Paola Antonelli and Poulomi Basu discuss creative responses to crisis

In a brand new format for a brand new year of Nicer Tuesdays, Poulomi Basu and Paola Antonelli take to the online stage.

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Date
28 January 2021
Reading Time
5 minute read

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As another year rolled in, here at It’s Nice That, we welcomed another year of creative talks in the form of our monthly highlights, Nicer Tuesdays. 2021 saw us shake up the long-established previous format to adjust with changing digital habits. With screen fatigue on the rise we decided to refresh Nicer Tuesdays to make it more succinct but more in-depth. Inviting two renowned members of the creative industry to join us on our online events platform, earlier this week, we tucked into a delectable evening filled with inspiration. In another twist, Nicer Tuesdays will now address a theme. Topically, this month’s theme was ‘creative responses to crisis’, featuring two artists grappling with the subject in their established practices.

Kicking off the year with a profound insight into two very different but equally fascinating careers, we first welcomed transmedia artist, photographer and activist Poulomi Basu to the stage. Dialling in from Goa, we were treated to a one-of-a-kind talk drawing on Poulomi’s performance element of her practice, a first for us and our audience too. Next, we journeyed over to New York to have a chat with the curator and writer Paola Antonelli. In another revamp of the format, January’s event saw the senior curator of architecture and design at The Museum of Modern Art talk extensively with our editor-in-chief Matt Alagiah on the subject of this month’s theme. Find out more on what we learnt from these two incredible creatives below.

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

“Truth is the first casualty in a war”: Telling a nuanced story through conflict photography

Known for advocating for the rights of women, Poulomi Basu is an acclaimed artist, photographer and activist. Her latest project, recently published in a photobook of the same title, Centralia has been internationally recognised. It won the 2020 Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Award Jury Prize and has been shortlisted for the 2021 Deutsche Borse Foundation Photography Prize. It was this astounding project that Poulomi shared with us earlier this week. Having recently journeyed to Goa, Poulomi showed a short film which shed light on the Indian docu-fiction which asks the viewer to question what is real and more interestingly, what that even means.

Centralia takes us deep into the forests of central India where an under reported conflict between indigenous tribal people and the state takes place. A portrait of contemporary India, Centralia is not the traditional documentary series, an unfolding narrative where “everybody seems to lose,” as Poulomi put it on the night. A snapshot of the complex geopolitical realities that plague the mineral-rich region, Poulomi’s work explores how “identity is crushed and denied” in this conflict, and the right to dignity removed.

Poulomi’s moving film shows the beautiful yet desolate landscape involved, an area which has been plagued by unlawful conflict. The mineral-rich land is depicted as quite the opposite; scarce and bare. A reflection of how Poulomi “rediscovered [her] own country in a way that is less well known to the world.” Centralia is an example of how the artist likes to look at grey areas in a situation and tell nuance within a story – especially with stories as complex as this. In her contemplative talk, she touched on what she called “the oppression of specificity” which effects how her work is understood depending on place and time, and how she, in turn, combats this.

An interrogation of truth, Poulomi explained how she presents different versions of the truth to tell a whole story. In a Q&A following on from the film, she went onto the differences between her work as an artist and the work of a photojournalist. Explaining why Centralia is a docu-fiction and the interpretation in the situation, the artist ended her talk by emphasising how everyone is always trying to tell their version of a story. Earnestly, she called out to the audience: “truth is the first casualty in a war”.

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Poulomi Basu at Nicer Tuesdays

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Design Emergency: Formafantasma (Copyright © Formafantasma)

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Poulomi Basu: Centralia (Copyright © Poulomi Basu, 2020)

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Design Emergency: Formafantasma (Copyright © Formafantasma)

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Design Emergency: Formafantasma (Copyright © Formafantasma)

Why designers aren’t neutral agents

Paola Antonelli has many strings to her bow when it comes to her achievements in the creative industry. Amassing her skills and knowledge into one mighty project, the curator discussed how this latest project came about. A collaboration with design critic Alice Rawsthorn, Design Emergency is an investigation into design’s role in building a better future. Paola took us through the various conversations that the “partners in crime” touched on in putting together this project. From looking at new ways of communicating and how to highlight the people not necessarily classified as designers but “making the most out of a situation”.

She told Matt in the in-depth Q&A, “What we have learned is that people are ready to embrace design as part of our lives.” But it is up to the creators to guide the narrative in a responsible way. Noting how not everything that comes out of the mind of a designer is an idea, she highlighted how designers are in fact not impartial like some suspect. “They should accept the responsibility of what they do.” Shedding light on her unique understanding of the multiplicity of design and how it can be used to change behaviours, Paola discussed what, for her, is invaluable to the beneficial development of a designer; education. An essential aspect of that education being experimentation.

In a highly engaging take on how creativity intersects with crisis and more specifically, violence, Paola took us through how she understands and showcases such subjects from her unique curatorial perspective. Throwing light on how MoMa approaches such challenging topics through past exhibits, she then went onto discuss what other huge companies can do to improve the creative scape. As Matt and Paola deciphered Burger King’s latest rebrand, Greta Thunberg, Milton Glaser’s I <3 New York and interestingly, how humans can design our own extinction, Paola’s fascinating talk is not one to miss. “Even the tritest form of design can bring opportunity,” she went on to say as the event came to a close. So if you missed the talk, or want to catch it again, stay tuned for a recording of the event appearing on It’s Nice That in the coming weeks.

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Design Emergency: Peter Barber (Copyright © Peter Barber)

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Paola Antonelli at Nicer Tuesdays

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Design Emergency: European Space Agency (Copyright © European Space Agency)

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Design Emergency: Titus Kaphar (Copyright © Titus Kaphar)

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Design Emergency: European Space Agency (Copyright © European Space Agency)

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Design Emergency: Titus Kaphar (Copyright © Titus Kaphar)

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Design Emergency: Titus Kaphar (Copyright © Titus Kaphar)

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Nicer Tuesdays is our monthly event of creative talks. You can find out more here.

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