Moving Away Symposium, New Delhi


The symposium in New Delhi at the India International Centre, organized in collaboration with the Max Mueller Bhavan, looked specifically at the history of art school education in South Asia in relation to the Bauhaus legacy. Prior to becoming the curators of bauhaus imaginista, Marion von Osten and I both worked extensively in art education: what emerged during the research period of the project was a series of examples of art and design institutions from different parts of the world. Some developed along the lines of Bauhaus teaching methods—thanks to the presence of émigré figures— some borrowed vicariously from Bauhaus sources, while others developed in parallel or agonistically to the Bauhaus model.

Bauhaus teaching includes the preliminary course, the theory of color and form course, workshop-based learning, collaborations with industry, and the inclusion of eminent “fine artists” within the design training process. Introduced by Johannes Itten in October 1919, the preliminary course can be viewed as the backbone of Bauhaus teaching. It was used to shake off academic ideas and preconceptions, to facilitate the holistic development of the individual, and as a conduit through which every student necessarily passed before being fully accepted at the school. Along with required study in color and form, the preliminary course, which involved experimental exercises without predetermined end results, so to speak, established a range of skills later applied in the workshops.

While Itten’s concept included self-development and liberating the individual’s creative forces, Lázló Moholy-Nagy believed that industrialized and mediatized societies displaced immediate experience. Thus he introduced the systematic exploration of the optical and haptic senses through textural analysis and spatial studies. Josef Albers is credited with giving the preliminary course its most comprehensive form through a focus on the study of materials. The preliminary course, and in particular the idea of a foundational training in visual and material qualities, has gone on to become the most enduring elements of the Bauhaus pedagogical legacy.

Bauhaus pedagogy wasn’t a unified phenomenon. Like the identity of the school itself, its methods were contested and adapted over the course of its various phases. Its curriculum cannot be simply lifted out of its original institutional context.

Our project has been principally about the dissemination and refraction of Bauhaus ideas post 1933. But this dissemination process began during the time of the historical Bauhaus, with masters and graduates alike going on to teach at similarly oriented institutions, such as the arts and crafts school in Halle, the Frankfurt Kunstschule and the Itten Schule in Berlin. Elements of the preliminary course also became a feature of German art education after the Second World War. The most notable example of such an attempt to continue the Bauhaus program is, of course, HfG Ulm—conceived originally out of an anti-fascist impetus, initially as a political education, then oriented towards design through the increased involvement of Max Bill who became its first director. Bill wished to call the school Bauhaus Ulm, an idea overturned by co-founder Otl Aicher, among others, who argued that so little was left of the material, political and cultural context of the Bauhaus that it was irrelevant to so name the new school.

The legacy of the Bauhaus was both continued and contested at Ulm, with its second director, Argentinian designer Tomas Maldonado (who taught at Ulm from 1954 to 1966), writing that “although the geometric teapots ‘Bauhaus 24’ are considered museum objects today,” some think the pedagogical ideas of the Bauhaus are still current. He viewed the school’s curriculum as a historical phenomenon to be critically examined in order to see if it was still relevant today. There was also debate within the faculty, particularly with regard to the relationship between art and design. Unlike Bill, Aicher wished to leave painting and sculpture out of the curriculum and disagreed that design should be subordinated to an ideal aesthetic emanating from the fine arts—implicit in the presence of artists at the Bauhaus in the position of masters of form.

The importance of schools of art and design for bauhaus imaginista has oriented the research undertaken in India—something reflected in the make-up of the symposium in New Delhi.

Kathleen James Chakraborty at the symposium Moving Away—Bauhaus Pedagogy, New Delhi, Photo: © Tribhuwan Sharma.

Natasha Ginwala at the symposium Moving Away—Bauhaus Pedagogy, New Delhi, Photo: © Tribhuwan Sharma.

David Abrahams at the symposium Moving Away—Bauhaus Pedagogy, New Delhi, Photo: © Tribhuwan Sharma.

Discussion at the symposium Moving Away—Bauhaus Pedagogy, New Delhi, Photo: © Tribhuwan Sharma.

The day began with a presentation by architecture and Bauhaus scholar, Kathleen James Chakraborty, who helped to set out something of the Bauhaus teaching practice and how it might relate to design training in South Asia. The art historian Anshuman Dasgupta from Kala Bhavan, who was also among the curatorial researchers for Corresponding With, outlined the role of the artist Nandalal Bose in establishing a teaching practice at Kala Bhavan, to which Bose was appointed head in 1922. His presentation included rare footage of instructional postcards and the teaching collection Bose assembled together with other faculty members and students. The art historian Geeta Kapur discussed the work of artists GK Subramanyan, an influential pedagogue whose work, ideas, writing and teaching provides a link between Kala Bhavan and the Faculty of Fine Arts of Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda. The scholar Sabih Ahmed, who has undertaken significant research into the subject of Baroda for the Asia Art Archive, where he is Senior Researcher, shared this material, as well as notes from his discussions with the painter, poet and art critic Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, one of the school’s pivotal figures.

Reflecting the key role this institution played in the exhibition Moving Away, a substantial portion of the symposium was dedicated to the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The design historian and professor at Ambedkar University’s School of Design, Suchitra Bala Subrahmanyan, discussed the context of the school’s formation, the question of government involvement in design, the involvement of the Ford Foundation, and the development of discourse on design in India through publications such as Marg and Design Review. S. Balaram, the Industrial designer and ex-faculty member at NID, whose book Thinking Design and concept of the barefoot designer were instrumental in developing ideas for the Indian section of Moving Away, spoke about the school during its early phase, including its close relationship with HG Ulm. This was followed by Tanishka Kuchu, a design historian and currently faculty member, who helped us research the NID archives, and reflected on the value of this archive for NID today at the symposium.

A discussion in the afternoon with curator Natasha Ginwala, who has researched the textile production of the Kutch district of Gujarat state, David Abrahams, creative director of Abraham and Thakore and an NID graduate whose diploma project was included as part of Moving Away, and the designer, writer and curator Mayank Mansingh Kaul (also an NID graduate) addressed the history of fieldwork and collaborative projects with artisans and rural communities at NID, along with what impact this line of inquiry has had on design work at the school and on current design and curatorial projects.

The final session of the day went beyond the scope of bauhaus imaginista. Its point of departure was the legacy of the architect Muzharul Islam, who trained at the AA School of Architecture in London and the Yale School of Architecture, where he studied under the brutalist architect Paul Rudolph (himself formerly a student of Walter Gropius). Islam exerted a profound influence both on South Asian architecture as well as the region’s teaching and research institutions, including the Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscapes and Settlements (founded in 2015). Its director Kazi Ashraf discussed this institution in relation to Islam and also to teaching models used at Santiniketan and the Bauhaus. The architect Saif Ul Haque, a founding member of the architectural research group Chetena, spoke about the involvement of Islam in this initiative, as well as the role of texts by Bauhäuslers in its conceptual development. Finally, the architects and urbanists Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty gave a presentation about CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust), an independent group of architects, artists, technicians and scholars established in 2003, who have engaged in experimental research and interventions in Mumbai.

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