How wall poster comics became a powerful tool in the hands of masses will get reflected in this upcoming show, finds Shailaja Tripathi

In this world, the struggle for survival, pain of conflict and voices of concern come riding on the vehicle of creativity. This world was created by Sharad Sharma 15 years ago and now it belongs to thousands of people at the grassroots level. In these 15 years, he has travelled the country and around the globe giving the powerful tool of wall poster comics to the locals of various regions ridden with Naxalite clashes, ethnic violence, social, environmental and economic havoc.

In the 600 workshops conducted by Sharad's World Comics India (WCI) over the years, a total of 20,000 people have participated to make posters. An exhibition titled ‘Grassroots Comics: A Tool For Democracy', scheduled to be held at the India International Centre Annexe, Lodi Road, next week will bring a few pieces into the domain of the urban public. A few original and many A2 size posters narrating real poignant stories come from the inhabitants of not only little known areas of our country, but from people of Pakistan, Laos, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Brazil and Africa. Citing an example of a poster made by a lady called Zilma from Puerto Rico, Sharad speaks of a satire on the state's laidback attitude towards the dengue outbreak that continues to assault the region frequently. “The poster depicts people coming to the Mayor asking him to act in the wake of dengue, and he sends them away saying this is not my job. In the next frame you see the mayor sleeping, and outside his rooms two mosquitoes are discussing that he is their next victim.”

Apart from content which is the highlight of these comics, the fact that they have been made by one of them, makes the project special and exclusive for viewers. “It becomes non-threatening and there is more acceptance when they see that someone amongst them voices a concern through the platform. The narrative in a poster from Assam goes like a group of angry youngsters decides to blow up a bridge to teach the government a lesson, who they feel have ignored them. In the next frame, you see villagers crossing the river in a boat and saying how convenient their lives had become due to the bridge. In the last frame, the militants are repenting their action. When the locals were shown it, they took it casually — ‘Oh you have made a cartoon on us' but the reaction would have been different if it was made by outsiders.”

The local activists, teachers, students are trained at workshops conducted by the network of trainers who were in turn taught the nuances by Sharad himself. Drawing is secondary in his grassroots comics, and stories are more significant. Everybody, according to Sharad, is a good storyteller. The only thing they are taught is to how to tell it in a concise manner, plus a basic training in visual grammar. WCI gives the participants two A4 size sheets that are joined to make an A3 size wall poster to work on with a simple black sketch pen. For the exhibition, the A3 size poster has been blown up into A2 size. “The process is simple. Once the work is complete, it is then photocopied and pasted at important places like the village chaupal, hospital, schools, where the villagers are most likely to see them.”

The local flavour in the posters, since they are done by the very citizens of that country and state, Sharad reveals, is unmistakable. The exhibition will be replete with posters in different local dialects and languagesapart from Hindi and English. The unconventional artists cast their gaze on a range of issues like sanitation, education, homosexuality, honour killing, corruption and female infanticide in these remarkable creations.

(The exhibition will run from June 11 to 17 at the IIC Annexe)