One of the events that surprised me the most during my stay in Kathmandu was the Yantra 4.0 exhibition mixing art, sciences and tech. And it is during that event that I discovered the world of Nhasala Joshi, an engineer passionate about programming, arts and design. She loves designing and creating new stuff, and working with hardware components like microcontrollers and tinker. Her favorite technology of the moment : the Arduino board, that she uses with almost everything. On top of that, she is involved with women in tech as the co-founder of Women Leaders in Technology (WLiT).
You are involved in art, science and tech with Yantra community. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
Yantra is an annual art-tech fest organized by Robotics Association of Nepal, Siddhartha Art Foundation and Karkhana Pvt. Ltd. It includes the annual showcase of projects involving art, tech and science, robotics competitions and researches. Yantra has so far been successful on creating collaborative platform for engineers, technologists, artists and makers. There have been four annual Yantra events so far. Yantra started originally as a tech exhibition with robotics competition. Art was introduced in the third edition and research on fourth, so this year. We hope for more multi-disciplinary collaborations on coming years.
At the Yantra exhibition, you and your team have mixed art & tech in a project. Can you tell us more about it?
This year, Yantra 4.0 had four interactive art installations. When audience came near or did some actions, lights blinked, sounds were played, and installations changed their structure.
All installations have microcontrollers and other hardwares involved. The goal is to produce art pieces which make meaning to audience and reflect the artist’s thoughts.
This year the four installations showcased were “Sarbhadaliya Baithak” (meaning “all parties meeting”), “Peace Pond”, “Touch-me-not” and “Sarangi”.
“Sarbadaliya Baithak” portrayed the political disharmony in Nepal with annoying lights and sounds, while “Peace Pond” reflected upon collaborative effort for peace using Lotus flowers and LEDs as a peaceful symbol.
“Touch me not” is a creative imitation of the plant Mimosa Pudica which reacts to tactile stimuli.
The installation “Sarang” represents an electronic Sarangi, a popular Nepali musical instrument, which plays its sound when the bow is touched to the strings in the Sarangi.
Technology is becoming a new medium for arts
What is the most surprising thing you have seen mixing Art & Tech & Science?
There are many surprises when you collaborate with two collateral fields. Possibilities are always changing while working with tech. Technology is becoming a new medium for arts. Technology has brought so many tools for artists to work with, like microcontrollers, LEDs, motors, actuators and all kinds of sensors. Technology makes it possible to change colors, textures, shapes and forms of the same object. It can also make installations being interactive.
One interesting thing I recently learned was at Museum of Modern Arts in New York: they have a separate section for arts using arduino.
Tech and art are both about creating something and need a certain degree of creativity and innovative thinking
Why do you love working in Tech & Art?
Many consider artists and engineering as very dissimilar fields. I beg to differ. Both subjects are about creating something. Both need a certain degree of creativity and innovative thinking. Art is about expressing oneself through colors, compositions and creations. Engineering is about creating things for some certain purpose. And that purpose can be anything. When art and engineering overlap, it can produce better designs and systems. We can use meaning making and sense making to create much better user experience. Society is getting more heterogenous, generations after generations. To develop products for these people, I believe that we will need a toolkit consisting in science, tech, design, arts, psychology and all things in between. This is what makes technology and innovation so fascinating.
You are also involved with Women Leaders in Technologies in Nepal. What is the situation of women and women in Tech in Nepal?
Like many other countries, numbers of women is significantly low in tech in Nepal. It is like in any other previously male-dominated sector like medicine, law, or science. But the numbers are not changing as much as they have changed in other sectors in past decades. But I personally think that there are many more factors to it than just gender based discrimination and socio-cultural stigma.
Choosing tech related fields is popular among students in cities. But not much for students from rural areas. Maybe because most of them are not aware of the courses and jobs. School level computer studies, engineering and IT colleges, and job opportunities are based in cities. Which makes it difficult for women from rural parts of the country to move to the city and choose a tech related discipline.
Being a software engineer may not sound as ‘cool’…We need to redefine our ‘cool’
How did you get the idea of starting the communityWomen Leaders in Technologies? Can you tell us more about this initiative? Why did you get involved?
In 2013, I was in a week long intensive program. Unlike other programs and workshops I had been to till then, this one involved technical trainings as well as professional and leadership trainings. In fact this program helped me and other participants to realize our potentials. We felt that this kind of programs could help other women make their way in tech fields, which at that time is largely populated by men. So we formed a group and started doing workshops that would help girls enhance both hard and soft skills.
In 2015, we formalized ourselves as an non-profit organization. Our visions are to encourage young women to find career in technological fields and get to key positions. To do so, we do workshops to boost technical and professional skills, provide mentorship and network. We collaborate with other educators to improve our workshop modules and partner with organizations with similar visions.
Personally, I wanted to show to these young people the fascinating world of science and tech. I grew up watching tons of sci-fi movies and learning cool things that could be done with technology. Let’s face it. There aren’t many students who endeavor the path of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; popularized as STEM. I think that one of the reason is that it is known to be hard, which is not entirely untrue. But everything is hard. Learning alphabet was hard in elementary school. Many grow up to believe they need to be some sort of genius or brainiac to be in STEM fields, which is not at all true in my opinion. Engineering is largely about problems solving rather than mugging up two hundred 1000 pages long books or remembering all informations and data. One other reason I guess is that for a fourteen years old person, being a software engineer may not sound as ‘cool’ compared to being vocalist in a rock band or being a stylist for a fashion magazine. We need to redefine our ‘cool’. Note that I haven’t mentioned any gender here. When one looks at the upbringing of boys and girls, we see some general differences. Girls are less exposed to tech than boys, which makes them less likely to choose tech field for education and career. And that is why I am involved in changing how young girls think about tech.
Last question. What mobile application you could not live without?
I mostly use my smartphone for Facebook, Viber, Keep, Calendar or Inbox. I am thankful to the people who created youtube offline, the save links feature in facebook and pinterest, pocket and pushbullet.
Thank you Nhasala!