Graphic designer Kawal Oberoi loved capturing India through the lens of his phone camera.
“There’s this picture I clicked of a handprinted carbonated drink ad in Punjab, which I found to be really pretty. But when I went to the same place again, I found that the shop owner had painted over that ad and replaced it with printed flex signage. It made me wonder, how many such pretty things are we losing every day.”
He channeled his frustration into a project called Swatch Bharat, a play on the infamous government scheme, creating an archive of “desi aesthetics”, a collection of India’s vernacular visuals created to inspire designers, illustrators and visual artists.
Decolonisation is at the heart of the project. Kawal’s gallery of vivid imagery and colour schemes have a definitive Indian reference point. Think oranges and browns with striking purples derived from handpainted storefronts, and pinks and blues with green from a collection of mojaris, to greys and yellows and reds from temple walls.
For Kawal (a champion for an Indian design identity, whose podcast also addresses the same), the project is a step towards finding India's own voice in visual design, away from the influence of western sensibilities. “Why should we refer to the west when discussing art and design? It’s funny when schools teach the history of art, it’s always Euro-centric. As if other parts of the world didn’t indulge in art. “
So how do designers use this resource?
“As graphic designers, we craft our communication and form based on things that exist in the world. Visuals have cultural, semiotic and semantic value. If you’d like to search, refer, view, discover desi aesthetics, Swatch Bharat might be a good start. An illustrator told me that he used this resource to find elements that he can include in an illustration series he was making for a client. Another designer told me that she views it from time to time, to make a mental library of forms and elements. Another friend used it to get a unique colour palette. I refer it while creating visual identities/communication for brands that require Indian visual narrative.”
Since its launch, Swatch Bharat has grown to include contributions from several creatives, and has inspired many more. See more at Swatch Bharat.