Monday, September 27, 2010

Illustrating for children in India

Tulika editor, Deeya Nayar, and illustrator-writers Manjula Padmanabhan and Nina Sabnani were part of a panel discussion on Children's Books Illustrations at the Max Mueller Bhavan at Bangalore earlier this month. The discussion was held alongside an ongoing exhibition of Contemporary Picture Book Illustration in Germany at the venue. Manjula and Nina talked about their practice of illustration, Deeya provided an overview of illustrated children's books in India with special reference to Tulika.

Deeya tells us that:

"Manjula first spoke about her own trajectory as an illustrator – a difficult choice in terms of making a living. Then she showed slides of her work down the years, and had the audience in splits with her humorous interjections and stories.

Nina started out with some questions and then spoke about her interaction with the kavadiyas, the genre of the kavad, and how it inspired Home with many beautiful slides. She also spoke about how Home can be used and what an impact it has had on children and teachers when she has used it in schools."

And here are some snippets from Deeya's talk: 
"Nina and Manjula...don’t fit into any ‘slots’. Both have very distinctive styles which have always worked with children everywhere – in India and abroad –  Manjula’s I Am Different rights have been sold in the US and Germany, My Mother’s Sari won the USBBY award and her Mukand and Riaz has a French edition. Both are highly experimental, as you will find in their presentations, creative, pushing boundaries…It calls for courage, really, to be bold, and to strike out. To evolve characters, give pictures life, as much as in paintings…not to be imitative or bogged down by ‘what children want’ (if anyone really knows what that is), but create what grows from the spirit of the story.
A lot of folk art, in fact, has these qualities. While there are certain conventional patterns, they are highly evolutionary. So though we tend to view folk art as ‘traditional’ or old in the sense of stuck in tradition, the nature of that genre is actually to contemporize. Just as in oral storytelling where the story evolves with each telling, with topical references thrown in, so too with folk art. I remember being quite struck by a patua who had come straight from a Bengal village (I was visiting in Delhi) and pulled out this huge, impressive painting of Osama Bin Laden – and if I didn’t know it was in traditional patachitra style I would have seen it as quite modern. In Tara’s London Jungle Book, Bhajju Shyam, a Gond artist, depicts the London Underground as a giant earthworm; Big Ben becomes a rooster crowing out the time! I am always intrigued by the Dhokra brass toys created by Bastar tribals that have a range of women reading – in different poses, with huge attitude, women at the computer… There is this very dynamic mix of traditional and modern that just calls for experimenting."
Here's Manjula version of the events:
"...Deeya talked about the fun and fury of being an editor at Tulika (everyone's favourite children's book publisher, right? After all, if not for Tulika, you wouldn't be reading about this AT ALL!!!), Nina talked about the amazing work she's done, creating animation films using embroidery and craft work and I talked about my long and bumpy career as a writer, artist and occasional illustrator of children's books.
It was a fun trip from start to finish. The Max Mueller Bhavan has a great new auditorium connected to their library and they looked after us three out-of-towners so well that it was a little frightening – I kept expecting something to go wrong – but it didn't! We had a great time. The event began on time, at 7 in the evening. The auditorium had framed illustrations from the German books displayed around the walls and copies of the books themselves spread out on a desk by the door. About sixty people came to listen to us. And we had a huge screen behind us on which Nina and I could project pictures of our work.

(Psst: We took the liberty of making a slideshow out of what Manjula showed and told. Here it is...)

After we'd finished talking, the audience had a chance to ask us questions – and they did! Which was fun too (for me anyway) because of course answering questions about my own work is nothing like answering history questions at an exam – since I'm the only one who knows all the answers, haha … Only kidding. Anyway, at the end of all that talking we went upstairs to the rooftop terrace where the MMB had organized a truly delicious spread. No-one asked me to say what I liked best about being an illustrator but at evenings like this, the obvious answer is: "Being invited to book events with really REALLY good snacks at the end!"

That's it for now. Nina's presentation is coming soon...Watch this space.

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