My struggle to narrate the struggle of a freedom fighter

As I promised myself in the previous post, I am back with another story. Yes, I have found a way through the wall.

My journey through the process of creating a narrative space for Dr. Diwan Singh ‘Kalepani’ has been remarkably enlightening. It has helped me understand narrative spaces as a graphic designer and as a visualizer. Here are some parts of it.

Notes by the Studio Head, AB Design Habit

Content, context and medium
First step was to absorb Dr. Diwan Singh ‘Kalepani’ (DSK) life story. Post that my research on museums as narrative spaces began. Fortunately, I found some research papers online which helped me understand museums as learning spaces. However, several questions arise when we think about the visitors and how much do they absorb during their visit. It is contextual to how a visitor would respond to information placed in front of him/her. That’s another area of research altogether and several approaches have been tried, however the results are still dubious as to how one absorbs information. It is relative to context, personal experiences, cultural and regional factors.

With the advent of  interactive technology, recently designed museums tend to incorporate interactive learning experiences. Although the factors of learning process are common here but the medium gives dynamism to content. However, it is critical to use technology based interfaces with sensitivity. For instance, Gandhi Museum (Gandhi Smriti), New Delhi, recently renovated, stories are narrated using interactive new media. It must be a delight for technologists to integrate functions of trigger through human touch. However, during my visit I observed 10-12 year old students going through these high-tech spaces. They were fascinated by the technology but the information absorption seemed poor. Therefore, learning from the visit was more about how new technology can create experiences as opposed to Gandhi’s contribution to the freedom struggle.

It is critical to use technology based interfaces with sensitivity towards the content.

Information as text
My observation has been that text puts off most of the visitors in a museum. However, I have not been able to find a sure shot solution to the problem. The old thumb rule works like a newsletter, the most important piece of information goes as the headline maintaining link to other pieces of information. The next set of information goes as sub-headline and the rest as body text. It works as a classic in most of the museums. But the answer to this could be a new media based solution used critically justifying the content. Conversation construction is the key to self-learning environments.

Narrator’s perspective brings to light intentions, interpretations and evaluations

Orientation in space and association

The impact of a narrative builds around how easily a visitor orients himself/herself with time and space. Here comes the role of visual information that brings out context and association with culture. Visual elements help a visitor translate information from a physical space to build emotional connect. For instance, blowing up images to a size larger than life size can transform the experience of the same image.

Learning is a dialogue between the individual and his or her environment through time. Conversation is a primary activity of knowledge construction.

DSK Project 

Dr. Diwan Singh ‘Kalepani’ was a man of values and our idea was to build the narrative as a value based system. We identified the value that each gallery would share. Post that, we mapped the content (incidences from his story) for the galleries. However, being accustomed to working with a scale in proportion to my hands, working with walls was a huge task.

Translation of Values in present-day context

Associating culture

One of the galleries was based on the culture of Punjab, the land where DSK grew up as a child. While studying Punjab’s material culture I came across some beautiful artifacts. Some were household objects while some were beautiful forms of paintings on textiles & other surfaces. A transcultural influence of the Mughal and Pahari paintings was observed. Fascinated by the art, I wanted to illustrate DSK’s life as a form of Persian art (Mughal influences) as borders as embroidred on shawls.

However, my mentor raised a question

“DSK is a man of the land, he is crude and close to mother nature. Rural life is reflected in his childhood. He was a freedom fighter. Don’t you think embroidery is too delicate a form for him.”

Hence it wasn’t appropriate to reflect his life through this form of art; it shall not do justice to his personality. However, the other influences from Punjab’s culture that we did incorporate was phulkari work related to women. And my understanding of “Content governing Design” grew stronger.

There were several occasions where I learnt about the nitty-gritties of visualizing in space. Some of the crucial points have been:

1. Understanding Scale.

2. Alignment in Space.

Working with only two walls for one of the five galleries of the museum the visual vocabulary was prepared. I remember, my first question to my mentor was: “As graphic designers when we work on an identity project we try to create a language of consistency with change. How will we do that in space?” He said, “As you’ll start treating the content in terms of mapping and visualizing it, you shall get your answers.” I didn’t believe him, because to me the museum comprised of five galleries! I wondered, if it was ever going to happen. But we did it.

The mantra, as they say, is follow the content.

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3 responses to “My struggle to narrate the struggle of a freedom fighter

  1. Just happened to stumble upon your post a couple days back. This project is very dear to my heart since Diwan Singh Kalepani (DSK) happens to be my grandfather. It was my fathers dream to build a museam which could tell the story of this little known martyr to the world. We are very lucky to have Amar working on it. How is your struggle coming along. Do you have some visuals that you could share with me? I am in America these days hence my involement is from a distance. Do fill me up on the latest development. Good luck!

    • Hey Sonia! great to find you here. While working on this I was hoping to meet you, however your plan of coming to India had changed then. I think I have met some of your family members during the first concept presentation of the story. It’s a great joy to work for Amar, he is brilliant.

      Well, your grandfather’s story is very inspiring. Apart from the project itself his life story was a great source of learning. I took up this project for my graduation degree, however couldn’t continue as I was leaving Delhi and relocating to another city. Hence, I couldn’t follow up on the project. But I do know from my ex-colleagues that the project is in full flow and is shaping really well. Hope to see it soon myself.

      Really nice to hear from you,
      Take care —Sheel

  2. Pingback: Struggling my way through a wall « Sheel Damani | Communication Design·

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