The Displaced Narrative in Design

A young designer explores her sense of displacement and arrives at design solutions challenging pre-existing notions of comfort and stability by exhibiting how these qualities can exist within the realm of the temporary, the transitionary and the in-between.

Anya Gupta. Jakarta. Singapore. Kuala Lumpur. Mexico City. Istanbul. Singapore. Providence.

Thus reads designer Anya’s bio on her website, and it seems to describe her past while guiding her chart her future.

Her work shares a narrative about cultural dislocation. “I’ve grown up in six different countries, spanning across three continents. I am addressing the lack of a notion of ‘home’, a dislocation which stems from my own multicultural, ex-pat background.”

Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

Love Seat: Inspired by airport benches, this love seat offers a space for two individuals to sit in very close proximity. Users can sit only on the perforated metal prongs. While they can feel and curl up to the upholstered surfaces, they are unable to truly sit on them. It consists of 10 perforated metal prongs attached to a wooden frame, upholstered using a silk quilt. This was part of Anya’s project series and are objects informed by temporary spaces of passage.

Anya can be best described as a designer with a strong diasporic past who wishes to explore her cultural dislocation through designs.

Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

Shinto Temple Table: An entrance table inspired by Shinto Temple architecture, made using cherry wood.

Now a Singaporean citizen, her work reflects her cultural background exploring spaces and objects while trying to draw stories from her experiences being displaced. She strives to create objects that are both physically and emotionally comfortable and that provide a sense of belonging in this globalised world. While some of her pieces are extremely well-crafted, like the Leather Talavera Cabinet, inspired by Mexican Talavera Patterns, which was exhibited in Fuorisalone in Milan alongside Marc Librizzi and Max Pratt, and the Shinto Table, an entrance table inspired by Shinto Temple architecture, the rest of her work carry with it a sense of urgency or movement, which are characteristic of a migrant or displaced  family.Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine Reflecting her commitment to sustainability, Anya has completed an internship with Kokrobitey Institute, Ghana where she was made furniture from recycled denim scrap weavings. She has also interned in Singapore (exhibition design for the National Museum of Singapore and the Indian Heritage Museum) and Istanbul (Turkey).

For a young graduate, Anya knows who she is and what she wants to be. “I define myself as a maker, artist, and designer. I want to be part of design fairs since they provide me with a platform where I am able to showcase my work and meet a variety of artists and art communities,” she says.

CONCRETE TILES - Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

A collaborative project of Anya’s with Valeria Buttaci about exaggerated superstition made using CNC moulds, fibreglass and hand-dyed concrete

“My work tells a diasporic narrative, one that is very specific to my life. However, at shows, it’s really enriching to see the many different people that resonate with my work. It opens a larger discussion about diasporic art.” CONCRETE TILES - Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

SCALE talks to this designer who has her heart firmly in place, exploring design displacements and concept creation, even as she moves to find her place in the world.

SCALE: Your concept of designing furniture for a migrant family is a concept unheard of. Tell us what made you think about this. How does it take into consideration sustainability and comfort? Do you think this will be more than a concept?

Anya: My work tells a diasporic narrative about cultural dislocation. I’ve grown up in 6 different countries, spanning across 3 continents.  The type of displacement I am addressing has less to do with homelessness and forced migration but rather stems from my own multicultural, ex-pat background.

My Moving Blanket Quilts are inspired by packing material. They are made using silk which is digitally printed with images of bubble wrap.

I have a fixation with transitory spaces, airports in particular. I’m interested in studying the materials that occupy transitory spaces (bubble wrap and moving blankets for example) and exploring their personal narratives. By transforming these disposable materials into something long-lasting, I aim to extract a sense of comfort and stability within these seemingly sterile environments.

Quilted Lamps - Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

A series of bedside table lamps made using quilts cinched around light bulbs, mimicking packaged goods. The quilts are inspired by packing material, particularly moving blankets and bubble wrap. The lamps were self wired and the quilts were made using digitally printed silk.

Moving around so much, I never really had a country to call home. I was mocked for not being “Indian” enough or “Asian” enough. I’m questioning and challenging pre-existing notions of comfort and stability by exhibiting how these qualities can exist within the realm of the temporary, the transitionary and the in-between. My work has helped me be comfortable with who I am and how I grew up.

Often times the diasporic narrative can be tokenized. Something inherently western is juxtaposed with something inherently eastern, highlighting a dissonance which stands for the diasporic experience. I’ve found this method to be quite shallow, in that a story falls between the cracks and is deemed “lost”. My Moving Blanket Quilts attempt to occupy their own hybrid multidimensional space. They are not lost in space, trapped between two cultures. They are their own world. They give the owner the ability to decide what their home is. To decide what pieces of their cultural history and experience they will stitch into the fabric. The objects that live in your home are very personal. They live with you and grow with you. This is more than just a concept to me. This is who I am.

SCALE: Who are your design gurus in the field of architecture and product design. What do you learn from each of them?

AIRPORT CHAIR - Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

This chair draws inspiration from airport seating. This chair is intended to be placed in one’s home, and attempts to create a sense of comfort and stability within the realm of the temporary and the in-between. Mild steel with powder-coated finish.

Anya: I learn a lot from established furniture designers, my peers, and post-colonial writers.  I adore the work of the Campana Brothers, Hannah Levy, Jessi Reaves, Tanya Aguiñiga, Gaetano Pesce, Kostas Lambridis, and so many more. I’ve read a lot of the works from Gaytri Spivak and Homi Bhabha. A specific quote from Homi Bhabha’s essay ‘Unhomely’ has really shaped a lot of my work.

“Unhomely is not a state of lacking a home, or the opposite of having a home, it is rather a recognition that the line between home and the world becomes confused, the private and the public become part of one other”

Homi Bhabha

LEATHER TALAVERA CABINET - Anya Gupta - Scale Magazine

Inspired by Mexican Talavera Patterns, this cabinet explores asymmetry. The patterns designs were hand-drawn and later translated into rhino. It is made of laser-cut leather, cane and beech wood.

Most importantly, I’ve learned the most from my friends and peers that studied Furniture Design with me at RISD. They taught me how to be continually empathic in my work and design practice.

SCALE: Being a student and then entering the professional scene, how do you feel about the opportunities coming your way? Do you think the world has more designers than needed?

Anya: I’m very optimistic about the future. Living in Providence, I’m able to be surrounded by so many makers, artists, and designers. Furthermore, I have the space to create my own work. I have a studio in my apartment where I’m able to sew every day.

I don’t think the world has nearly enough artists, makers or designers.

All Images Courtesy the Designer – Anya Gupta