Kabir Project: Ulat Bansi Lab. January – February 2009
A particularly intriguing category of Kabir’s poems is the type known as Ulat Bansi, poems in “upside down language”. They intrigue because they are absurd, paradoxical, crazy, impenetrable, and yet they purport to be meaningful. Even in assuming that there is a hidden meaning to be dug out, you may be playing the fool: who is to say you aren’t describing a naked emperors clothes? (Hess, 1977, p.135)
Kabir is a 15th century Indian mystic poet. In this unique component of the Kabir lab, facilitated by Ayisha Abraham, Smriti Mehra and me, twelve diploma students from various design disciplines were introduced to a genre of Kabir’s poetry called the Ulat Bansi. Through reading, recitation and discussion, the students were challenged to respond to these poems, migrating between visual, acoustic and performative media. Here the upside down verses of Kabir served as a launch pad to try to understand the rhythm and purpose of such ‘nonsense verse’ and artistic practice. Students then developed individual project proposals that responded to this concept of Ulat Bansi through small-scale tactile objects, books and experiences. Students worked both individually and collaboratively, engaging in different aspects of the production process.
The Kabir Ulat Bansi lab ran for eight weeks, alongside various other Kabir projects. In total, over seventy students from Srishti school of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore explored, responded and interpreted the various ideas, themes and poems of Kabir. The outcomes from these various projects were exhibited as a part of the Kabir festival in Bangalore, 23rd February to 1st March, 2009.
Visit the Kabir project website for further details. http://www.kabirproject.org
More photos from the Ulat Bansi lab can be seen on my website.