Sustainable development is in focus at Ecotism, an exhibition of cartoons by Ashvini Menon launched by the The Indian Institute of Cartoonists at The Indian Cartoon Gallery in Bengaluru. Named after the 2018 Olive Crown Award-winning weekly cartoon-strip created by Ashvini for The Hindu-Sunday Magazine , that dealt with environmental awareness in India, the art exhibition is aimed at promoting eco-sensitivity, says the artist. “Ecotism should raise awareness regarding the environment, among the comparatively privileged class of our society,” says Ashvini, who holds a Masters in Graphic Design from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. She launched her Visual Design Studio, AMVDS in Mumbai, after a brief stint at Microsoft-India as a User Experience Designer. Ashvini spoke with MetroPlus on the sidelines of the exhibition.
Tell us how you were drawn to environmental issues.
I have been a lover of Nature and wildlife since my childhood, but my sensitivity towards their plight grew only around six years ago. The stress on our environment is not only a burden on wildlife, but also on the economically backward sections of our society. I saw an irony in almost all of these situations and wanted to portray them. The challenge of showing a subject, minimally, within the constraints of a small bit of paper and with a few humorous words seemed creative. A cartoon strip is a lovely combination of all this.
How much are you able to do this at AMVDS?
We continue to cater to all graphic design and visual communication requirements at AMVDS in Mumbai. We balance between working on commercial projects and working with environmental organisations. We try and use sustainable graphic design methods, and we consciously have a small set-up to be able to devote enough time to our projects.
Who does Ecotism speak to?
I knew that I was catering to an audience that was economically privileged and well-educated. Even if people are sensitive and well-intentioned, they just need reminding. ‘Ecotism’ aims to be effective and eye-opening without being preachy.
The development issues you talk about are common problems in our society …
They say even if you know enough about it, you cannot ignore the impacts of unsustainable development. I think the ideal day would be when I have no bad examples of urban growth to represent in an Ecotism strip.
Do people involved in such a work follow environmentalist principles?
When I made my first cartoon on the environment, I made sure I at least did something in that direction before expecting the same out of people. I started by minimising my use of disposables and then bringing it down to zero. Plastic bags were never allowed inside home by my family, right from when we were school-going children. In 2016, when I returned to Mumbai to start my studio, we started a composting pit in my apartment block with help from like-minded people. We encouraged waste segregation. Every month our plastics go for pyrolysis (decomposition), I propagate environmentally conscious weddings, and our travel, to a large extent, consists of agro or eco-tours to support local/rural business. Life feels more fulfilling lived this way.
Could you talk about your experience contributing to Sunday Magazine?
We published 102 cartoon strips. I received emails and messages from readers from varied age groups and geographies. Those emails kept me going. The most difficult part was that I had to make something humorous out of a very grim reality. Many times I drew with tears in my eyes.
Have there been instances where people/authorities brought in changes to their lifestyle after seeing your cartoons?
I remember some of my friends telling how they are re-looking at their usage of disposables. Some cartoon strips also tend to spring up in threads of conversations where people discuss their observations. I don’t have any measurable figures to share, but I know for sure even the smallest piece of communication has a role to play.
(Ecotism - an exhibition of cartoons by Ashvini Menon is on at Indian Cartoon Gallery, off MG Road till August 17)