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The present is in the past

DNBAN74700 | 5/10/2014 | Author : Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran | WC :592 | Art & Culture

India's visual storytelling traditions continue to stay alive, and helping them gain popularity are these two artists

Bangalore: In our country where storytelling has been a vibrant visual tradition, passed down from generation to generation, it is interesting to note how older formats such as the pattachitra, kaavad or togalu gombeyatta still continue to hold our imaginations in thrall, just as any 3D-motion-capture movie would.
Comic connection
Exploring the three picture-based folk performance traditions and visually documenting them, in an attempt to develop a comic- form based on them, is a subject that caught the fancy of Delhi-based comic writer and part-time illustrator Vidyun Sabhaney, enough to have her working on it for more than a year. "I've been interested in studying how the three art forms depict the Mahabharata," says the IFA-grantee who will be presenting a talk on these visual narrative techniques in the city, over the weekend.
While a presentation and a panel discussion may just be describing her agenda while in the city, Sabhaney chooses to elaborate more on the intricacies of the project that has her collaborating with Japanese illustrator and researcher Shohei Emura. "What we are doing is developing a documentary of our research, you can call it a non-fiction travelogue that we hope will prove informative to the intended audience, namely those who work in the field of comics," explains Sabhaney admitting that work for the same entailed a lot of field work. "We spent almost a year and a half meeting artistes, holding interviews and also getting some practical education on how to present these art forms."
Sabhabney is confident about the future of these art-forms. "You'd be surprised by the ways in which these art forms continue to be alive," she says, adding, "While there are puppeteers who still travel village to village telling stories and getting paid for it, they are also sustaining by plugging themselves into various markets, be it cultural events, tourism-related promotions, making crafts etc." "These traditions are not dead."
Mural speak
For MV Bhaskar, the last 10 years have been spent in documenting, archiving and digitally restoring mural paintings seen in South Indian temples. His work on digitally replicating the 17th century Ramayana murals of the Chengam Venugopala Parthasarathy Temple in Tamil Nadu has even won him a grant from IFA. "I do it because I have the required cross-disciplinary skills, whether it is photography, art history, illustrating the story or narrating it," he explains about his particular inclination towards doing work that is so specialised and unusual.
With temples in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala as his hunting grounds, "these are the only remaining places where mural narratives based on the Ramayana have survived," Bhaskar reveals that the biggest challenge here is the documentation. "These artworks can't be photographed; they exist on ceilings that are quite high and the conditions of the structures are precarious, making the entire task of documenting them challenging." Also, most of the paintings are defaced or have faded with time, and the task of digitally restoring them is a mammoth job. "The job entails reimagining the lost part and that is not easy, because it is not just about filling in the blank space. One has to imagine the most plausible likeness, and to do that, I reach out to other art forms such as sculptures, paintings, performance arts and other art forms where a similar image exists."
Bhaskar's motivation for doing such painstaking work is simple. "These paintings are on structures that will be lost, someday, so for me, it is about keeping them alive for the future generations; it is about bringing the past into the present."

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