Final work for the Smithsonian’s IAHP

The IAHP didn’t have a large enough budget to spend on a designer. As such, no branding for the exhibition’s marketing collateral had been set, and the materials in circulation did not have a cohesive look or a well-executed design. The department had not been successful in getting a significant number of submissions. The goal of my design work is to encourage contributions and raise general awareness that an exhibition on Indian American history was being planned. So, without further ado, here are the pieces I completed for the IAHP.


In addition to the above, I updated the Facebook profile page for the IAHP that is consistent with the new designs. The Facebook page serves as a place for younger Indian Americans to learn about the IAHP and the exhibition, as well submit their photos and stories directly to the APA.

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A survey’s results


In order to understand how Indian Americans feel about their history, heritage and living in the United States, I conducted a survey over the spring that ultimately collected 151 responses. The survey was designed to have a different set of questions for Indian immigrants and first or later-generation Indian Americans who were either born in the U.S. or had spent the majority of their lives here. After answering a few basic demographic questions (e.g., age, sex, country of birth, current location), the survey takers were split into two groups. Immigrants answered questions regarding the reasons they came to the U.S., what their early experiences were like, and how they felt today about living in the U.S. The first-generation Indian Americans were asked questions about growing up between two cultures and how this influenced their lives.

Both groups were asked open-ended questions on the unique experiences they faced in the U.S. and how they identify themselves between their two cultures. The last section of the survey asked all of the participants their opinions on documenting Indian American history, particularly whether they felt it was important and if they were willing to participate in any relevant efforts. The results of the survey provided valuable insights on present day Indian Americans. For my thesis exhibition, I designed an infographic showing the most compelling results, alongside interesting historical facts.

My photography for the Smithsonian

Back when I was planning to design a digital archive, I had started to take photos around New York City of Indian American events. In April and August, the city had two annual parades, one honoring Sikhs, and another for Indian Independence Day. The IAHP is looking for community-generated content, so when I mentioned that I had taken photographs to Masum, she asked if I would like feature some of them in the future exhibition. Of course, I said yes! The photos selected are shown above.

Decision to work with the IAHP

Smithsonian APAC Logo

At the end of Thesis I, I had been leaning towards designing a digital archive of Indian American artifacts curated by my friends and family. Once I spoke with Masum, I decided to change direction.

The IAHP presented a wonderful opportunity to pursue my thesis in a live setting, and on a much larger scale. I was attracted to the IAHP’s efforts to build an exhibition that was partially curated through the contributions of Indian Americans. Their desire to create a digital multimedia archive of artifacts was one I shared. My research supported that a participatory archive of factual records was the best way to document a collective cultural history.

The IAHP is groundbreaking because it is the first significant effort on a national scale and by a federal organization to document Indian American history. The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846 and today, is the world’s largest museum and research complex with 19 museums, 9 research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world.

Once I gave Masum an overview of my thesis and she spoke with me about their needs, we both concluded that it would be mutually beneficent to work together. The IAHP became my client and we agreed that I would deliver the following over the next few months:

Beyond Bollywood Exhibition
1. Design an exhibition logo
2. Create a branding system
3. Design postcards as a for photo and story submissions
4. Design posters to posters to raise awareness of the future exhibition
Indian American Heritage Project
1. Design a logo
2. Redesign the website
3. Assist with several social media marketing efforts

Learning about the Smithsonian’s IAHP

Over the summer, I learned that the Smithsonian Institution’s American Pacific Asian Center (APA) was working on an initiative – the Indian American Heritage Project (IAHP) – to chronicle the experience of immigrants from India and Indian Americans in the U.S. To learn more about the effort, I sought out Masum Momaya, who had just come on board as the new curator. After exchanging a few emails, we spoke on the phone today.

I learned that the key components of the IAHP include a traveling exhibition, public programs, a curriculum guide for youth, an interactive website, and artifacts donated to the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. The most significant component of the IAHP is its planned exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. It is scheduled to open in late 2013 and occupy a 5,000 square feet space at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

The exhibition’s goal is to explore the heritage, daily experience, and diverse political, professional and cultural contributions of Indian immigrants and their descendants in the U.S. Included in the exhibition, will be historical and contemporary images and several dozen artifacts, including those documenting histories of discrimination and resistance, those conveying daily experiences and those symbolizing achievements across the professions. Many of these artifacts will be collected directly from the public through personal contributions. Music and visual art works providing commentary on the Indian American experience will also form a critical component of the exhibition.

Among the specific topics to be covered are: early (late 1800’s-1900’s) immigrant experiences, struggles for citizenship in the first half of the 20th century, professional contributions from the 1960’s and beyond, organizing for labor rights, women’s rights and labor rights and cultural contributions through food, music, dance and in the entertainment industry.

After a one year tenure at the Smithsonian, Beyond Bollywood will travel to about 15 sites throughout the country to reach Indian American communities. A part of the exhibition, consisting mostly of the multimedia artifacts will be maintained online on the IAHP website.

After my first internship…

As you might know from reading a bit about my background, I have a business background that is fairly analytical. While Finance turned out to be the wrong career choice for me, my experience at Asia Society helped me learn something important about myself: I am happiest working when I am using both sides of my brain.

I started Pratt under the assumption that I would eventually seek a role that required both analytical and creative thinking. But after a few classes, the right side of my brain was raring to go after resting for so long. That and being surrounded by incredibly talented designers and artists made me want to see if I too could do well in a purely design role. I now know what the answer is – probably not.

But there is a certain amount of pride I feel to know that I had a strong enough portfolio to have gotten a design internship in the first place, given I had never even used Adobe Illustrator before design school. And in going own the career path, it’s just as important to understand what you don’t want to do as it is to know what you want to do.

I have now worked at both ends of the extreme – finance and design. I think this puts me closer to where I want to be, which is in the middle. Hopefully.

My time at Asia Society

I wanted to regularly update this blog with my internship experience, but classes and working have kept me so busy that my very first design internship has already come to an end, and this is my first post about it!

My six month internship at Asia Society of New York started last September and ended last month. As part of the Marketing & Design department, I worked on designing both print (advertisements, invitations, signage, and web banners) and digital (web banners, exhibition websites) collateral for exhibitions, events, and gift shop promotions. I also got to indulge my inner-photographer when I was asked to take pictures a few exhibitions to submit to the press (including the New York Times!). Everyone in the department was friendly, especially the talented designer who I worked under. It was extremely gratifying to see my work on display and sent out in the world.  And I absolutely loved working in an environment surrounded by art and culture. How many people can check out Buddhist sculptures from the 4th century BCE during their lunch break?

During my time here, I learned how to create and carry out a a cohesive brand identity across different media, spaces and sizes. A new exhibition opening required designing everything from small dinner invitations, large window signage, and even bigger (eight feet long!) fabric banners that were hung high up at the Park Avenue entrance. Part of the design process included collaborating with the exhibition designers to collaborate on colors and typefaces. I accompanied the designer on press checks where I picked up a lot of useful information on proofing and color management, that is going to be very helpful for my classes. It was these types of real-world experiences that I really appreciated, because up until then, I had only done design work for school. Some of the work I did fo the Asia Society can be found on my portfolio.

My thoughts on career-related matters next…