Documenting the invisible

An image is a powerful storytelling tool, which can be used in a number of innovative ways. MV Bhaskar and Vidyun Sabhaney, in their respective projects, supported by India Foundation for the Arts, re-imagine visual storytelling traditions. The duo was in town for a presentation of their work.

MV Bhaskar has documented and archived murals in Tamil Nadu for eight years. But his interest is not in documenting what is visible, but that which isn’t. “In those rectangles where nothing exists, I re-imagine what might have existed there. I try to reconstruct the missing parts of history.” Bhaskar has been given an India Foundation for the Arts Grant to digitally replicate 17th Century Ramayana murals of the Chengam Venugopala Parthasarathy temple in Tamil Nadu.

Re-imagining, says Bhaskar, is a complex process, which involves “scrupulous documentation.” He refers to literary and performance narratives, among other sources, concludes what needs to be there, and then paints it. “It involves cross-disciplinary research.”

Bhaskar’s basic background is in documentation. “Not necessarily heritage documentation,” he adds. “I go for rigorous documentation. Normally, when people document something, they like to photograph parts that are visible. But I document the blanks. It is not selective, but comprehensive documentation.”

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Vidyun, a writer and graphic artist from Delhi, explores visual storytelling techniques of three-picture art-based folk performance traditions — Patachitra from Bengal, Kaavad from Rajasthan and Togalu Gombeyatta from Karnataka.

“Shohei Emura, a Japanese illustrator and I travelled to where these are practiced, held interviews and recorded the performances.” She found that in each community, they tell local stories, as well as the Epics, The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. “The relationship each one of them has with the images is different, though.”

“Togalu Gombeyatta is a leather puppetry tradition. These performances can be found in districts in Karnataka, Hassan, Bellary and Mandya. Patachitra is a picture scroll performance tradition. The performer sings and points to different images on the scroll. This tradition is practiced in districts of West Bengal, such as Midnapur and Birbhum. Kaavad are these small wooden folding boxes. It is primarily performative. It’s not sung, it’s chanted. And it is tied into the identities of the performers. It is not just an object of storytelling, but a documentation of the patrons’ families’ histories in a way. They don’t have difficulty in finding places to perform. They go to their patrons’ homes to perform. But it’s not as if they don’t face challenges in keeping the tradition alive.”

She also notes how each of the traditions uses images differently to tell stories. “In Kaavad, one image can represent an entire narrative. A single wooden panel of the Kaavad has a number of images painted on it; each can be stretched into an entire story by itself. In Patachitra, one scroll will be an entire narrative. For example if it is Manashamangal, which is frequently performed, the performer could be singing about the emotions of the characters, pointing to different images, the audience has to make the link. In Togalu Gombeyatta, the song and dialogue catalyse the image and vice versa, therefore image and word are far more integrated in this form than one sees in Patachitra and Kaavad.”

It took about a year and a half for Vidyun to do research for the project. But she feels “there’s a lot to go back and record.”

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 8:06:44 PM |

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