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Chetan Shastri

MA work

India at the V&A: 1990–2015

The institutional history of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s South and South East Asian (SSEA) collections, more than two hundred years old, is inextricably intertwined with its colonial past. Owing to this history and legacy, the V&A’s South Asia Gallery is carefully balanced between colonial, post-colonial and neo-colonial perspectives. The diverse regional, cultural and religious biospheres that co-exist within India make the curation of Indian material culture challenging. Additionally, the shifting boundaries of the Indian subcontinent, and developments after India’s Independence further complicate representations of India. The fact that in the past sixty years not more than one per cent of the SSEA collections have been on public display raises questions, and is also a cause for concern. The five hundred odd objects displayed in the South Asian Gallery have been carefully selected by curators of non-Indian origin, and these focus on the elite and hybrid material culture that emerged in India between the 1500s and 1900s.

Constrained by the small space allocated for display, the South Asia Gallery does not make for a comprehensive representation of Indian material culture. For example, the folk and contemporary art traditions of India are hugely under-represented in the South Asian Gallery. Nevertheless, the gallery’s curatorial framework is expansive in scope and succeeds in providing an opportunity to engage with Indian material culture.

My dissertation attempts to show how, and why, the SSEA collections are of equal importance to both Britain and India, and that the collection itself is without peer nor parallel. The unique and displaced SSEA collection of South Asian material culture is a missing and under-acknowledged fragment that can be used to suitably fill the 1550–1900 gap in the history of Indian design. Besides being used to map Indian design history, the SSEA collection can also be used to challenge existing perspectives on Indian material culture.

Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Humanities

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2016

  • After graduating (2006) from the National Institute of Design as an Exhibition and Space designer, I completed my first MA in Visual Communication from prestigious IIT-Bombay in 2009. From 2009 to 2014, I was working in India on various projects relating to exhibition, signage, graphic, publication and retail design. Almost all my work is in public spaces and projects include designing the India Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival 2013 and the Bangalore Metro Signage system, amongst others. Before moving to London I was heading the Retail design team at TI Cycles in Chennai, which has over 900 stores across India.

    In 2014 I moved to London and joined the MA in History of Design, jointly run by the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I have been awarded the New Bonita Trust and Gardner Fund scholarships towards my studies at the RCA/V&A. I have been working as a freelance designer at the Transport Design Consultancy, London, since September 2014. I have also recently assisted V&A curator Nick Barnard in caption and catalogue research for a semi-permanent Display of Musical Instruments in the Nehru Gallery as part of the Festival of India.

    My dissertation at the RCA/V&A MA is titled India at the V&A: 1990-2015  and focuses on the history and politics of the Indian collections that are displayed in the United Kingdom.

    My experience in graphic design, spatial design, research, strategy and curation make me a versatile designer with a multidisciplinary skill-set.

  • Degrees

  • M. Des Visual Communication, Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India, 2009; Graduate Degree, Exhibition and Spatial Design, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, 2006
  • Experience

  • Freelance designer, Transport Design Consultancy, London, UK, 2014–2016); Head of retail design, TI Cycles, India, 2013–2014; General manager, Osian’s, India, 2011–2013 and 2009–2010; Senior Designer, Tata Elxsi, India, 2010–2011
  • Publications

  • ‘What does it take, to charm a snake?’, unpublished object essay, London: Victoria and Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, 2014; ‘Making Cyber Space’, unpublished historiographical essay, London: V&A/RCA, 2015; India at the V&A: 1990–2015, unpublished historiographical essay, London: V&A/RCA, 2016