Controversies With Colours: From Country To Classroom

The ways in which colours and shapes have the power to unite or disrupt communities and relationships

Various design courses like Colours and Compositions, Elements and Principles of Design, Graphic Design etc. are taught to undergraduate students. Wherein we always discuss the significance of colours and shapes as basic elements of design, their relevance in different countries and the ways in which colours and shapes have the power to unite or disrupt communities and relationships. For many years these were mere sentences, until recently, as if to illustrate our classroom discussion, we heard the news of unveiling the G20 logo in India, for the G20 Leaders’ Summit and the associated controversies. 

The unveiling took place on Tuesday 8 November 2022 by our Prime Minister. All news channels were flooded with the news of India taking up the G20 Presidency from Indonesia on 1 December 2022 and hosting the G20 Leaders' Summit for the first time in 2023. As a nation truly committed to democracy and multilateralism, India's G20 Presidency is posed to be a momentous occasion in the history of our country, as it seeks to play an important role in finding pragmatic global solutions for the well-being of all and thus, embody the real essence of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam', or the 'World is One Family.' This being the theme, it is visually represented in the form of a logo.

The logo for this event is influenced by the vivid colours of our national flag - saffron, white, green and blue. It contrasts the spherical blue globe with a lotus, the national flower of our country that represents prosperity in the face of adversity; rendered in orange color merging into green; which also is in place of the zero in the numerical 20. The visual appeal is enhanced as blue and orange are complementary colours. The globe symbolises India's pro-planet lifestyle that is in perfect balance with nature. The seven petals of the lotus are meant to represent the seven continents. The word 'Bharat' is inscribed in Devanagari script beneath the G20 logo. The logo was chosen out of over 2000 submissions received. The theme of India's G20 presidency, 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam', or 'One Earth, One Family, One Future', is taken from the Maha Upanishad, an ancient Sanskrit literature. Apparently, the idea essentially emphasises the importance of all life - human, animal, plant and microbe - and their interdependence on Earth and in the larger world. Doesn’t this sound perfectly apt as a concept and a visual representation?

However, the visual of an orange coloured lotus flower has caused great criticism to the extent of rebuke in our country. It's all about the symbolism and there is an outrage regarding what the lotus blossom actually means. The lotus flower is not just the national flower of India but also an emblem of our country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This became the topic of discussion in our class of Design.

Rajnath Singh, the Defense Minister, has defended the design. He stated, "The lotus was officially designated as the national flower in 1950. The lotus was included in the G20 emblem by the government as a symbol of India's history. Revolutionaries battled with lotus in one hand and roti in the other during the first liberation war in 1857." Let's refrain from stating all allegations. But, isn’t this food for thought?

Come to think of it, symbolic of divinity, the flower of rebirth, the lotus flower's daily resurrection is undoubtedly enchanting and indeed symbolic of revival. With its roots immersed in mud, it submerges every night into murky waters and miraculously blooms again the following day, sparklingly un-soiled and pristine. The infinity hidden in the visual, emphasises the cyclical process of ups and downs in life. Since they return to the murky water each evening and open their blooms at the break of the day, lotus flowers symbolise strength, resilience and rebirth. Reminding us that no matter how deep into the darkness you go, there is always a new start, a new beginning, and a new sparkling clean life out there. A lotus inspires one to learn from our regrets/unpleasant experiences/failures and begin afresh with great will and grace; and an inspiring 'metaphor for life'. Yet, having one of the most pristine elements from nature - a lotus and its colours, could upheaval a political propaganda. Just imagine the power of design, the power of colours and shapes. As responsible designers, one cannot overlook the significance of colours and shapes.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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