Milan Rai is a Nepali artist whose media span painting, installation, and artistic intervention. Rai came to The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, in Spring 2016 as part of the Visiting Artist Fellowship (VAF). You can read more about Milan’s work here.
The application deadline for the 2018-2019 Mittal Institute Visiting Artist Fellowship is July 16th, 2018. Read more about the fellowship and how to apply here.
How was your experience as a Visiting Artist at the Mittal Institute?
In 2016, the Visiting Artist Fellowship was ten days long and a unique experience. I had the opportunity to install my White Butterflies project in the beautiful spiral staircase in the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS). While at Harvard, I attended classes, including a course on Muslim Literature and one on Buddhism at the Harvard Divinity School. Some other highlights of my time at Harvard include conversing with fascinating people and spending time engaging with the incredible campus flora.
Has attending the VAF at The Mittal Institute influenced your art practice?
The VAF inspired me to apply to more art residencies and fellowships. I had realized the potential of such programs and the impact they have on my art practice. Therefore, I kept applying! Despite receiving both acceptance and rejection letters, the VAF helped me to become more confident and determined.
After returning from the VAF, I also noticed a shift in people’s perception of me. People in Kathmandu were curious about how a high school dropout could make it to Harvard! I began to receive invitations to speak about my work at colleges and universities, which was a powerful platform for me to tell my story to young people.
Catch us up on what you have been doing since your visit at Harvard.
Currently, I am working on a project about air pollution in Kathmandu. I started to wear gas masks to protests and eventually made my way into government buildings where the masks became a way to start important conversations. My goal with this project is to see an impact on policy implementation. For this project, I have assumed the role of a activist and have incorporated social media to tell the evolving story of this artwork. One outcome of this project is that we are now in the planning phases of creating a public green space in Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
I am also working on another project related to tree guards in the Bouddha area. Currently, the tree guards are used primarily as surfaces for commercial advertisements. My goal is to design aesthetically pleasing sculptures that tell the personal narratives of people living in the city in order to beautify and humanize this public space.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As part of her Painting in India Course (HAA184x Painting of India), Professor Jinah Kim, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University; and Faculty Director of the Arts at the Mittal Institute, organized a demonstration and workshop by artist and art historian Murad Mumtaz Khan. The course explored the history of Indian painting based on the collections of Harvard Art Museums and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. As part of the course, Professor Kim organized several materials lab sessions at the Harvard Art Museums during which time students learned about techniques and materials first hand by making.
Thanks to – Francesca Bewer, Alexandra Gaydos, Penley Knipe, Harvard Art Museums Materials Lab, Dept. History of Art & Architecture, The Mittal Institute, Amy Johnson, and Emma Fitzgerald
Video by Amy Johnson
Videography by Emma Fitzgerald
People’s Road: Connecting Rural Populations
By: Raile Rocky Ziipao
In ethnically volatile and militant prone states like Manipur, India, John Denver’s famous lyrics “country roads, take me home, to the place I belong,” does not always apply to villagers.
For over 30 years, the state government has neglected the Tamenglong-Haflong road. The construction of this road was included in the 6th Five Year Plan. During 1980–93, the Public Works Department (PWD) executed some initial work. However, the road remained non-motorable due to faulty alignment and non-completion. In 1997, the State entrusted the Border Road Organization (BRO) with the construction of this road but it declined, citing faulty alignment. Even after repeated assurances from the central government, including the former Union Tribal Affairs Minister Shri P.R. Kyndiah (2006) and Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram (2011) during their visits to the district, the government did not build the road and the people’s dream of better facilities remained unfulfilled.
Inadequate basic infrastructure limits the movement of goods, people, and ideas, especially in the hill areas predominantly inhabited by Tribals. Even basic needs such as all-weather roads connecting villages, minimum electricity supply, healthcare centers, primary schools, and potable water remain inaccessible for most tribal communities in the state of Manipur. This demonstrates how over India’s seven decades of independence, the state has been negligent when it comes to addressing the problems of tribal people. Tribals are the ones that suffer the ramifications of the Indian state’s indifferent attitude.
Consequences of inadequate infrastructure include villagers carrying their sick on bamboo stretchers to the nearest health center. Oranges and Naga chilies (commonly known as ghost peppers in international markets) grow abundantly in Tamenglong, a hill district in Manipur. However, surplus agricultural products are left to rot as villagers are unable to transport them to the market due to a lack of road access.
After witnessing the hardships faced by people in remote villages in and around the supposed route of the road, a young and dynamic native-born IAS officer named Armstrong Pame took up road connectivity as an immediate requirement in the area. While posted as Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) of Tousem sub-division, he and his elder brother mobilized resources and local communities. They created a Facebook page seeking donations to construct a 100-km rural road.
Previously disconnected from social media, this rural village resorted to Facebook in order to establish infrastructure. A dedicated local resident, Haingiabuing Pame mobilized the village with the following statement: “I shall give all that I have to see the completion of this road. We have waited for too long. This has been my dream. Let us celebrate when it is finished.” The response from across the globe was overwhelming. The local communities took ownership of the road and contributed in a variety of ways including labor, materials, bulldozers, fuel, food, accommodation, and more.
The People’s Road connects the states of Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam in India. It was completed in seven months (August 2012–February 2013), after the state government neglected it for over 30 years. Inaugurated on February 17, 2013, and opened for public use, the motto of this road stands as “together we began, together we built and together we finished.” The monolith commemorating the inauguration of the road reads:
THE PEOPLE’S ROAD
Dedicated unto the glory of God with the celebration of the people’s endeavour by Armstrong Pame, IAS SDO, Tousem. In the presence of all the donors, volunteers and well-wishers, may the present and the future generations remember every single drop of sweat, tears, and contribution rendered for the construction of this road from all over the world.
Date: 17 February 2013, KATANGNAM VILLAGE
Despite considerable odds, the tribal people from India’s most remote district resisted marginalization and surmounted structural obstacles by constructing 100 km of road. By doing so, they succeeded in carving their own path to mobility where the state failed miserably. The collective labor of the community achieved what the second most powerful man in the country could not.
The condition of the Tribals’ infrastructure development in Manipur stands as a testimony of the state’s failure to discharge its duties and responsibilities. Rather than facilitating the needs and political aspirations of the Tribes, the State suppresses and pushes them to the periphery, thereby forcing Tribes to look after themselves. The Tamenglong’s construction and maintenance of roads for livelihood, economic sustenance, and the maintenance of the ecological balance between people and nature have become the model in other parts of the state.
If the state or development practitioners need a consultant on building roads, they should ask the true trailblazers – the Tribal people.
Kabi Raj Lama is a contemporary printmaker based in Kathmandu, who primarily works with lithography and the Japanese mokuhanga (woodcut) medium. His work examines themes of natural disasters, trauma, and healing through art. In this interview, we discuss how he first discovered printmaking, his personal encounters with natural disasters and what he has been up to at Harvard.
How did you first discover printmaking?
Originally, my plan was to do a Masters in painting in Japan. When I first arrived, I struggled to learn Japanese, which was a major obstacle to my studies since it is mandatory to pass a language exam to matriculate in the university. Somebody told me that if I wanted to enroll in the university I would need to choose a different subject, such as restoration.
Around this time, I visited some museums and I discovered Katsushika Hokusai’s beautiful prints. After that, I became curious about how the masters manually made these prints — how all the lines and registrations are so precise. There is something so delicate about the Japanese method, the opaque colors look like watercolors. Fortunately, one of my professors told me that if I really wanted to study printmaking, he could enroll me but I would need to start with lithography. For the first six months, the process was very challenging. However, after getting the hang of it, lithography completely enraptured me.
What do you love about printmaking?
I love the process of making a print – seeing the result is always so exciting! While making the plate, I concentrate and enjoy every stage, from carving, etching, making layers of colors, to thinking about the registrations. I know that in the end, I am awaiting a result that is often beyond my expectations. When you get the print on the paper, it is very delicate – almost like magic. I cannot always express printmaking in words – but I feel its power in my body.
What are the themes of your work?
Mental health is a big issue in Nepal right now; many people are experiencing trauma not only from the earthquake disaster but also from sexual harassment, disease, and depression.
I have survived two major disasters in my life. The first one was the 2011 Tsunami, which was unexpected – I never even thought that I would go to Japan! I assumed that I would enroll at the university, get a job and my life would go on. After March 1, 2011, that illusion ended. My vision for my life and my motivations suddenly changed – and I began to make artwork about disasters. In 2015, a year after my return to Nepal, I experienced another disaster – the devastating Gorkha earthquake. The difference is when I was in Tokyo I did not see the tsunami. In Nepal, I felt the big earthquake and saw buildings crumble in front of me.
After experiencing these disasters, I focused my artwork on the trauma from these events. I use art as a form of self-therapy, I cannot imagine my life without art – I want to have a joyful life.
In my art, I document these scenarios and capture the history. For example, I depict the monuments and national heritage sites listed on UNESCO. My prints function as an archive of these important buildings and temples.
Tell me more about your collaboration with the neuroscientist.
The project began with a conversation I had with Sujay Neupane, a friend from Nepal who is doing a post-doc in neuroscience at MIT. On the anniversary of the Nepal earthquake, we were discussing how it has been seven years since the tsunami and three years since the earthquake hit Nepal. Immediately we decided that we should do a project about the earthquake together.
Our experimental project consists of me watching a video of the disasters while he captures the movement of my retinas. The machine will produce a graph of my eye movement. After watching the video, I will have both the graph and the memory of the image. Inspired by this process, my plan is to create semi-abstract work that merges representative work and expressive lines. This will be a new and experimental form and dimension of my work.
How have these countries reacted to these traumas in different ways?
In Japan, the Tsunami swept a whole city away. There were no buildings or roads. However, after a few months, there was a speedy renovation and reconstruction.
In Nepal, though it has been three years, the cities are broken and fragmented. There is no reconstruction. In Japan, though most of the buildings are personal residencies, the government can support the citizens and has rebuilt the city. In Nepal, there are valuable heritage sites from the 14th, 16th, and 17th century, however the reconstruction is going very slow. The public has a responsibility to be active in the reconstruction efforts. These ancient temples and sculpture are irreplaceable and should be restored.
What have you been up to at Harvard?
Harvard has provided me with an important platform to share my personal story and experience of disaster-related trauma. I have been able to share both my artwork and my process by presenting at Harvard, leading a Japanese Woodcut workshop at Harvard’s Bow and Arrow Press, and presenting my work at Alfred University. I was fortunate to have been able to visit the Muskat Print Studio, Mixit Print Studio, and Boston University Print Studio.
Furthermore, the people I have met at Harvard have suggested exciting new ideas about incorporating scientific research into my practice.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
By: Ankita Sukheja
This seminar focused on the impact of political reservation in favor of the Schedule Castes (SCs) in the north Indian state of Bihar, by looking at inequality in private wealth and access to public goods. The research presented preliminary findings from 45,000 villages and over 2 crore rural households across the state.
M.R. Sharan, a PhD candidate at the the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, presented joint work with Chinmaya Kumar, University of Chicago on elections in Bihar at a seminar on May 29, 2018, titled, “It’s Complicated — Unpacking the Material Consequences of Political Reservation in Bihar.” He was joined by Dr. Manindra Nath Thakur, Associate Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Sharan and Kumar’s work investigates how political reservation in favor of Scheduled Castes (SCs) in Bihar affects inequality in private wealth and access to public goods. It presented data and findings for access to public goods, collected from 45,000 villages across all of Bihar, and analysed data on private wealth for over 2 crore rural households in the state.
The preliminary findings of the study showed that while reservation for SCs does not affect overall provision of resources, it shifts benefits towards SCs. In particular, more public goods are targeted to the main SC village and there is an increase in private wealth of those closest to the leaders. The results were primarily driven by re-election incentives and same jati (subcaste) preference of elected leaders for people from their own social strata. The study further proposed that the benefits of the political reservation are not uniform and depend on many factors like jati structures and the chances of re-election, creating a complex web of winners and losers.
An interesting part of the research was the use of night lights as a variable. For each Gram Panchayat, a population-adjusted share of night lights, emanating from the main SC village was constructed and the impact of reservation on this measure was assessed. The innovative approach to documenting economic activity at the village level was well received at the seminar. The study also drew a lot of comments and questions: why was there no interdisciplinary approach in the study? Why was there not more pandering by SC Mukhiyas (village-council head) to the non-SCs, since they formed the dominant voting group in the population? There were also discussions of a similar paper with focus on female reservation. Apart from the data and questions, many stories from the field and anecdotal evidence were also shared by Sharan and Professor Thakur.
The panel closed the discussion with some interesting propositions. Sharan talked about advancing this study to understand whether these trends hold even after the Mukhiyas complete their second term. Other thoughts included exploring the role of electoral competition and whether it should be made mandatory to have reservation for at least two terms across the country.
The study has captured an interesting development in its early stages, given that reservation at the Gram Panchayat level is a relatively new development, introduced only in 2006 in Bihar. This was a time when there were very few elected Dalit Mukhiyas (~ 1 %) in the state. Prof Thakur also noted that since M.R. Sharan was not originally from the state of Bihar, the research provides a valuable outsider perspective to grassroots impact of political reservation in Bihar.
As part of the oral histories collection under the Partition Project, 40 student volunteers came together last week for their first orientation as ambassadors to collect oral stories from the survivors of Partition. The training was conducted at the Mittal Institute office in New Delhi by Dr. Sanjay Kumar, India Country Director.
You can learn more about the Partition Project here.
The Mittal Institute’s Seed for Change Program (SFC) aims to develop a vibrant ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in India and Pakistan through an annual competition. Through SFC, grant prizes are awarded to interdisciplinary student projects that positively impact societal, economic, and environmental issues in India and Pakistan.
We spoke to Gina Ciancone from “Green Screen,” the winning team for India. She discussed the genesis of the project and gave advice to students thinking about entering next year’s competition.
Tell me about the genesis of your project and why this project is important to you.
I led the design of Green Screen throughout a semester-long course taught by Professor Tarun Khanna at Harvard College. The course, “Contemporary Developing Countries,” focused on analyzing the impacts of entrepreneurial solutions to intractable problems in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Our team focused on problems facing the world’s fastest growing megacity – New Delhi, India.
Alongside global health practitioners from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and another designer from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, I developed Green Screen as a solution that could simultaneously address the inter-connected problems of air pollution and extreme heat. Green Screen is a zero-electricity air-cooling panel made entirely of agricultural waste, which would have otherwise been burned by farmers and further contributed to air pollution. In fact, over 27 million tons of agricultural waste are burned annually, exposing nearly 22 million people to the worst air quality in the world. Such intense air pollution also traps in heat within the city of New Delhi and leads to deadly heat waves.
Our solution simultaneously incentivizes an alternative use to excess agricultural waste and transforms “waste” into a product used to cool those most at risk from extreme heat. Green Screen developed through multiple phases of design-thinking: data analysis of heat and pollution in Delhi, as well as a needs assessment of slum communities lead to a fast design charrette of possible solutions which were combined and edited to create a breakthrough idea. As a designer trained in both architecture and urban planning, I am accustomed to working at different scales, which is reflected in the product’s design and projected scalability from a passive cooling screen to a passively cooled building.
My interdisciplinary background and the diversity of the current team, which is composed of a materials scientist, atmospheric chemist, and physician, allowed for the development of an entirely new, unprecedented product. Ultimately, Green Screen is the result of creative problem solving – it utilizes elements from a designer’s toolkit to integrate experimentation, technological possibility, and business success to arrive at an innovative solution. Green Screen represents the intersection of my own training in product design and urbanism. This product will prove that design thinking is a necessary component to impact intractable problems.
What are you most looking forward to in the next steps of your project?
As with any collaborative project, the most rewarding part is learning from those with whom you work. Green Screen’s diverse team of scientists, designers, and global health specialists built a culture of creativity that innovated a breakthrough solution to two of the world’s biggest problems: extreme heat and air pollution. I am thrilled to be working alongside energetic, intelligent, and optimistic professionals whose training is vastly different from my own. The professional diversity allows us to challenge each other to design stronger, more refined solutions during the development process.
While we have already iterated several prototypes of Green Screen, testing to learn (rather than testing to validate) will be a revealing and exciting moment of the project. This summer we will test the screen’s cooling effectiveness at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and receive feedback from engineers and sustainability specialists. Within the coming months, we will be working closely with our sponsors in India, Chintan and WIEGO, to survey housing conditions of target communities, purchase wheat stubble from farmers outside of New Delhi, and implement a pilot product. To really understand the community, we need to be out in the context with people, working with them in their own spaces. I am greatly looking forward to seeing how our passionate team will attract and mobilize more people to gain momentum and achieve lasting change.
Do you have any advice to share with people thinking of applying next year?
My biggest piece of advice is get started! Real innovators do not fear failure. As a designer, I have been trained to “fail fast,” in order to quickly iterate to a more optimized solution. In non-design professions, mistakes are often stigmatized as a road-block instead of an opportunity to adapt. Future teams should be open to these well-intentioned mistakes during the conceptualization and idea-generating stages of their project. Often, “failures” can lead to a novel solution and spotlight sources of new learning.
Gina Ciancone, Designer + Founder
Harvard Graduate School of Design
David Costanza, Materials Scientist
Rice University School of Architecture
Dan Cusworth, Atmospheric Chemist
Harvard University School of Applied Engineering
Ramya Pinnamaneni, Global Health Speciality
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
Professor Rahul Mehrotra, Advisor
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Professor Tarun Khanna
Professor Martha Chen
For nearly twenty years, new graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Education have been carrying and waving children’s books as they enter Harvard Yard for the commencement ceremony. This tradition emphasizes the importance of children’s literacy and inclusion, as the books represent different cultures from around the world.
This year amongst copies of The Hungry Caterpillar and A Snowy Day will be several copies of Harvard Doctoral Candidate Maung Nyeu’s children’s books. These multilingual books are based on stories collected by children of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh. The books contain moral and civic values and the wisdom of generations and help revitalize endangered languages and revive vanishing cultures.
Nyeu’s project is possible due to funding from the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute for his travels to mountain villages of Bangladesh to visit schools and collect stories. The funding enabled him to publish and distribute books in Bangladesh. So far, he has distributed over 6,000 of these books to children who never owned a children’s book in their lives. With the support of a Mittal Institute summer grant, he plans to return to CHT and distribute 4,000 more copies.
Links to other articles about Nyeu’s books:
“People Making Difference” in Christian Science Monitor
The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute featured story “Saving a culture, book by book”
National Geographic Society: First Person: Save a Language, Save a Culture.
Stories Matter: Harvard Graduate School of Education
Three years ago, we launched the Jana Swasthya Project at the 2015 Kumbh Mela in Nashik and Trimbakeshwar, India.
The Jana Swasthya Project was comprised of two components: a large-scale digital disease surveillance program, EMcounter, and a mass screening program for oral health, hypertension and diabetes offered to pilgrims, sadhus, security forces, and all visitors in Nashik and Trimbakeshwar.
You can learn more about this amazing project at this specially-created website: http://kumbhmela2015mi.com.