In 1922, ‘Bauhaus in Calcutta‘ saw artists travel from Germany to India to exhibit work and sketches alongside modern Indian artists like Nandalal Bose and Sunayani Devi. In conversation with the Visva-Bharati school, founded by poet, musician and artist Rabindranath Tagore, it came at a time when Indian artists were seeking a modernist language outside the strictures of the British curriculum. Could there be a universal modernism? It was a question that saw architect Habib Rahman adopt design principles such as geometric lines, concrete and steel, and experimental lighting in his designs for Gandhi Ghat in 1949 and the New Secretariat (1954).
In episode two of ‘Nice Try!‘, a podcast about failed utopias, researcher Avery Trufelman looks into the history of modernist city Chandigarh. The city of Chandigarh itself had become a symbol of communion, a place for post-Independence India to find a voice that sat between the world’s avant-garde. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called on Le Corbusier to build a new, modern city. Instead, the job was passed onto his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. Yet, the furniture itself – functional, comfortable, and produced for offices and homes around the city – was designed and created by craftspeople such as U. E. Chowdhury, B. P. Mathur and Aditya Prakash (amongst others). They incorporated local materials and techniques into the modernism’s universal design aims.
Since 2009, the Chandigarh Urban Lab what should be preserved and how, questioning through whose lens ‘value’ is applied to the objects and buildings created in 1949. When Kardashians are paying tens of thousands for chairs designed to be affordable it marks an interest fuelled by the art market rather than heritage preservation. The Urban Lab is asking whether the city should apply for World Heritage Status.
We finish here with the work of filmmaker Amie Siegel, whose film Provenance (2013) explores the journey of these chairs from utilitarian objects made for locals to the explosion of interest in the art world; from forgotten furniture to restored, preened, gleamed and sold. Exploring cultural memory, heritage and capitalism, the film is a study in Bauhaus’s glossy, Euro-centric rise obscuring its local roots and global reach.