Lupe: A Swiss-Indian exhibition that blends stories with art

December 3rd, 2008 - 2:16 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) Storytelling is a form of art. And, in times of terror, offers a healing touch. The tradition of storytelling, often described as the root of all formats of expression is fast becoming a separate genre of popular literature-art with contemporary artists borrowing from the tradition to create comic book or animation art. An open air exhibition, “Lupe”, organised by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, and the India Habitat Centre, in the forecourt of the Centre Dec 2-3, displayed visual narratives (or popular literature art) by 10 leading Swiss and Indian writer-artists, who have put their stories into pictures.

This particular art form, a branch of alternative (pop) art - fuses texts, slogans, graffiti and images to tell the viewer a complete story in a single frame.

The show a mish-mash of comic book, animation and oil art comes across as funny and profound at the same time because of the crossover themes they express.

The Indian artists capture contemporary urban Swiss life on their frames while the Swiss artists paint India and the world.

The pictures are mostly illustrations and line drawings in black-and-white, while the accompanying texts on the eight frames lit from within, experiment with innovative type-phases and script patterns.

The show, conceived in early spring of 2007, was an attempt at conversation between comic book writers living in Switzerland and India.

Five Swiss comic book creators were invited to visit New Delhi and an equal number of Indian artists were sent to Zurich. The result was a dozen of graphic essays that subtly parted ways with the age-old cultural stereotypes.

For instance, a frame by novelist-designer Samit Basu and Ashish Padlekar, “The Case of the Swiss Swan Foot” - from Basu’s “Delhi monster” series - tells the story of a Delhi-based detective Arko Chowdhury, who takes on the case to trace Ramesh Gulati, a missing Delhi money bag with his finger in every pie.

The frames are riveting - almost like reading a page straight out of an animation text series. Witty, incisive, irreverent, philosophical; and yet original.

Graphic novelist-cum-artist Orijit Sen, who captures the residential neighbourhood of Zurich where he was staying says his “graphic frame depicts one particular apartment and its goings-on- which is partly imaginary.”

“Graphic art to my mind is the most primary art form human beings have known since the days of the Bhimbhetka cave paintings,” Sen told IANS.

According to the curator of the show, Sarnath Banerjee, one of the country’s best graphic novelists, art has to play horizontally in the culture space.

“The eight panels at Lupe are images picked up from the narratives developed by the artists, trying to portray a strong sense of the times we live in and sometimes offer surprisingly deep insights into the contemporary lore of both countries. In many cases, authors see things with the objectivity of outsiders, revealing aspects or layers of the culture-scape not perceived by insiders.

“They also display the uncanny skill of understanding each other’s local context and avoid stating the obvious,” Banerjee said.

Graphic art visual narrative allows writer-artists more creative room, says co-curator of Lupe Anindya Roy. “Samit and Ashish for instance used to work with Virgin Comics, but left their jobs for more creative freedom,” Roy told IANS.

And India, as the artists and curators say, is gradually waking up to this artistic format with the birth of the pictorial graphic novel a few years ago.

The exhibition, a collaboration between Pro Helvetia and Phantomville, will be published in a book next year.

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