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Documenting South India's ancient natural beauty + wellness rituals

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Art Direction, Print Design


9 weeks




Nethra Gomatheswaran,
Shabnam Shiwan (Mentor)


Love, Paati (translates to Love, Grandma in Tamil) aims to be a book documenting age-old natural beauty and wellness rituals from South India. These rituals from South Indian households are usually passed down (if at all) by word-of-mouth and are not documented. Acknowledging that these amazing rituals that do wonders for beauty and wellness live in the minds of our grandparents and are not going to be around forever, I set out to document as many rituals as I could gather from talking to diverse South Indian families.
Two winters ago, when I went back home, I visited my grandmother’s house. When I was getting back to the States, she gave me her homemade oil with flowers and herbs that I remember having used since I was a child. This oil works wonders, and I remember bringing a few bottles for my friends here as well. That’s when I realized, you know what, I need to start writing down these natural remedies, and keep it for myself.
When I asked my grandmother for more such natural rituals, she said:
That's when it all struck me:

An abundance of ancient wisdom, sits in the minds of our grandparents, it isn’t documented and it’s not going to be around forever. I was more intent on collecting these rituals, from as many people I could find. 


Pt.1 - Documentation

Documenting natural rituals which have been passed down by word-of-mouth so its accessible to anyone who is interested. 

Pt.2 - Authenticity

Documenting these rituals in the most authentic, South Indian way was my priority. I wanted the narratives to stay true to their roots unlike how Turmeric milk, one of the most common beverages in India is not rebranded and westernized as the luxurious turmeric Lattes.


Collecting these rituals

and counting

160 rituals
I spoke to my grandparents. their cousins, my friends' aunts, and grandparents to collect as many South Indian rituals as I could. Along with these rituals, I collected stories and memories of previous generations and other aspects of South Indian heritage that we do not see often these days.


Research, Research, Research

I conducted a lot of experiments to understand more about people and their knowledge of natural beauty, their openness to it, and how this project can play a role in their lives. From digital prototypes, print prototypes to subscription boxes, I experimented with multiple concepts in multiple contexts with diverse people. After conducting these experiments I concluded that making a book, and publishing it would be the best way for people of all ages and backgrounds to acces sit and pass this information down to future generations.
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The Cover: Design Rationale

The cover is linen, which helps blot easily. I thought about the context of use of this book. For example, when you are making some of these rituals, some common elements for these rituals are beetroot, turmeric, hibiscus and other leaves which are colorfully vibrant - but also stain easily and it’s inevitable. 
I kept the cover off-white intentionally, so even if you drop these natural ingredients like turmeric, beetroot, neem leaves, or spill it on the kitchen slab and place your book on these spills, it's okay. The cover is personalized with the stains and is a reflection of your interaction with the book. Not everyone’s cover would necessarily look the same, and that was the intention. It’s your book, a reflection of your interaction with the book, if you have spills or if something drops, it could make the cover look beautiful.

"You know what Nethra, I have to sit and try to remember these natural rituals which my mom told me, it was so long ago. Why don't you ask my friends and cousins, they have a better memory and can remember all these way better than I can."

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I wanted to keep the "About Section" very simple, with no images, so the reader can only focus on the text.
The book is mainly sectioned into three parts:  Hair, Skin, and Health+Wellness rituals. Each section is introduced with a memory of mine or text that highlights the significance of these rituals in South Indian culture.
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'Words from the Wise' is layered in each section. These are tips one needs to remember while using these rituals.
I wanted to be playful with the titles of these rituals. As this book is very info-packed, I wanted to incorporate a lot of white space for the design to look and feel light.
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I chose a sophisticated, edgy font and paired it with a simple font to create a balance.
Short stories such as"Memoirs from an Indian Summer" and "Flower Power" are memories that people in their 80s recollected of using these rituals in their teenage years. By adding these stories, I wanted the narrative of these rituals to be as authentic as possible.
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COVID had really taken a toll on photography. As my photography partners could not take any photos for this project, the photos used here are a close representation of what I want the photos to be.
I want to incorporate older models as well as younger models. By having grandparents, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s model, I wanted their radiant skin and hair to be a testament to how effective these rituals are. Once the situation with COVID is safe to be with older people, and others, photography with older models will resume.
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In order to eliminate redundancy, I wanted to layer these rituals with stories, and tips, and aspects of South Indian heritage.
I have highlighted aspects of South Indian culture like tattoos - which were very common back in the day. These days, it's very rare to see women with their hands and legs tattooed.
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It was very difficult to find these women photographed here, as it's not common anymore to adorn tattoos. However, I believe that these unique aspects will enrich the book, and feel like authentic South India. 

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