Suprita Moorthy calls herself a “prisoner to culture”. And rightly so, having ventured life as an art historian and design curator in India – at a time when there was little scope for it.
As the Director of Kochi Muziris Biennale and the co-founder of Bengaluru By Design, Suprita loves hands-on work such as drawing and creating things and also shoulders administration responsibilities in order to put together major festivals.
Kochi Biennale is a four-months long festival held at the island of Fort Kochi in Kerala, usually featuring an array of art installations, art paintings, sculptures, live performances, and interactive exhibits, among others. Its latest edition, held between December 12, 2018 and March 29, 2019, earned the praise of Glenn D Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who is no stranger to major Biennales of the world.
According to Glenn, the Kochi Biennale has emerged as one of the most important ones.
Suprita was always interested in art. Even as a child, she would be delighted when festivals were around the corner. During Sankranti, she’d help her mother and design tiny moulds of sweets and look for interesting ways to package them. The food, colours, and unique rituals were an added fun, she said.
For Dussehra, she started an unending haul of collecting traditional mud dolls. She has collected more than 10,000 of them until now.
“It communicates to me – not be carried away by the old traditions but always introduce new ways of representing, building new stories,” Suprita said.
She also shared that her father, grandma, and aunt’s curiosity and exploratory nature has rubbed off on her.
The Beginnings and Motives
Growing up in a family of doctors, Suprita was expected to follow in their footsteps in medicine, but life had other plans, and her interest in art was as clear as it can get.
Her decision to choose design was supported by her family members. She completed a master’s in arts administration and cultural management from the University of New South Wales in Australia. In the last 10 years, Suprita has been associated with the likes of Sotheby’s Australia, Theatre Museum of London (a subsidiary of The Victoria and Albert Museum), and Art Dubai.
Suprita says that what drew her to design is its all-encompassing nature. In the two editions of Bengaluru By Design festival, she was very pleased by the number of people who were interested in the design installations – engaging and comprehending, in their own ways, what the installations meant and why they were chosen.
One of the most engaging exhibits was Polish architect Jakub Szczesny’s Taburete Tower at the Bengaluru By Design Festival 2019. The tower, formed by mounting wooden stools was later dismantled at the end of the 10-day festival and a piece of the design were given away to the participants.
“Many participants, from all walks of life, later sent pictures of what they have done with it. The stools are serving as actual utilitarian objects, adding to the aesthetic of their home and some of are also put to use in public spaces like the metro station,” shared Suprita.
Further, Bengaluru By Design also caters to around five educational institutes in the city, where students are encouraged to interact with international designers and understand their processes, and apply similar thinking processes to their curriculum.
However, she feels strongly for the utter lack of importance attached to design in the country.
She recalled, “Upon my return to India, I was always very sceptical of the art world here in terms of opportunities. Museums in India still needs a lot of work done and private galleries also lack a scope of work for an art historian.”
Even more concerning is that there were only 4,000 to 5,000 people who graduated out of design school in India in 2016, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – in a population of over a billion.
Suprita added that the education system is suiting up students for the mainstream professions in medicine, engineering, law, and technology. But not art.
However, she believes the perception is shifting and Suprita herself is driving the change. She explained that the underlying problem is that parents do not see a professional scope in art. Thankfully, things are changing as more people are attending art festivals. In fact, several parrents have approached Suprita, asking about how their young ones can break into this niche area.
She said, “So, we ensured that the common public can learn and understand the processes behind designing so that they are completely equipped, not just for themselves but to encourage their children and the youth explore career opportunities in design.”
Another ray of hope seems to be newer design universities coming up and several interesting international artists and designers flying to India to impart their learnings and wisdom, creating a buzz.
Interestingly on Suprita’s own to-do list, she is looking to work on a symposium on designing for inclusivity and protest, and how it can change the way we live and govern (let live). The reason, she said, that when one looks back to the last four years, these major political events are likely to come up first: “Donald Trump, Brexit, and in India, the NRC, CAA.”
However, one striking perspective from the conversation remains, “Politics is becoming irrelevant to people and needs a redesign.” And how, one can only wait to see.