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The Colourless Dutch

On a recent trip to the Netherlands, a group of Indian designers saw the best of what’s happening now. They loved what they saw, but agreed that colour was the missing element in Dutch design.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 25-11-2010

On a recent trip to the Netherlands, a team of Indian designers unanimously agreed that while the Dutch have a very sensitive and self-searching approach to their craft, they need more colour. While some like Hella Jongerius and Irma Boomn may disagree, it is true that colour in Dutch design is mostly nonexistent or relegated to a supporting role.

“I think in India we are more uninhibited by colour,” says Sarita Sundar from Trapeze, a multidisciplinary design studio.

And by colour they mean more the just a CMYK model. In India colour has specific and complex cultural and symbolic meanings. “It can be about the seasons, fertility or certain festival occasions,” says Sundar. “We often dress in a certain colour on a particular day out of tradition.”

The designers on the trip, which was arranged by the DutchDFA, were either educated abroad or in one of the Indian design academies set up within the Bauhaus tradition.

“The problem with that,” says Sundar, “is that our education often alienates us from what actually exists in India. Reduced, minimal Swiss reductivism isn’t what exists on the street of Calcutta.”

A palpable pride seems to characterize not just Sundar but all her design compatriots who manage to work within a mostly modernist tradition and yet are unwilling to stamp out colour’s relevance.

“We don’t have to have things minimized because we are so used to communication coming at us in layered forms,” says Sundar. “We like to read through those layers and garbled messages to find meaning. It does not upset us or make us insecure. It is how we communicate.”

Gopika Chowfla from Gopika Chowfla Design compared this to the more straightforward and singular Dutch approach. She refers to the colour anarchy of her country not as a bad thing but as a cultural reality. “You can’t apply an aesthetic from one place to another,” she says. “In India we have a lot of diversity, but the commonality that straddles all that is Bollywood. It is an aesthetic that appeals to all classes and cultures.”

Space designer Preksha Baid says that Dutch design manages to maintain a uniqueness while still being universal. “It has a human quality to it,” she says, “a very simple and poetic feeling.”

The absence of colour, however, leaves her disconnected. “I think a collaboration between Dutch and Indian design would be fascinating,” Baid says. “The way the Dutch use their materials so simply and have such an impressive understanding of mechanics is inspiring, but I think Indians can teach them more about craft and colour. I think we know how to find cultural meaning in things.”

Baid says she would like to work on projects where Indian and Dutch design are adapted. “We could blend our strengths together and make something very tactile and beautiful,” she says, “something like a marriage.”

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