London Design Biennale: India and Pakistan reveal their ‘Emotional States’

Courtesy of London Design Biennale

Courtesy of London Design Biennale

The second London Design Biennale kicked off this week at Somerset House, the neoclassical riverside arts centre in the British capital, with 40 territories and institutions presenting artistic installations and exhibitions in response to this year's theme. We asked the curators of the India and Pakistan pavilions how they interpreted the brief

State of Indigo


The India pavilion, State of Indigo, focuses on the production of a pigment that has been used to dye textiles, repel insects, cure ailments, disinfect, ward off spirits and even to decorate an entire city. “Indigo is a colour that transcends time and geography," says its curator, Clove 01 contributor Priya Khanchandani, who worked with administering body the Gujral Foundation on the project. "It was as desirable in the nineteenth century as a luxury pigment as it is today – albeit in synthetic form – in the form of denim."

Entering the pavilion, you're immersed in a hypnotic multi-sensory installation that places you at the centre of the exploitative indigo production process, with a film commissioned by charity The Colours of Nature showing farmers toiling to turn the indigofera plant into the indigo pigment. Indigo was produced by the colonial administration in India through forced labour, with the profits then used to finance the transatlantic slave trade. “Witnessing the farmers’ rhythmic, mechanical movements, in a cacophony of indigo, will make visitors complicit in their plight," Khanchandani says. The inclusion of figures wearing jeans asks us to consider the historical journey behind a practically universal garment – even today, global corporations profit from India’s cheap labour in producing denim. As well as shining a light on the wealth and labour politics that underlie the production of indigo, Khanchandani aims for the installation to invoke its emotional charge. “Colour is a crucial element of design and has always elicited a strong emotional response, yet we rarely reflect on how much it shapes our environment or moves us.” 


Photo: Ed Reeve

Photo: Ed Reeve

A multi-layered installation of garments, sound and video, the Pakistan pavilion Aangan – meaning the courtyard of a traditional home or haveli – aims to capture the sense of community inherent in the country's female-dominated textile industry, its largest manufacturing sector. The curator, filmmaker and sculptor Mariam Majid, aimed to convey the inner world of the artisan, while emphasising how these largely unrecognised women contribute to the global garment industry, 

Majid partnered with the Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, a training centre for rural women, to make contact with the artisans and source the garments. She says the artisans were given a “free hand to work with the concept of emotional states themselves” – she did not wish to impose her own ideas onto them. Instead, she wanted them to find their own way of working, and allow that to "bridge the gap between craft, art and design through the installation”.

At the biennale, this takes the form of a rising helix of hand-embroidered garments, which Mariam says is intended to be reminiscent of a living organism. Overlaid are projections that represent the inward journey of the artisans, an internal monologue of emotions that fulfils the overall biennale theme. The film is accompanied by sound, including the voice of the garment makers singing while they work. 

State of Indigo and Aangan can be seen at the London Design Biennale at Somerset House in London from until 23 September 2018