Monday, September 20, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Fwd: Graphic art at its sublime best


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Shiva Shankar <>
Date: Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 11:14 AM
Subject: Graphic art at its sublime best

Graphic Art at its sublime best!

"About the Dandi March, we know. But the Mahad Satyagraha? It draws a
blank, though this watershed event in Mahad, Maharashtra, exposes
India's freedom schisms. In 1927, 3,000 satyagrahis were striding
towards a public lake for a sip of water, led by a tall bespectacled
scholar with MA, PhD, MSc and DSc degrees. As his followers were
attacked, the scholar, Dr BR Ambedkar, shouted: 'Don't strike back!'

Though Gandhian, it was a satyagraha that pitched Mahatma Gandhi
versus Dr Ambedkar. The Dalit satyagrahis were assaulted by Hindus,
not Whites. Despite the 1923 British legislation allowing
'untouchables' to use public water bodies, Dalits were (and are)
denied this right. As this schizophrenic Swaraj movement built up,
Gandhiji asked Indians to burn clothes made in Manchester, while the
Dalit Declaration of Independence of Dr Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti,
which was written in ancient India.

The above isn't from a chapter of a history book. These are scenes
from a soon-to-be published graphic novel that captures caste fault
lines. Some 2,400 years after The Ramayan, Dr Ambedkar stares out of
the pages of Bhimayana - as a Dalit-prophet who's faced equally
enduring experiences of untouchability.

S Anand, founder of the imprint Navayana, says, 'Ambedkar's struggles
are erased from public memory'. Though a tall national leader,
economist, barrister and orator, Dr Ambedkar is only seen in two
distant dimensions - as a statue and as the author of our
Constitution. To aesthetically resurrect this prophet, Navayana
approached award-winning Pardhan Gond artists Durgabai and Subhas Vyam
in 2008. It wanted them to illustrate Waiting for a Visa, Ambedkar's
Diary of Dalithood.

Injustice is an Adivasi issue too. 'The artists were angered by the
story,' says Anand. But when he shared his comic collection with them,
they protested: 'Don't stifle us'. They re-envisioned Ambedkar in
Gond-pointillism, dotting a Buddha-orange face, outlining Dalit-blue
spectacles, filling specks-and-lines on an iconic raised hand. He's
set in an animistic Gond landscape where the train is a snake and tank
is a fish (Anand scribbled text on its fins). In Mahad, Ambedkar's
mikes become surreal water sprinklers. As the unlettered artists
interpreted caste politics, co-authors Srividya Natarajan and Anand,
re-edited 40 per cent of the text to suit the art. Though unfinished,
Bhimayana has lofty admirers. The legendary art-theorist John Berger
wrote the foreword. A blurb by the great graphic non-fictionist Joe
Sacco says, 'By boldly using the Pardhan Gond tradition, Bhimayana
conveys why caste and Ambedkar matter in India today.' ....

Says Joe Sacco, author of Palestine, 'The artists Durgabai Vyam and
Subhash Vyam have dropped most of the West's and manga's typical
comics conventions and boldly use of their own artistic heritage, the
Pardhan-Gond tradition, to craft a distinctive graphic biography of
one of India's bravest and greatest leaders, Bhimrao Ambedkar, an
'untouchable' and a fierce critic of Gandhi's. Heavy in symbolism and
motifs, Bhimayana is challenging in all the right ways and still
conveys with flair who Ambedkar was and why his revolutionary ideas
about the caste system still matter so much to the India of today.'

John Berger in his Foreword says, 'An extraordinary book. No more
rectangular framing or unilinear time. No more profiled individuals.
Instead, a conference of corporeal experience across generations, full
of pain and empathy.'

Read also the review in The Washington Post:

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