A quest for identity, Ashoke Chatterjee, 1991
This remarkable collection of symbols from the Indian market-place provides an indispensable aid to all those concerned with commercial communications in our country. It should attract a wider audience as well as part of the rich inheritance which Rose DeNeve explores in her Introduction. India's designers are heirs to two traditions: one is an attitude ancient in years and deeply imbedded in the national psyche. The other is a legacy of the Bauhaus and its successors. Both streams are reflected on these pages, as is the possibility and challenge of their confluence.
India was the first developing country to recognise design as a tool for development and as a means for easing the transition between tradition and modernity. Design was accepted as an attitude which could serve to evaluate India's past solutions in terms of present need. Designers would help select and reject from tradition as well as from modern experience and provide a source of identity and confidence within an era of rapid change. The search by Indian enterprises for identities relevant to their corporate needs is thus part of a larger quest for identity, a quest which is the basic challenge of contemporary Indian design. Placed in that context, these pages help mirror the many Indias which confront and invite the young designers to whom Sudarshan Dheer has dedicated this labour of love. Many of these signs could blend easily into the visual language of markets in Europe and North America, for they are part of an international idiom now well established in India's industrial centres. Other signs are indigenous in inspiration, while some float in our particular Indian air, swept by the winds of many influences - some contradictory and inconsistent, all rich in opportunity and memory.
India's cultural history is unparalleled in the wealth of its symbolic resources. Although much of this tradition has attracted art historians and publishers, the perspective of design history is still awaited. There is an urgent need to document the legacy of the past, as well as the great movement between tradition and modernity that is the hallmark of design in India's changing society. This publication makes an important contribution to that need. Hopefully, it will inspire efforts at research into other traditional and contemporary expressions and at articulating India's design history in terms of problem-solving. Since the turn of the century, a spectrum of influences has been at work from within and without India. The early periods of Indian industrialisation, printing and advertising provide an enormous resource of design which requires documentation The freedom struggle, and the swadeshi movement which it inspired, had a profound impact on idioms of mass communication, including communications in the marketplace. The symbols developed and used in India's political movements, both before and after freedom was won in 1947, have no equal anywhere in the world in terms of their influence on democratic processes. The great task is to preserve this range of commercial, social and political expression. Sudarshan Deer's effort to record a major aspect of Indian graphic design is thus a contribution deserving of our respect and our gratitude.