Necessity is the Mother of Invention – Or Something Like That: The Art of Jugaad.

One of my favorite terms here, which I know has been written about quite a bit, is “jugaad” or “jugarh”. Jugaad is essentially another word for improvisation, or making do with whatever resources one can muster. As resources are often hard to come by, it seems as if these solutions are quite temporary (however ingenious). As I walk around the city each day, I cannot help but be reminded of how much the term also applies to the process of flexible, generative art-making.

Makeshift display for screening of filmmaker Ajay Bhardwaj's 'Where the Twain Shall Meet' (Kitte Mil Ve Mahi). Bhardwaj couldn't be there to answer questions, so offered to join audience on Skype for a discussion following the film. Double jugaad points!

Makeshift display for screening of filmmaker Ajay Bhardwaj’s ‘Where the Twain Shall Meet’ (Kitte Mil Ve Mahi). Bhardwaj couldn’t be there to answer questions, so offered to join audience on Skype for a discussion following the film. Double jugaad points!

Without writing an essay on cultural origins, it pretty much goes without saying that Indians are quite possibly some of the most creative groups of people on the planet. Ask anyone here if they can fix something and they assure you something can “be arranged” – and they really mean it. It seems to work in social circles too. I have had one successful meeting here due to someone offering me the contact info for her auntie’s brother-in-law’s cousin. 

This notion of jugaad seems to touch every economic level here. Granted, I come from an extremely developed country with many resources and (literal) tools. I have noticed that whatever one’s financial means, there is truly an appreciation here for old-fashioned problem solving.

Beginning to appreciate jugaad has also trained me to look differently at my surroundings and the relative costs of things, time, and information. I find much of what strikes me visually here is human-made: little sculptures everywhere. The solutions I’ve encountered have run the gamut from ingenious to (seemingly) absurd. And suddenly, it makes sense. Why fix the pipe when it is easier and more cost-effective to just drill a new hole in the floor? Why construct a ladder out of more durable wood when six pieces of bamboo does the job? Why fix cracked sewer tiles when a concrete slab placed over the gap does the trick?

Thinking about this has pushed me to think about mechanical problem-solving quite a bit differently. Traveling on a shoestring budget inherently invites a sense of jugaad in all of us. The concept has crept into my practice of art-making as well. I have learned not to prematurely judge my solutions, and let myself entertain various forms of “innovation” before settling on a solution. For example, just a few days ago I found myself precariously steadying my camera with a watch strap and scotch tape in lieu of a tripod while shooting. Voila! Jugaad!

Okay, so maybe the pair on the left fell apart eight days later...

Okay, so maybe the pair on the left fell apart eight days later…

As an artist, this sort of creativity is fascinating and quite literally the essence of minimalism, specifically in addressing what bases need to be covered and what can be discarded. I find myself charged with the task of telling a story with as few players as possible, or acting in response to my present circumstances with simplicity. Is it possible? I don’t know. But after all of this talk of jugaad, I’m positive I’ll be able to figure it out.

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About saschahughescaley

MFA Candidate, Interdisciplinary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 2015 (expected) 2014 CASI Travel Funds for Research Winner