Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Giving the art of cartooning and graphic novels their due

Whether cartooning is art remains a vexing question, often popped up, to go with the comic illustration’s status in the realm of fine art and elaborate gallery shows. The debate was put partly to rest by a recent show of artworks by Sarnath Banerjee at ther Glasgow-based Centre for Contemporary Ats.

His exhibition at the CCA aimed at propelling comic art, usually confined to books and newspapers, on to a much bigger stage and scale. Employing classic illustrative techniques, film and collage, the works delved into the notion to an extent that India’s rising global economic status stems, guess what, from garment exports. Practising a style akin to 18th century English comic illustration, he also made some pointed observations on daily life of India and its people.

Mr. Banerjee, the co-founder of Phantomville, is considered among the country’s most well-known and topmost graphic novel artists. He promotes the genre through his publishing house.  His three books, namely ‘Corridor’ (published in 2004), ‘The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers’ (2007) and the most recent ‘The Harappa Files’ have toyed with an array of themes, from the impact of economic development and rampant urbanization on his countrymen to the city of Kolkata in the 18th century .

The exhibit in Glasgow marked a continuation of his penchant for wry, witty commentary on the everyday people and life in the country. The director of the CCA, Francis McKee, was quoted as saying about Sarnath’s work that it digs into the changes that are happening at the moment in India. He added: “The artist explores the country’s transformation, looking at the losses suffered in terms of both intimacy and tradition; the rise in aspects like conspicuous wealth, consumption etc, and the evolution of newer ways of life.”

From all too familiar themes like censorship and bureaucracy in India, he also explores universal topics like loss and even murder. While these are played out by ubiquitous Indian characters placed in familiar tableaus, the works carry a wider appeal.

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