Books

Elephant in the Room: A graphic book that explores the woman’s point of view

Sixteen artists, a graphic book and a conversation that hopes to empower and encourage women to trust in themselves

It’s time to talk about elephants. Not the real ones, but the ignored, unexamined, yet ever-present ones in every woman’s life. They form the backbone of Elephant in the Room - Women Draw Their World, a German graphic anthology by SPRING, a collective of women artists. The book — launched in 2016 at the Comic Salon Festival in Erlangen, Germany — evolved out of a 10-day workshop in the same year, with 16 German and Indian artists in Bengaluru (organised by Goethe-Institut). “It was an exchange of our experiences as women and artists, with our individual memories, opinions and narratives,” explains Larissa Bertonasco, who, along with graphic designer Ludmilla Bartscht and illustrator Priya Kuriyan, led the group.

Next month, the English translation of the 224-pager — which takes apart perceived ideas of identity, power, love, sex, and family, and gives them a new purpose, weaving in personal and political perspectives — will be launched at The Hindu Lit for Life (January 14-16), followed by a conversation with the three artists.

Elephant in the Room: A graphic book that explores the woman’s point of view

Between lines

Kuriyan recalls the workshop being “a constant sharing of experiences, of living as women in both countries”. While she felt the Germans lived relatively more self-determined lives, as opposed to our non-homogeneous society, she found more similarities than differences. “Most of us drew from our personal experiences, with the conversation veering towards skeletons in the family, what societal notions of beauty can do to ones self esteem, and whether ‘guilt’ as a feeling is stronger in women,” says the 36-year-old, who is a fan of cartoonists Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel.

So while artist Stephanie Wunderlich writes about being a working mother, Archana Sreenivasan admits to never feeling the urge to have children. And then there are the subversive pieces, like Prabha Mallya’s Bitch; fun, lyrical explorations like Kaveri Gopalakrishnan’s relationship with her body hair; and even explosive ones, like Nina Pagalies’ series of 10 temples dedicated to the vagina. In fact, many of the artists had more than one story to tell, resulting in several short comic strips sandwiched in between.

Kuriyan’s story, Ebony and Ivory — executed in the traditional panel format, using an earthy palette — takes a critical look at her family. “My grandfather was an enigmatic figure; stories of his legendary bravado were often narrated at family gatherings. My grandmother, on the other hand, was always perceived as hard working but uninteresting. After a sudden illness, she started revealing things about her marriage no one had heard of before,” she says, adding that the piece takes up a point of view that the family, especially the men, might have missed.

Elephant in the Room: A graphic book that explores the woman’s point of view

On the other hand, Bertonasco’s Bum Power — rendered in a contemporary style, with humour, candour and vibrant colours — is about her relationship with her body, especially her bottom! “I realised, no matter what culture you grow up in, most women struggle with feelings of not being perfect. So, for me, it was a journey to find my personal power, in accepting myself exactly the way I am,” confesses the 45-year-old, who follows the works of cartoonist Lynda Barry, illustrator Christoph Niemann and artist Anke Feuchtenberger.

Art takes a stand

Needless to say, the book showcases a wide variety of visual narrative techniques — from acrylic paintings to pencil drawings, pen-and-ink to paper cut-outs. “While some of us stuck to traditional panels with text format, others like Katrin Stangle and Prabha Mallya broke away from them. We encouraged each other to bring our individual styles to the book,” says Kuriyan. But more importantly, the art is like a political/social ‘megaphone’. “I feel this idea was forgotten for a while. Now, probably because of the current political situation — both nationally and globally — more and more people are feeling the need to stand up, to dare to be more personal, and let graphic arts becoming political again,” says Bertonasco.

At The Hindu Lit for Life, they hope women (and men) will find manifestations of these stories in their own lives, reflect upon them, and consider if they have willingly or unwillingly chosen to ignore their own elephants. “We need to trust our power and follow our intuition. Because fear has never been a good adviser,” Bertonasco concludes.

Elephant in the Room: A graphic book that explores the woman’s point of view

Published by Zubaan books. At ₹850, on zubaanbooks.com.

Catch ‘Not Story Boards But Telling Pictures’ — a conversation with Bertonasco, Bartscht and Kuriyan — on January 15, at The Hindu Showplace, Lady Andal School premises, Harrington Road. For more details, visit thehindulfl.com.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 4:14:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/breaking-the-grid/article22325025.ece

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