Understanding Identity and Childhood through Tactile Objects

The exhibit at V&A Museum of Childhood, Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to today, is a fascinating overview of the evolution of Nordic artefacts centered around the needs and wants of a child over the 1900s to the present day. Children are pivotal to the growth and development of society and its cultural fabric. The wellbeing of children is a direct reflection of the values harnessed by family, schools and other branches of a community.

Of all the sections in the exhibit I found the one about ‘Design for Living’ most interesting and relatable. This aspect of creating an amiable, comfortable environment that allows them to play and learn at home has a direct co relation to the mental health and well being of a growing infant. I found the whole aspect of the consumer products that were developed for the children – being ‘designed to aid the child’s development, encouraging them to create, construct and play’ – close to home.

Growing up in the 90s I had a lot of physical artefacts and toys that I would engage with as a child. Tactile objects always allow a child or even human beings for that matter, to explore, create and construct. The feeling of flipping through a pages of a book or putting the pieces of paper together are quite different from scrolling through YouTube videos or dragging and dropping pieces of a jigsaw on a tablet. The fact these products have a tangible value to them gives them an emotional appeal as well; the artefacts become a source of semiotic and emotional association with people, memories and values.

One such product on display that was similar to an artefact I had a child was – the ‘boo boo patterned duvet cover’ which was reminiscent of the patchwork quilt that was common in Indian households in West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh also called ‘Kantha’. Identical to the colour palette found in the duvet cover, the patchwork quilt had often had visual stories depicted in bright colours embroidered on them. Kantha in Sanskrit means ‘rags’, as a lot of the Kantha patchwork was created from discarded but vibrant cloth from traditional Indian garments. These Kantha stitch quilts often became heirlooms for generations due to their soft texture and delicate craftwork. The quilts often had embroidered narratives that depict stories of popular folklore. The Kantha quilt is an artefact that is indigenous, imaginative and tactile. We must re imagine these products, in the future while deconstructing our technological worlds to build a more memorable childhood for future generations.

Strand of Silk - Journey Map - Kantha Embroidery - Introduction - kantha1

Traditional kantha stitch fabric


The duvet at the mueseum




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