Pedagogy with the Botanical

In June 2018, I held an exhibition and public workshop titled ‘Pedagogy with the Botanical’, showcasing images from my personal archive, at a botanical art garden in Gothenburg, Sweden. The workshop was a collaboration with conceptual artist and gardener Leslie Johnson. On display in the garden gallery were actual Indian art, craft, and design artefacts with decorative plant motifs, as well as images from my archive of plant representations in street art and design. These included sculpted lotus-shaped religious shrines, assorted botanical elements within architectural details and metalwork, plant motifs on vehicular art on trucks, plastic flower garlands, kolam and rangoli stickers, and different ritualistic and religious art images. The exhibition included an animated video of rangoli images titled Calendar (described later); a rangoli installation created by Johnson and me at the gallery site with fresh and dried plants collected from within and around the botanical garden; as well as materials that I had carried from India, such as rice powder, coloured powder and chalk, and an assortment of different stencils for making rangoli designs. Through the workshop, garden visitors were given a broad introduction to rangoli.

Rangeen Rangoli: Mapping Courtship in Yelhanka

‘Rangeen Rangoli: Mapping Courtship in Yelahanka’, conducted in November 2011, was a collaboration with performance and media artist Deepak Srinivasan and video artist Smriti Mehra, comprising a workshop and public intervention in a parking lot in Yelahanka, Bangalore (Sachdev 2014b). Srinivasan’s interest at the time was in public spaces, and in the participatory mapping of localities to reveal people’s perceptions of spaces in relation to their comfort in displaying affection and intimacy. Mehra’s artistic practice revolved around the Flower Project – an umbrella term that houses her several artistic practices relating to flowers [2]  through which she had recently been filming jasmine-flower farming practices in Karnataka. During ‘Rangeen Rangoli’, the public, that is, individuals in and around the parking lot, were invited to map specific spaces in which they felt a display of public affection was possible. They were to illustrate these locations with rice powder, and then, using flowers, indicate types of affection that they felt comfortable expressing in those spaces, such as a kiss or the simple act of holding hands. In one example, where someone thought that kissing was okay in a particular park, a big pink flower was positioned inside their drawing of the park. Drawings such as Rickshaw, and Rich Man’s House (see above) indicated that romantic gestures were also possible in these locations. 

Intersecting with the Flower Project 

‘Interactions in Public Space with the Flower Project’ was a workshop held in collaboration with Mehra in 2010. Participants embarked on an early morning trip to buy flowers from Bangalore’s famous KR flower market, and returned to the workshop location in Yelahanka to separate the flowers petals. They had to then find kolams made by street residents in the locality, and enhance these existing designs by decorating them with flower petals (Sachdev 2014b). Through guerrilla-like tactics, kolam patterns outside street-facing homes were ornamented swiftly over a few hours with local flowers such as marigold, rose, chrysanthemum, and crossandra. Workshop participants had to imagine aesthetic possibilities with flowers, and use them, if possible, to begin conversations with local residents who considered floral decorations as enhancing their locality (Sachdev 2014b).

One of the outcomes of the ‘Interactions’ project was a video we titled Calendar, jointly designed by Mehra, artist Gabriel Harp, and me. Harp, with a background in biology and an interest in patterns, had been documenting floor art on Bangalore streets. A discussion after the workshop between Harp, Mehra, and me about Harp’s collection led to the conceptualisation of Calendar, an animation of images of rangoli designs from the workshop, as well as others from Harp’s collection. Every rangoli drawing marked a calendar day of the year, with the festival days in the year being a floor drawing that included flowers. Thus, apart from being an aesthetic document of an archive of rangoli patterns, the video depicts local flower varieties available at the time. The figure on the right shows the video projection on the floor of the gallery floor of Smriti Mehra’s exhibition ‘Pushpa Patha: The Flower Trail’ at Gallery BMB, Mumbai, in October 2011.