- 29 March 2022
- 4 minutes
Deepika Srivastava’s work with minority craft communities in India spans research, writing, archiving and curating. She discusses how the V&A/RCA MA History of Design programme set her up for this interdisciplinary practice, working behind the scenes at the V&A and adjusting to London life.
- 29 March 2022
- 4 minutes
What were you doing before the RCA? How did you end up on the V&A/RCA MA History of Design programme here and what drew you to this course in particular?
Before studying at the RCA I was working in India in a museum design firm and writing for a design magazine. I also briefly assisted the architect Madhavi Desai, whose research projects focus on gender studies in Indian architecture.
I got introduced to the V&A/RCA MA History of Design programme while writing my undergraduate dissertation at the Faculty of Design, CEPT University in India. I wrote about the depiction of the contemporary kitchen in popular culture in India, and somehow all the references I found were written by the graduates of this MA. It was a eureka moment.
During my studies in India I had spent time thinking about how we could tell new kinds of stories about art, culture and design to various audiences. The programme’s focus on public-facing history and exploring how people experience and consume the material world resonated with what I was hoping to do.
“It was my first time studying in London – being an international student in the city was transformative.”
How did you find life in London and studying in an international environment?
It was my first time studying in London – being an international student in the city was transformative. Though a bit overwhelming at first, with research and using the support systems and network of the RCA, I was able to adjust quickly. I found the creative community in London to be really open, supportive and collaborative. Having grown up in Ahmedabad in India where there are hardly any museums, being in London and studying at the V&A made up for all the exhibitions I missed during my childhood. However, the most rewarding experience was meeting people from so many different countries and backgrounds and learning their stories.
What was the most exciting thing about studying History of Design? What was the most challenging?
Rigorous interdisciplinary research, good storytelling and diverse specialisms underlie the V&A/RCA MA History of Design programme. The RCA brings together so many art and design disciplines under one roof – regularly engaging with student work from other programmes helped evolve my understanding of my discipline as well. Because the exposure at the RCA is so immense and diverse, ensuring I remained rooted in what I was doing in that moment was my biggest challenge.
Studying at the V&A also allowed constant interactions with their staff which gave an amazing insight into the practices of cultural institutions. Being at the V&A and RCA simultaneously was definitely the most exciting thing about pursuing the programme.
“The RCA brings together so many art and design disciplines under one roof – regularly engaging with student work from other programmes helped evolve my understanding of my discipline as well.”
Since graduating you’ve been working with the National Institute of Design (NID) in India. Can you tell us a bit more about the work you’ve been doing and how your time at the RCA set you up on this path?
At NID, I am working on a central government project which focuses on the economic revival of over ten minority craft communities in India through design development workshops. My work is at the intersection of strategy development and content management – developing reports, online archives and exhibitions.
The most exciting thing about this role is that it allows me to don the hat of a researcher, project coordinator, archivist and curator simultaneously. Recently, I was also involved in the development of an upcoming exhibition at the Red Fort in New Delhi which is a part of a new centre for design launched by the India government.
Apart from teaching me the right skills and placing me in the right network, the exposure and interdisciplinary focus at the RCA helped me develop empathy – something that is crucial when working with a geographically distributed team of designers and researchers, as well as vulnerable communities.
You’ve been involved in projects such as Cypher BILLBOARD, which reclaims advertising space as a site for public art in North London, Women 21st Century, a data-feminist participatory research platform and Open/Ended Design, a platform for interdisciplinary technology and design. What made you want to become involved in public and participatory platforms, and what can design historians bring to these conversations?
Becoming involved in these platforms is a personal journey of trying to be vocal about – and possibly help reduce – the psychological, cultural and institutional barriers that I have faced, as a woman, as an international student pursuing the arts, and as a professional trying to forge an interdisciplinary path in the creative industries.
While at the RCA, I became involved in a series of workshops hosted by Kat McGrath and Siddhi Gupta – two RCA graduates from MA Visual Communication – to map the challenges UK immigration policy presents to those pursuing the arts. This formed part of the Cypher BILLBOARD project, with the resulting billboard displayed at Bounds Green Road in London in May and June 2021.
I think more generally studying 'objects' – which includes everything from museum objects to objects of daily consumption, to buildings, furniture and logos, to policies to market trends, to anything that affects the way we live – equips design historians to break down problems and articulate them holistically to stakeholders and decision makers. It also helps us come up with solutions which combine diverse, often contradictory perspectives – which are all key to having productive conversations in public and participatory platforms.
Are there any particular experiences, skills, approaches or good advice from your time studying at the RCA that still resonate with you now?
The assignments and projects I pursued during my studies helped shape my core interests as a creative professional: firstly, bringing new and diverse stories of arts, culture and design to the intellectually curious; and secondly, the social and economic empowerment of creative industry professionals.
The MA’s public-facing history unit allowed me to do a variety of projects ranging from digital exhibitions with my cohort – Material History/Virtual World and RCA2020 – to live projects at the V&A, panel discussions and solo writing projects.
Another experience I really loved was walking through the cafe every morning and seeing the bustle of new ideas on the faces of creatives from around the world. I also found the feedback reports after each unit to be really useful – I still go back to them to figure out how I should develop and evaluate my skills further.