Highlights of some of the interesting work I've done over the years.
Over the course of most of 2017, I collaborated with a group of about 50 amazing, radical museum workers/activists to write a toolkit about enacting the idea of museums as sites for social action. The toolkit turned into a book, and in our second annual gather we introduced the toolkit to a group of museums committed to taking it back to their home institutions and using the tools to enact transformation of their institutions. I led the group that wrote a chapter on museum collections. The toolkit is available as a free PDF download here:
In February 2017, Kamilah Rashied invited me to join in a feminist conversation to explore the narratives of women in their lives. I talked about my mother’s lifelong commitment to gain independence from the patriarchy, and the journey that brought her to the United States. She was in the audience that night, and it was the first time she heard me narrate her own story back to her, with my own interpretations of what her story says about her, and how she’s affected my life as a pro-feminist man. It was also her 75th birthday, and the whole audience indulged me in singing happy birthday to her!
Intersections: The Gender Box
As a volunteer educator at Rape Victim Advocates, I joined a friend at the Art Institute of Chicago to give a lunchtime public gallery talk the gender box. We discussed common ways people define binary notions of gender, and how these stereotypes are often used to justify the perpetuation of gender-based violence. From this lens, we then looked at two paintings depicting very different images of women: Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist and The Abduction of the Sabine Women.
The Gathering: Everyone is Talented
In November 2016, I joined two other local artists—Evan La Ruffa and Miguel Aguilar—at the Art Institute of Chicago to have a conversation facilitated by Kamilah Rashied to explore how creativity informs social transformation. It was in the days after the U.S. election, and I was feeling particularly emotional that night. I shared some questions I had been simmering on about whether museums need to exist at all anymore, and some vulnerable connections I have with colonialism, and I how that informs my activism work. It was a powerful conversation.
Creating Anti-oppressive Spaces Online
November 2016 at MCN
At MCN 2015 I gave an Ignite talk that outlined my thinking about the connections between museums and awful, traumatic histories, and why it’s imperative that we as museum workers unpack how our institutions have benefited from those histories. A lot of people I talked to in the months after said the talk resonated with them, and they were fired up (YES!!), but didn’t quite know where to start.
At the same conference the following year, this tool was presented with specific ideas and practices that people could employ in their work towards this vision. Along with five other colleagues, I came up with a checklist that can be used before, during and after a tech project to help gauge how well we’re building our systems for as many people as possible. Listen to the audio from our session here and download the slides here.
At MCN 2016, I coordinate creating pronoun stickers that people could add to their conference name badges. I found a designer who quickly mocked up the stickers, and I got them printed at moo.com. Take a look at this write-up I did on the MCN blog about how I made them, and how we thought about sharing them at the conference.
In the fall of 2016, Suse Cairns and I exchanged a series of letters over postal mail exploring the idea of structural change in museums and how it happens. We talked about a lot–connecting museums to a larger landscape of institutions, structural change as a process of healing, and how transformation must be aligned with other social liberation movements.
It was an interesting conversation because we both think about institutional transformation quite a lot, but we come from very different perspectives. It challenged me to think hard about my ideas in order to articulate them as clearly as I could. I learned so much from our exchange, and she told me she did to.
In the Fall 2016 issue of Model View Culture, a social justice tech magazine, I had an article titled “Thinking About Trauma in How We Build Tech Products.” I collaborated with Tanuja Jagernauth, a Healing Justice Organizer in Chicago, to get a stronger sense of the principles of trauma-informed care to base my article on. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s made me think more deeply about how our applications can create space for users who are processing these, and other traumatic events in their lives. The realities of oppression mean that so many of us are survivors of violence, assault, abuse, harassment, chronic stress and other acute and ongoing traumas. How are we, as technologists, working to understand and build in a way that is sensitive to that faced by so many: people of color, trans and queer folks, working class people, differently-abled people and other marginalized people?
Timelines of Museums' African Collections and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
Spring 2016 at Museums and the Web
At Museums and the Web a colleague and I did a demonstration of the uses of D3.js, a powerful data visualization library. To address the questions I’d been asking for some time: how have museums benefited from slavery, I pulled publicly available museum data of the creation dates of objects in the African collections of a handful of different art museums, and put them side-by-side with when enslaved people were removed from the African continent. Check out the code on GitHub.
Visitors of Color is a Tumblr that documents the perspectives and experiences of marginalized people with museums. This project aims to take some steps to shine light on what the museum experience is like for folks who are often discussed but whose voices are rarely privileged.
At MCN 2015 I gave an Ignite talk that outlined how I think about museums and oppressions. I attempted to articlate the connections between cultural institutions and historic traumatic histories, and issued a challenge to my peers to think about how we can take the projects we’re already doing to create anti-oppressive spaces for our visitors.
Linked Visions was a data visualization we built using D3.js with admin tools in Yii PHP. We translated elegant design documentation into a functional interactive that sat in the galleries during the exhibition, and was available on the web after the show closed.
For about a year I organized a feminist reading group with a group of three other friends. We read classic feminist works mostly by women of color, and ate lots of good food togheter. Here’s what we read:
In its first year, I designed the logo and a number of flyers for Chicago Desi Youth Rising, a summer leadership retreat for young people in Chicago who traced their heritage to South Asia and the diaspora. As a retreat that is commited to empowering youth to combat social inequality, we wanted the logo to portray a sense of power and the diversity of South Asian identities. In later years, different people produced flyers for the program and all the events around it, and it was fun to see the designs I came up with used in different ways.
Drinking About Museums, Chicago
In January 2014, I organized the first Drinking About Museums, a casual gathering of museum folks in Chicago. We welcomed people working at and with museums from inside and outside our institutions, from all parts of our institutions. The intention was to have a space where we can meet each other and create connections, as many of us can be pretty siloed in our work. Since then we’ve been meeting about once every two months.
Drinking About Museums has been happening in various cities throughout the world for a number of years. Some gatherings are loosely structured like ours, while others have agendas and presentations. Here are some other organizer’s perspectives on it: Koven Smith and Ed Rodley. In 2015 I began co-organizing the events with Taylor Peterson.
Where My Clothes Were Made
After a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers, I began documenting where the clothes I wear every day were made. It made me think a lot about the how my buying choices can affect people around the world. Read a blog post I wrote at the time where I write in more detail about globalization, excess consumerism, and all the complexities around where things are “made.”
In the spring of 2011, I created this design for an event organized by Chicago Foundation for Women, a local community organization. The theme of the event was Asian American women transforming education, and my whimsical design highlights education and growth.
As someone who enjoys being out in nature and noticing details of the world around me, and loves print books, I appreciated the opportunity to incorporate these elements in to the design.
Different versions of this design were used for an e-flyer, a print flyer, and the cover of the program book.
Life was so much easier when I was a line drawing
I created two instructional posters based on the idea of a person who transitioned from being a line drawing to living in three dimensions. I was interested in exploring ideas of not feeling comfortable in one’s own body, and the magic of everyday physical movements we take for granted. For this fantastical person, the movements we make everyday seem nearly impossible.
I enjoyed making the instructional illustrations on the left side of these posters. I was curious about how to visualize motions that we make all the time to someone who had an adult body, but no idea how to move it.
The series of photos were fun to make, too. I had to walk into this character’s life–essentially into my own infant/toddler experience of trying to make a movement that seems mundane to most people.
I modeled these posters after the instructional posters I remembered on the bulletin boards in my elementary and middle schools.
This was part a series that included a short story, a sound piece and a performance piece.
I Still Live Here Sampler
I was blessed to collaborate with some amazing artists on a 20 minute performance work entitled I Still Live Here:
I Still Live Here is the premier work of Chicago-based African diasporic performance project, The Artisans of Alchemy (AOA). AOA’s founder and director, Ni’Ja Whitson choreographs this eclectic and gripping interdisciplinary performance work, that locates and expresses body memory; a gesture boldly traversing the collection of scars and narratives stored between skin.
Supported by original compositions from sound artist nikhil trivedi, site specific performance for video composed by Whitson, and presented through expressive and dynamically moving bodes, the multimedia landscape of I Still Live Here questions our complicity and personal relationship to violence, connects the horrific reality of “corrective rapes” occurring in staggering numbers in South Africa, to shared histories of, struggles to overcome, and experiences within, collective trauma.
Grassroots Collaborative website
Grassroots Collaborative is a diverse coalition of labor and community organizations working together to win economic and racial justice in Chicago and across Illinois. The goal of the website was to increase visibility and public awareness of the Collaborative’s work, give visitors a sense of the power of the organization, clearly define the Collaborative’s values and why visitors should join their efforts or pay attention to their work, and provide information on past campaigns and current work.
The header image is an illustration I made based on photographs from the Collaborative’s campaigns. The image is still used on their protest posters!
The site was developed in Drupal, and I did all the design and development of the website, including training staff on how to use the new system to update content. I also set up Google Apps for the organization, and helped staff move their e-mail over from Outlook.
maahaul was a collective I organized of Indian Classical musicians in Chicago who learned from each other and created opportunities to perform and educate others. The main function of the maahaul website was to give Chicago concert-goers information on classical music concerts and events. I used the aesthetic of the classical instrument I play, the sitar, to inspire the design of the site. The repeated curves in the header image were inspired by the instrument’s frets, the horizontal lines were inspired by the instument’s strings, and the short vertical bars between the navigation elements were inspired by the string’s tuning pegs. I did all the design and development of the web site.
I composed music and played sitar for a play called “The Masrayana,” a story about a farmer named Gopal Masra in Rajastan. His brother pays off the village-clerk to issue a death certificate in Gopal’s name so that he can inherit the family farm. Gopal’s brother kicks him out of his own house, and he’s left for dead. The story describes his plight, and how he fights back.
I composed a few musical themes that I revisited throughout the show, each based on a different raag. I was awarded a Jeff Citation Award for Best Original Incidental Music for my composition and performance in this show.
“Completing the environment is composer Nikhil Trivedi’s work on the sitar, which blends with recorded music to create an atmosphere of wonder.” Windy City Times, September 28, 2005
“Nikhil Trivedi’s atmospheric sitar music, from a platform above the audience, adds polish.”, Chicago Sun-times, September 17, 2005
“As the drama of Gopal’s quest unfolds, The Masrayana is beautifully accented by Nikhil Trivedi’s sitar music. Trivedi accompanies the play from a picture-perfect perch above the stage.”, The Indian Reporter, October 2005
The Key to Happiness
In my mid-twenties, as I was transtioning from college to work I was interested in exploring ideas of value. I believed the onus that society put on personal economics dictated that having money would lead to happiness, but I wasn’t so sure. In this film I wanted to explore the questions of what we value, and why, and how what we value is or isn’t connected with happiness.
Bhangra Fusion 3, performance and stage set
Bhangra Fusion was one of two national competitions for a South Asian folk dance called Bhangra that young people in the diaspora were transorming into their own unique form of music and dance. In 2002, a group of 16 people from Chicago including myself performed a choreographed bhangra for the competition. The lead choreographer and I designed a stage set for the dance, which included a base platform that we painted the front of to look like a tractor. Words on the tractor actually said ‘Chicago’ in Punjabi. At the end of the performance two people stood on this platform holding another platform on their shoulders, and standing on top of that THAT platform, was me–about 20 feet in the air!
Les Claypool Illustration
The bassist for the band Primus, Les Claypool was a major inspiration for my bass playing while I was younger. His style was unlike anything else I’d ever heard, and his attitude towards the instrument was free-spirited, and I felt he was unafraid to push his playing and music in new and unique directions.
In this work I tried to capture the quirkiness of his style of playing, and how he seemed to make his bass an extension of his own body, and himself an extension of his bass guitar.
My personal website served as a way for friends, family, and creative peers to keep up with my creative work and my personal thoughts on the world, as well as a way to let business partners learn about my professional technical skills.
This site was developed in the Textpattern content management system, and I did all the design and development of the website.
South Asian Student Association, DePaul University web site
I served on the board of DePaul University’s South Asian Student Association in various positions over a few years, creating and maintaining their first website. The organization brought together students of the many cultural backgrounds of South Asia to cultivate leaders, raise awareness of social, political and cultural issues pertaining to South Asia, and provided opportunities to address those issues. The front page of the site randomly showed one of four compelling photographs that represented different aspects of South Asia, that then brought the users to the main content of the site. I did the full website design and development.
The summer after my senior year in high school, the band I was in, Backlash, recorded an album of the original songs we had written at the time. We were named after the Susan Faludi book, and that summer proved to be a transformative time in my life for a number of reasons. The music sounded like 1986, and it was amazing.
What is the Meaning of Life?
During my junior year in high school, I made a video with a friend asking the question “what is the meaning of life?” We asked a bunch of our theater friends the question, got a bunch of (expectedly) weird answers, and spliced them with equally weird video clips from things we were into in the mid-90s.