February 18, 2020

DAUS Professor Chronicles Fulbright Study in India

By Mechthild Schmidt Feist, Clinical Professor of Digital Communications and Media, DAUS

As a Fulbright scholar I will spent 5 months in India – based at Srishti Institute of Art, Design + Technology. As part of my “Engaged Media” project, I will explore India-specific sustainability initiatives + the art/media methods used to convey them.

Rajasthan woman

“Do you like my India?”

The woman who asked me with a bright smile seemed to have taken pity on me after I got yelled at profusely for a cultural misstep on my first day in India. Admiring the large Tamil temple in Chennai I had pointed my camera towards the interior of the main temple. I was too jet-lagged and unnerved to think of a more beautiful reply and just said something like “I will find out – it is my first day”. I later wished I had said that SHE made my day beautiful. (Chennai, December 11, 2019)

Day 2 in India brought be to the sheltered grounds of a charming if aging resort in Velahanka, the north of Bangalore near Srishti art school, my academic base as a Fulbright-Nehru scholar.

The next day I met Arzu who introduced me to a large number of faculty, all very welcoming and curious about my project. When Arzu left for her ‘Art in Transit’ project in the city, I settled into my desk + started to figure out who to turn to for the many arrival logistics from housing to FRRO (foreigner) registration + Indian SIM card. Well – to make a long story short: hurdles all around. But in hindsight, they all got solved (maybe I indulge in a long “getting an Indian SIM story”. Well, since I can only move into my guest apartment room on Jan 6, I decided to spend the time looking at sustainability projects (+ breath fresh air, listen to birds, eat organic food) at Auroville, the experimental, spiritual community near the coast.

But first things first: I attended the Srishti “Radical City” conference Dean Pithamber had invited me to. I enjoyed 2 days of varying urban theories, political + philosophical voices on re-evaluating a livable and sustainable city. The conference was back-to-back with the final exhibits and student projects of the Nov-Dec intensive workshops. Among the excellent exhibits was a First Year Master’s exploration of a Bangalore neighborhood with conceptual explorations of sustainability improvements. On Sunday I was surprised to find so many Srishti faculty and staff visiting the “Art in Transit” projects in several subway stations. My new colleague Manjani took me under her wings and offered me a ride into the city (a trying 1 hour stop+go, lane-weaving (what lane??) odyssey to cover a mere 23 km on pollution+ car choked throughways. (Well, this was my 3rd time in the city – Twice before I met Arzu to see her work-in-progress, try for a SIM + explore her own leafy neighborhood)

Arzu at her team’s mud+water mural project at Cubbon Park Metro station

Arzu at her team’s mud+water mural project at Cubbon Park Metro station

Well, the journey was worth it. Of the many projects I want to just mention the largest, Arzu’s (+ her team's) mural on a rediscovery of ancient water-conservation well techniques – all built from local mud (in distinct colors) with engaging graphic + typographic overlays. 


At ‘Art In Transit’ with my new colleagues Manjari and Arzu

At ‘Art In Transit’ with my new colleagues Manjari and Arzu


Auroville, international tropical-eco-spiritual enclave

After the exhibits, the university closes for a holiday recess + I am happy to use these 2 weeks in Auroville for an inquiry to the many experimental initiatives planned and/or practiced in this ca 50-year old egalitarian living experiment. So here I am, 1 week into my stay typing away with internet that comes and goes, among other guests that come and go – the majority from India, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, USA, China. I am surprised that I meet people of all ages from toddlers to a young 80-year old.

I am registering posters and campaigns to conserve water, recycle, compost scraps. There is almost zero single-use plastic here, no red meat (many vegans), no alcohol or smoking. The one sore spot is car and motorcycle traffic. Only a small portion on electricity. (PS: no pictures, no Instagram you ask? well, with my Auroville internet coming + going, it can take 5 minutes to upload a 300k photo. I’ll be adding some when I am back to ‘regular internet’ at Srishti. >> that is now!)

One of my best experiences so far was a 1/2 day visit to Sadhana forest. A community of residents and volunteers lives at the ca. 16-year old reforestation project. They reverted a near desert to a lush forest, mainly with native plants + were able to raise the water level by about 6 meters. All live a complete circular economy, eating vegan, composting all waste (including human), building palm-thatched houses of local material. Apart from biological concerns they practice a gifting economy and non-hierarchical respect for all creatures. I am not sure how scalable this project is – but even urban dwellers can implement many of the parts. Is our human survival not worth a ‘little inconvenience’? If that little ‘Inconvenience’ quickly becomes quite a normal habit, then we are ready for more steps.

My wish to all who read this is such an inconvenient but fulfilling 2020!

Sadhana forest- 1 of 30,000 planted trees – with bottle feeder

Sadhana forest- 1 of 30,000 planted trees – with bottle feeder

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