The Displaced Narrative in Design
A young designer explores her sense of displacement and arrives at design solutions challenging pre-existing notions of comfort and stability by exhibiting how these qualities can exist within the realm of the temporary, the transitionary and the in-between.
Anya Gupta. Jakarta. Singapore. Kuala Lumpur. Mexico City. Istanbul. Singapore. Providence.
Thus reads designer Anya’s bio on her website, and it seems to describe her past while guiding her chart her future.
Her work shares a narrative about cultural dislocation. “I’ve grown up in six different countries, spanning across three continents. I am addressing the lack of a notion of ‘home’, a dislocation which stems from my own multicultural, ex-pat background.”
Anya can be best described as a designer with a strong diasporic past who wishes to explore her cultural dislocation through designs.
Now a Singaporean citizen, her work reflects her cultural background exploring spaces and objects while trying to draw stories from her experiences being displaced. She strives to create objects that are both physically and emotionally comfortable and that provide a sense of belonging in this globalised world. While some of her pieces are extremely well-crafted, like the Leather Talavera Cabinet, inspired by Mexican Talavera Patterns, which was exhibited in Fuorisalone in Milan alongside Marc Librizzi and Max Pratt, and the Shinto Table, an entrance table inspired by Shinto Temple architecture, the rest of her work carry with it a sense of urgency or movement, which are characteristic of a migrant or displaced family. Reflecting her commitment to sustainability, Anya has completed an internship with Kokrobitey Institute, Ghana where she was made furniture from recycled denim scrap weavings. She has also interned in Singapore (exhibition design for the National Museum of Singapore and the Indian Heritage Museum) and Istanbul (Turkey).
For a young graduate, Anya knows who she is and what she wants to be. “I define myself as a maker, artist, and designer. I want to be part of design fairs since they provide me with a platform where I am able to showcase my work and meet a variety of artists and art communities,” she says.
“My work tells a diasporic narrative, one that is very specific to my life. However, at shows, it’s really enriching to see the many different people that resonate with my work. It opens a larger discussion about diasporic art.”
SCALE talks to this designer who has her heart firmly in place, exploring design displacements and concept creation, even as she moves to find her place in the world.
SCALE: Your concept of designing furniture for a migrant family is a concept unheard of. Tell us what made you think about this. How does it take into consideration sustainability and comfort? Do you think this will be more than a concept?
Anya: My work tells a diasporic narrative about cultural dislocation. I’ve grown up in 6 different countries, spanning across 3 continents. The type of displacement I am addressing has less to do with homelessness and forced migration but rather stems from my own multicultural, ex-pat background.
My Moving Blanket Quilts are inspired by packing material. They are made using silk which is digitally printed with images of bubble wrap.
I have a fixation with transitory spaces, airports in particular. I’m interested in studying the materials that occupy transitory spaces (bubble wrap and moving blankets for example) and exploring their personal narratives. By transforming these disposable materials into something long-lasting, I aim to extract a sense of comfort and stability within these seemingly sterile environments.
Moving around so much, I never really had a country to call home. I was mocked for not being “Indian” enough or “Asian” enough. I’m questioning and challenging pre-existing notions of comfort and stability by exhibiting how these qualities can exist within the realm of the temporary, the transitionary and the in-between. My work has helped me be comfortable with who I am and how I grew up.
Often times the diasporic narrative can be tokenized. Something inherently western is juxtaposed with something inherently eastern, highlighting a dissonance which stands for the diasporic experience. I’ve found this method to be quite shallow, in that a story falls between the cracks and is deemed “lost”. My Moving Blanket Quilts attempt to occupy their own hybrid multidimensional space. They are not lost in space, trapped between two cultures. They are their own world. They give the owner the ability to decide what their home is. To decide what pieces of their cultural history and experience they will stitch into the fabric. The objects that live in your home are very personal. They live with you and grow with you. This is more than just a concept to me. This is who I am.
SCALE: Who are your design gurus in the ﬁeld of architecture and product design. What do you learn from each of them?
Anya: I learn a lot from established furniture designers, my peers, and post-colonial writers. I adore the work of the Campana Brothers, Hannah Levy, Jessi Reaves, Tanya Aguiñiga, Gaetano Pesce, Kostas Lambridis, and so many more. I’ve read a lot of the works from Gaytri Spivak and Homi Bhabha. A specific quote from Homi Bhabha’s essay ‘Unhomely’ has really shaped a lot of my work.
“Unhomely is not a state of lacking a home, or the opposite of having a home, it is rather a recognition that the line between home and the world becomes confused, the private and the public become part of one other”
Most importantly, I’ve learned the most from my friends and peers that studied Furniture Design with me at RISD. They taught me how to be continually empathic in my work and design practice.
SCALE: Being a student and then entering the professional scene, how do you feel about the opportunities coming your way? Do you think the world has more designers than needed?
Anya: I’m very optimistic about the future. Living in Providence, I’m able to be surrounded by so many makers, artists, and designers. Furthermore, I have the space to create my own work. I have a studio in my apartment where I’m able to sew every day.
I don’t think the world has nearly enough artists, makers or designers.