Friday, October 22, 2010

A Conversation of Pictures: Uma Krishnaswamy and Rumana Husain, Part 2

Question to Uma Krishnaswamy and Rumana Husain: Where did these pictures come from, for you?

Here's Uma Krishnaswamy's reply:

I must confess I was somewhat taken aback when I saw Rumana’s picture that you’d sent.  That someone thinks along the same lines is not unusual, but to actually put it down in a similar fashion appears to be more than mere coincidence.  

Our art school backgrounds are similarly based on western norms and traditions, as are most schools in the subcontinent.  But we also have this complex and diverse mix of traditions that is so much part of our daily lives. My childhood was filled with English books from the UK, especially, and also our marvellous CBT and NBT efforts, where an Indian style, so to speak, was evident.  But a lot of ideas and notions were connected to a culture that one was largely divorced from, but yet a part of.

Anyway, it was after college that I became aware of the very effective and bold folk traditions. Exuberant in tone and colour. Only when I experimented with some degree of seriousness, did I realise that at last I had found my true voice. Previously I had done work based on the practical training I had received, and believed it to be effective.  But an opportunity to work on A.K. Ramanujan’s folktales, and unflagging encouragement of the editor, gave me the courage to cross new boundaries. At that time, while folk styles were active, they were not always preferred for books.

The Mithila tradition of dominant line and limited though strong colours, has since then been an ever present source of inspiration. The flexible narration that folk art encourages somehow appears to suit our storytelling, even if the situation is contemporary, as in the case of Out of the Way! Out of the Way! To capture silence with a single tall tree or ensure the cacophony that pervades our daily life, with busy little figures, each doing their own thing. Here is where I think my exposure and learning of another tradition has been so useful. The classic western tradition of isolating a moment and thereby giving it the space to be seen and heard works beautifully to highlight certain telling aspects of the story. The hustle and bustle that other parts of the story reflects, is best captured, in my view, by our obsession with detail, be it in painting – classical or folk, or embroidery, or for that matter any associated craft.

I looked at the book as a series of double spreads, with the chant, "Out of the way! Out of the way!" as the vital link between the two pages. The story kicks off with a quiet village scene, before it picks up speed to end in a mad rush. It's how bigger towns and cities grow in this part of the world. So an island of white space, here and there, gives the breathing space that is required for both eye and ear! And many times colour paths were literally used to set the rhythm. The chant, in fact was varied, to echo the strength or gentleness of the voice demanding it.  So like all picture books, this was a conscious working of text and image to flow seamlessly as one.

It also of course works well when the page break up is given a lot of thought. Each spread in a way is unto itself but at the same time keeps up the suspense of what could happen, as one turns the pages. As I maintain, a simple text in appearance actually involves more work for the artist, as he/she has not only to complement it, but also add the right amount to balance it!

I wonder what Rumana’s reasons were for using the black and white + colour for that particular text?

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