did I mention that the students had already explored an iconic contemporary product and traced back its origins through history till they reached the original idea of its creation? This they illustrated through timelines reflecting their area of research. The aim was to challenge students to explore and appreciate how products are designed as responses to local and global contexts, needs and situations, reflecting tradition, class, gender, politics, identity and narratives.
We learnt of the histories and evolution of toilets, headphones, personal security devices, entertainment spaces extending to HD TV, refrigerators, wheels, guitars, guns, fighter planes and even lighters. So here we are, back in time to share our story with you 🙂