Crossing Boundaries in Pedagogy

Crossing Boundaries in Pedagogy

photos: courtesy of the indus valley school of art and architecture

How do you make use of an environment which is so exciting that it offers three disciplines within the school, which showcase their undergraduate final theses at the end of each year? You admire the work in its isolated, compartmentalised space and go back to your own departments enriched.

In the course of an academic’s career, there comes a time when you reflect upon your role as a teacher. Questions such as why I teach, how I teach, are my teaching methods different from other teachers, whether there is the need for having a unique method, naturally come to mind. It is as important to also ask how you can excite, motivate, challenge and inspire your students. How do you make use of an environment which is so exciting that it offers three disciplines within the school that showcase their undergraduate final theses at the end of each year? And in a manner that allows you to admire the work in its isolated, compartmentalised space and return to your own departments enriched.

And then the opportunity to answer these queries arose a few years ago.

We were conducting a routine assignment in which third semester Textile students work with a craftsperson to learn a traditional technique, in this case, basketry. I just thought that this is the sixth year that we are producing table mats and baskets. Why are we not looking at other possibilities? For instance, the medium of date palm leaves, and a technique that can lend itself to exciting forms!

Wearable basketry. the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture

A meeting with the Fine Arts department resulted in a collaboration to turn the basketry assignment into a conceptual artistic endeavour. It was an exercise where students were encouraged to use the traditional craft practice as a medium for personal expression. The objective was a joint effort of the two departments in pushing the boundaries of mind, material and technique, thus broadening the horizon for the students, teachers and the craftsperson. The idea encompasses the realisation of textile as a tool of communication and the transformation of conceptual ideas into art objects using the craft. It seeks to explore a multitude of interpretations and interactions between material, movement, and identity, using textile techniques in a diverse form of expression and as an instrument of interaction.

This was the beginning of an exciting three week block in which the fine arts faculty developed the brief for the textile students to improvise with a traditional craft, learn the technique from a craftsperson and fly to new horizons.

All other requirements, stringent as they were, i.e. sketchbooks, logbooks, experimentation with sampling were mandatory. Students needed to research, sketch, and employ conventional and non-conventional weaving to construct three-dimensional works, creating body extensions that reflected their exploration of ideas, and to think conceptually of their own body as their subject.

Group photo The Indus Valley School of Arland Architechture

The course objectives were:

  • Students will learn and explore the basic basketry techniques.
  • Learn to meet the challenges of using the basketry techniques without taking away the identity and spontaneity of the indigenous craft.
  • Learn to identify the properties of the natural material and experiment with the workability of material.

Make the ordinary into extraordinary’ was the mantra for the next three weeks. It was a most exciting, vibrant, and dynamic studio environment, filled with date palm leaves sourced from the city, bandaged fingers, and even tears and frustration when forms collapsed after hours of weaving; but at the end it was worth it!

It was hands-on work with an emotional connection. It was metaphorical or superficial. It extended the imagination and built up a confidence in the young mind for further exploration and experimentation.

The teaching worked three ways – student, craftsperson and faculty from both departments – with lasting effects, so much so that Seema Nusrat, of the Fine Art faculty, used the same material and technique she learnt for an installation in a public exhibition.

Mashal Zawar, class of 2014, a student in the initial collaborative experiment remembers her experience as follows.

basketry and its many techniques. This time around, while the skills were taught by the craftsperson, the development of design was supervised by the fine art faculty. We were told to create body extensions using this craft that could be worn as an avant-garde costume. However, the challenge was that we had to have a reason for the body part we chose. Our reason could be as simple as body enhancement, wanting bigger breasts or longer hair, or as complicated as restructuring a body part due to insecurities, literally or metaphorically. The possibilities were endless.

A large part of our time was spent discussing ideas with our instructors and our colleagues. Unlike our other assignments where we immediately started on the design process, and filling our sketchbooks, this was more experimental. A few rough sketches were made while brainstorming our ideas, but no detailed studies were made. Once we had a basic idea of the shape, structure and form, we went straight on to actually crafting our body extensions with indigenous date palm leaves. Nonetheless, each piece was unique. Different weaves allowed fora variety of textures and forms. The combination of these in the entirety of the structure made each body extension distinctive. Students were allowed to use basic wire supports to help hold the structure together. It was a spontaneous, hands-on experience. With each leaf, our design and concept evolved, gaining clarity as we worked towards our goal.

Although to some, this spontaneous approach seemed a little daunting, I remember those very students enjoying their work the most. Each student was personally attached to their creation and their words and eyes reflected that excitement whenever they showed their piece or spoke about it. To translate the experience into words is not something I can, or for that matter anyone else in my class, can do. This collaboration, despite the humble material and the simplicity of the merger, was truly inspirational for all of us.

Susan Brandeis, Professor of Art and Design, Director of Graduate Programs at North Carolina State University states:

The making of textile art (also referred to as ‘fibre art or art fabric’) objects that are intentionally nonfunctional and that embrace fine art concepts as well material considerations is largely a phenomenon of the 20th century. The great themes of mid-20th century textile art, large scale, three-dimensional, natural material and strong but minimal colour plates, established the medium in the visual arts alongside painting and sculpture, and began to break down the barriers between the fine art and crafts. Since the 19 50s, textile arts have evolved to embrace a wider range of expressions and to allow artists to address intimate themes; to tell stories; to express ironies; and to shock, provoke, denounce or delight.

As Seema Nusrat, Lecturer, Fine Art Department, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, Pakistan says:

Trained as a sculptor, I have been using various materials and techniques to make

sculptures/installation. For past two years I have been teaching design intervention course at the textile department of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture; the course intends to look into the local crafts of Pakistan and further find the potential in the technique of such craft, than just be confided to a commercial product. Through this course, I have been teaching to explore the technique of basketry made from dried palm leaves, which in local market is mostly used to make baskets; within this course students have made body extensions, head gears and wearable costumes. As an artist, the course has also been insightful for my art practice, where I have used the basketry technique involving the craft person to make ‘bird forms’. The installation was a part of public art project ‘Numaish Karachi’. These bird forms commented on the sharp decline in the number of migratory birds visiting Pakistan, also, in Karachi this has been precipitated by tree cutting. This installation is a reminder of how in urban settings and concrete environments we tend to forget how essential these birds are for landscape.

The work produced today takes many forms ranging from large hangings to free standing sculptures to site specific work; performance pieces to installation, and wearable art to functional clothing. This development signals a collective maturing in the discipline and a confidence in its stature and acceptance in the art world. ii

Professor Shehnaz Ismail is the Founder and Dean, Faculty of Design at The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Prof. Mrs Ismail holds Undergraduate and Post Graduate degrees from the National College of Arts and Homsey College, London in Textile Design. In recognition of her academic achievements and professional expertise Prof. Ismail was made an Associate of the National College of Arts, Lahore and has been awarded the President’s Pride of Performance for her work in visual art and education in the year 2014.

Lead Images : 1. Hair extensions. The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture

2. Woven textures The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture

photos: courtesy of the indus valley school of art and architecture How do you make use of an environment which is so exciting that it offers three disciplines within the school, which showcase their undergraduate final theses at the end of each year? You admire the work in its isolated, compartmentalised space and go back…

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