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Sign language


By Seema Kalra
Published: Sunday 15 January 1995

Rural healh poster: linguistic (Credit: INDI RANA)FILMS and videos have been used by environmentalists as promotional material for spreading their message. In addition to this, flash cards and posters have always formed an integeral part of the rural development programmes organised by governmental and the non-governmental organisations, which base their work on the assumption that if they just represent an idea in pictorial form, the message will get across loud and clear. But, of course, there is more to pictorial representation of ideas than mere squiggles on paper.

Indi Rana's Developing a Pictorial Language (60 min) is an educative video developed from the experience of a field test conducted during a drinking water project in Orissa. Although it is targeted at field educators and communicators, its approach to the subject provides an insight into the pysche of the people and their perceptions of the visual medium. As is often iterated in the film, different people will perceive different things from a particular visual. And this perception is influenced by the educational and cultural background of the viewer.

The film also deals with the theoretical aspects of visual communication. Concepts like "vanishing point perspective" and "multiple point perspective" are explained with the help of popular art forms like the Patra Chitra paintings of Orissa and Mughal paintings.

An experiment to find out the most effective way of communicating with the rural people shows that multiple perspective pictorials are the most effective ones in the communication process. And symbols like ticks and crosses do not make any sense to an illiterate population.

The problem with most of the communication material developed by NGOs is that it is designed and conceptualised by urban artists who are not familiar with rural perceptions. This is what hinders effective communication. The concept put forward by the film is that the village artists be asked to identify and illustrate the local symbols of perceived "good" and "evil"; then these symbols be utilised to communicate the dos and don'ts in a message. Most rural people, for instance, relate flowers to cleanliness: a well surrounded by flowers would imply that cleanliness should be maintained around the well.

This would, of course, entail more realism in pictures. But without one perceptional seachange in the communicators -- that if they are looking for a shift in the attitudes of the people, they have to first repair their own or relearn those of the people -- no approach is going to work without alienating those they seek to inform.

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