Design for Kashmir: Art as an Impact Agent

I have known Pratima for many years now - she was my junior at NID and I think i gave her a fair bit of hard time as senior when she started school :) However, as years went by we spoke less and less and she became just another Facebook friend, until I started seeing some amazing art from Kashmir on her wall and on the page that she had created called Design for Kashmir. I ended up chatting with her about the initiative and was extremely impressed and inspired by her work. Design for Kashmir is an initiative to help the flood-hit people of the valley, and it intends to do this by using Art and Design.

Kashmir is an integral part of my being and I think I connect to the place in more ways than I can possibly describe. I loved this initiative and wanted to share story of these creative bunch of people with the hope that it will inspire many others who read their story. Design for Kashmir is an open initiative and everyone is welcome to join in and help in the movement in any way possible (more details on how you can participate towards the end of the story).

Read the story in their own words below. Also shared are some of the original art-work created by those associated with the initiative.

A collage of Kashmir Art...

Seed of the idea...

It started when a Sunday morning met an empty schedule, and thus opened up a window of opportunity. On the 21st of September I was in Ashoka University, in Sonepat, Haryana… and I considered the access I had to hundreds of young people, and decided to host a small poster design workshop. It was a humble effort, minuscule in its inception, I made the first poster and called a few friends, who got on board, agreeing instantly to be the first supporters, Unnati made a Facebook page… and we set out spreading the word for people to get involved. So we set out to battle the soporific effects of a Sunday morning with a social cause. It was a humble beginning, 30 to 40 students, armed with paint, pixels and compassion, making posters and plunging into that vortex when Ink meets imagination.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Lavanya Naidu

Volunteers for Kashmir

The recipe for scale was there camouflaged in the modest way we began. I had invited Mohammad Irfan Dar, founder of Volunteers for Kashmir to come share his story with us and scaffold our spirits with the inspiration we needed to get our posters to make the most amount of impact. When Irfan began to share his story, a stillness descended across the room, blanketing all externalities, and as we shared that silence, listening only to his story, a story of ordinariness that when routed through the prism of disaster rose to extraordinary heights. 

When the floods hit, they started operating out of a table in a cafĂ© in Delhi, sending a call to out to regular people to come and help. In the span of two weeks, he shut down his business, spent his days making calls, organizing logistics, transforming kindness into material succor for flood stricken victims, sending relief supplies by night. In the span of two weeks they had sent 30 tons of relief supplies, accumulated over 300 volunteers across Delhi and done this all without a single paisa exchanging hands. Not having the legal umbrella of an organizational identity. He did this out of great personal cost, to his business and with no news of his family who were still in Kashmir, waiting somewhere for aid to arrive. It’s a remarkable story, a real testament to the human spirit, and small taste of what is lying hidden within all of us. The Volunteer for Kashmir’s story unfolded in the span of two weeks, and it really is a story above all of compassion, love, community and spirit. It really was an incredibly tough act to follow up the tale.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Habiba Insaf, alum JNU
When I arrived back home from Delhi, with a bundle of posters. I was armed with a gift he gave me, and idea growing slowly and taking root. It was a simple idea, ‘To let the beauty of what you love, be what you do to help out’. I think it was the very simplicity of the idea that swept us away… it was a force to be reckoned with.

We sent out thousands of mails, each personal, each from a place of personal connection. When the responses came, they hit us like a crashing wave. Each mail was an exercise in giving and of the wealth of compassion in lying waiting in us for a window of opportunity.  All of us have felt pangs of helplessness in the face of tragedy; we’ve keenly felt our own scale in comparison to the gargantuan will of a disaster. The idea of the collective is an attempt to revel in our scale, to acknowledge the power of the miniscule. A valuation of the small efforts, the pieces offered up in between 9 to 5 jobs, impossible deadlines, and demanding days. It’s a multitude of minutes, all piling up, its years of practice dedicated to a skill that finds an outlet in stolen hours. It’s a testament to love, and generosity, and it’s a means to channel the beauty of what you love and offer that as succour.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Prathima Muniyappa

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Prashant Miranda

Stories of support!

There are some great stories here… One of our first responses when we asked for artworks was from Dhun Karkaria, who responded saying, ‘Whatever I, Hema and Hazel have in our collection is yours for the taking. Needless to say, there's some very good stuff in there. All yours.’ This hit us like a pan galactic gargle balster wrapped around a brick with a slice of lemon! 40 years of work by an entire studio at our disposal? Wow. Reshma Rahiman, who has actively chosen not to do any commercial work since her graduation offered to design an entire product range for us. When we were talking deadlines, she quickly agreed to that we needed the designs ready ‘as soon as possible’, and it was then she revealed that she was in her 8th month of pregnancy with her third child!

The largesse of our contributors to feel compassion for the world outside their immediate universe is amazing. What we have been witness to is a multitude of such stories, people who run companies who want to stop their companies for a half and get them all involved in the cause. People pulling artworks out of their archives, to be sold for the first time in India, people who are offering us their showrooms at zero cost to showcase our artworks, the stories that were are collecting seem to be as endless as the waves of compassion washing up our at our shores.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Anunya Chaubey, Deputy Dean of the Young India Fellowship

How we intend to use art?

This Collective was planned with the knowledge that this wave of volunteers, marked by its sheer scale and intensity is bound to wean away, numbers will drop, as people move onto fight everyday battles. It has barely been a year, and already the Uttarkhand floods are relegated into the cobwebbed embrace of history as we grapple with daily paper cuts!

This is where we come in. The collective is a platform, which will use a range of artworks offered by the mavericks who are inspired to steal away few hours from their atlas like deadlines. By using single artworks to create a range of products like T-shirts, Sketchbooks, Mobile phone covers, laptop cases, tote bags, stationery and the like, we intend to harness the power of the multiplier. 

The objective is to first create a database of artworks, voluntarily offered by their creators for our use. The second objective is to create a system within which each artwork can be transformed into an ‘X’ range of products. This highly modular approach will ensure that the relief movement has a steady range of products for sale, which will provide a sustainable steady source of income to the relief and rehabilitation efforts. Winter is coming, and Kashmir will be enveloped in another nightmare, without shelter and succour. They will need all the support we can offer. We are in talks with a few online shopping portals that are offering to host us for free, some people who are offering us store spaces for free… many opportunities are opening up for us as people open their hearts to the cause.
design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Latika Nehra
Yesterday (5th October 2014) it was exactly two weeks since the first idea and we have already come a long way thanks to the many people who have carried us - we have tried earnestly to be a prism for all the small or big ideas and offerings that come our way. Even as I write this we are working out a feasabile business plan, figuring strategies for our product range, trying to ensure that our fundraising objective is met. There are many roads ahead of us, and at this early stage we are trying to negotiate and account for as many future possibilities as we can. If Design for Kashmir is a success story, and we are fully committed to making it so, considering our current position as caretakers of the wealth of work freely offered, we hope to scale up and replicate this model for other social issues that India is grappling with and attempt to create a platform where design can meet social change and the ripples spread, ever onwards.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Aditi Gupta, Mestrupedia

The Team

The core team consists of:
Prathima Muniyappa: A Young India Fellow 2013-2014. NID Graduate in Spatial and Exhibition Design. In her day job, she is a Heritage conservation professional and a museum designer, and she moonlights under many other labels.
Unnati Agarwal: An NID Graduate in Film and Video communication. A Freelance Assistant Director, she is increasingly searching for causes she can give herself away to.

Vivek Sheth: He is the founder and chief design crew at the design ship, an NID alumni, and Unbox fellow 2014is the founder and chief design crew at the design ship, an NID alumni, and Unbox fellow 2014.

T.T. Venkatragahan: He is our Business Guru, Works at Sundaram Finance and is a Young India Fellow 2014.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Prathima Muniyappa 

How can you help?

The collective so far has been carried by the mulititude of people who have helped in their own way. There are several ways to help:

  • Send us artwork. Wield ink and imagination, pixel and paint. Plunge!
  • Spread the word, help us generate momentum, and offer people the means to participate.
  • Link us to people that can help, There is so much do be done going forward, an entire business to be created, we are open to advice, to people offering us their time, their expertise. We need contacts of printers, platforms, and production units.
  • If you want to get more closely involved with this, you can reach out to us at designforkashmir [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Most of all help us share this initiative with as many friends and family members as you can and help in spreading the movement.
This message is a call out for anyone who has the heart to offer up their time and their skill, every piece is welcome, and the very small has an equal place gratitude next to the very big. There is no degree. You already working from a place of love. We are still young and few and we have a lot of growing to do, with your help. It started with a soft slow patter of raindrops. Soon there will be a deluge.

design for kashmir art poster
Artist: Dhun Karkaria