The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Dipika Kohli on world community art, defining a future, and why “wait and see” won’t cut it

tumblr_m7b7kmftdt1qaqyfmToday TDN welcomes Dipika Kohli, author of The Elopement, which we reviewed in September last year. Raised in America by Indian parents, Dipika now lives with her Japanese husband, Akira, in Durham, North Carolina, where the couple run a design company

Together, they are the driving force behind Stitch, a community art project for which they are currently raising funds on Kickstarter in order to take the project around the globe. 

Dipika, who has channeled her own feelings of displacedness into writing and art, joins us today to tell us more about this exciting project, the first in a series.

We begin with an intro to what Stitch is all about…

Stitch 101

Stitch is about supporting local artists and the art scene; it’s about a community defining the fabric of itself and its future. It’s community art, and an exercise in word-driven intention-setting at the same time.

Dipika and Akira say:

Now, we’re bombarded by images we never chose for ourselves—we let brands and labels do the work to define and express who we are. It doesn’t have to be that way. What if we could choose what we see? In simple, uplifting, people-nominated and people-chosen words and images? Would we, as a community, behave differently? Would we know who we are?


The 276 words representing Durham, NC, in a word-cloud indicating frequency/popularity

For two months, Dipika and Akira talked to hundreds of people in their town of Durham, North Carolina, asking them one question:

What would you like to see Durham become, in one word?

After collecting many words, the residents of Durham voted for those that described their vision of the future Durham — the Durham they would like to be part of.

The resultant 276 words were passed onto two dozen local artists, who created work inspired by these words. Collectively, these pieces create a vision for the town, while money raised from the selling of these pieces will take Stitch to other communities in the world,

“connecting disparate communities with a common thread of art and collective visions.”

And now — over to Dipika:

Insane…or brilliant?

You have to either be insane or brilliant. To do it, I mean. To get up and do the crazy thing that no one believes will ever work. Everyone who says they care about you and your future likes to say, “Just wait, and see.” See if you can save enough. See if you still feel like doing something wild and crazy. Wait. See.

I’m done with that approach.

You see, I’ve been “waiting and seeing” for about a year now. I’ve been wanting to get back on the road, but why? How? What would that accomplish? A little Descartes reincarnation was sitting on my shoulder, niggling.

March, I said, was when I’d pull the trigger. Whether it made “sense” or not to jump ship and move out of my apartment for some unknown adventure ahead.

Taking Flight

March 16. My birthday. The day I launched the book that took me 13 years to get the nerve up to actually publish. So romantic, I thought, to finally upload Flight of Pisces and then move out of my apartment, and “away.” Wherever that might be.

Flight of Pisces was about the time I left Durham, NC, to trek about in India. Footloose and in search of “identity,” I wanted to see the place where my parents originally come from. New Delhi, and Old Delhi. I went solo, and I did it big, culminating in something that all these years later, I shake my head about, thinking, “Did I have some kind of death wish?”

Maybe I did.

Maybe it was survivor’s guilt. Or more, or less. Who knows.

What I do know, and what I can say, is that it had to be the way it was. I had to go and try something that seemed like it was the most absurd and off-the-track kind of thing in the world, in the universe, even, because without having gone and done it, I wouldn’t have ever gotten it. “The glimpse.” A feeling that the world was shifting beneath my feet. And, indeed, it was.

Now, the same feeling is resurfacing.

On the road again

I’m getting lost in the world, again, and on purpose one more time. It’s okay with me that I have a four year-old who’ll be my classmate on this new tour as we go on an educational field trip together to someplace new. I can’t disclose all the details (yet), but I’m trusting it’s going to be okay.

We’ll have just one text with us, in our imaginations. A book that’s got a bunch of blank pages inside, and one image. It’s the cover, and it looks like this:

It’s the drawing I made back in 1994, when I met my husband, Akira Morita. He’s from Japan, and I’m Indian-American, and we eloped to Ireland in 2000. You could say we like to mix it up. Or just trust that we’ll find something wherever we go. One thing’s for sure, we’re always getting to know a bunch of people well, and anyone who’s into the displaced feeling of being elsewhere knows what I mean.

I held a roundtable last year called EXPAT at a place in town called Mad Hatter’s. It’s a little cafe, and about a dozen of us got together to talk about our experiences in places like Ghana, Madagascar, and all parts of Europe, too. Conversations like that made me feel like I was on the road again.

From T-shirt designs to Stitch concept

Now, Akira and I are 18 years older than we were when we met, and we’ve evolved a lot from those days when we thought printing a T-shirt design on a shirt was cool. Our style has gone conceptual, and now we’re doing our biggest art project together yet. It’s called STITCH, and it’s on Kickstarter now through April 28.

Part of the reason we’re doing this is to shape the community for the place where we both have spent the biggest chunks of our life: Durham, North Carolina. But there’s more, too. Lots of things I want to talk about with you in upcoming posts from this new series. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

Find out more about STITCH here at the Kickstarter website!

* * *

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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