Speculative Citizen Design
research project

Open Call

Chennai Corona Helmets  |  B. Gowtham

Early on in the pandemic, in Chennai, India, artist B. Gowtham engaged in an unusual collaboration with local police authorities. During public announcements and daily lockdown controls, police officers wore the artist’s painted papermaché → ‘Corona helmets’ and shields, which were a three-dimensional artistic rendering based on the virus’ shape as seen under a microscope. They were made with newspaper, discarded wood pieces, and other recycled items such as plastic food delivery bowls. Intended to raise awareness, the helmets proved to be a nonviolent alternative for mass communication and crisis control, after police’s failed attempts at more authoritarian measures. Instead, they imagined a futuristic, creative exchange between the police and the public.

Self-reportedly, rather than producing the helmets merely as a form of artistic expression or entertainment, the artist intended the helmets to create an impact and alter public perception of authority. Later on, a ‘corona vehicle’ in a similar style to the helmets was added to further extend the message. Incorporating an unfamiliar element into the uniforms meant that learned, perhaps negative perceptions and responses to police authorities were replaced by a blank slate which provided an opportunity to re-negotiate interactions between police and the public. As such, the helmets can be read as a creative, contestatory intervention located between activism and design. (See also: → Speculative Design, Dunne & Raby)

Intervention, DIY, Communication

Further reading:
Koushik, Janardhan, “This Chennai cop’s Corona Helmet is quite scary, but helps in raising awareness”, The Indian Express, 28 March 2020
Venugopal, Nikhita,“Meet the Chennai artist who created the viral ‘coronavirus’ helmet”, The News Minute, 03 April 2020