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Hélène Thébault, 2014 alumni, director of Roots Collective in India

Hélène Thébault, 2014 alumni, director of Roots Collective in India
Hélène Thébault

Hélène Thébault (2014 alumni) took the Master’s course in Transcultural Design India – here she gives us a detailed account of her professional activity in Delhi and Ladakh with the Non-Governmental Organization Roots Collective which she cofounded.

“I graduated in 2014 from the Master’s course Transcultural Design India and I now live between Delhi and Ladakh, a region situated in the far north of India, on the border with Tibet and Pakistan. The notion of interculturality is omnipresent over there as the region is inhabited by diverse populations with a wide variety of ethnicities and traditions. Ladakh was at the crossroads of the Silk Route and its cultural wealth is still apparent today, although it is under threat from mass tourism.

Buddhists and Muslims live together in this remote mountain region with extreme climatic conditions and an average altitude of more than 3000 meters.
Since May 2015 this fascinating place perched on top of the world has been my workplace and playground. Roots Collective, the NGO which I cofounded in 2015 with my colleagues, came about through a series of enriching encounters during my studies and travels in India.

We endeavor to celebrate the rich cultural diversity and heritage of the region and especially of its inhabitants, in order to help boost the local economy. Our approach is not that of a curator or a museologist who would most likely attempt to freeze things in time and put them in glass display cases. Our team is committed to restoring elements from the past – everything from buildings to anecdotes – celebrating them as precious cultural values and transmitting them to future generations: spaces and knowledge to be used, invested and appropriated.

Our initiatives include architectural projects (new buildings and renovations) in which we strive to maximize local resources in terms of materials and know-how. The spaces are designed as cultural platforms to attract visitors from outside the region, which generates income for the local area, as well as providing educational workshops open to all. It is therefore a model of social tourism promoting the treasures of this developing region. The educational workshops have already begun: the actual construction of these areas already represents an opportunity to share knowledge and know-how on the building site, where students in architecture, design, art, sociology and photography are working alongside professionals from the same fields.

Our field research work has already led to two exhibitions in Kargil (Ladakh) last year, and more recently the India Habitat Center (one of the country’s major cultural institutions) in Delhi offered us the opportunity to share our initiative with a temporary exhibition. The exhibition launch took place on World Heritage Day 2016. The exhibition is backed by DRONAH Foundation and the government’s Department of Culture for the Jammu and Kashmir region.

The exhibition focuses on Kargil, a strategic stopping point at the time of the Silk Route, but unfortunately relatively unknown to the public due to the India-Pakistan conflict. We want to break down the stereotypes and taboos which disserve the city by showcasing the many authentic treasures it has to share.”