Thursday, June 21, 2012

Traditional Indian Art

Two recent additions to the Doucette Library caught my attention.  But then again, most books from Tara Publishing out of India often hold my attention for the traditional art forms it incorporates into picture book making.

 The Great Race by Nathan Kumar Scott and Jagdish Chitara (398.209598 ScG 2011 PIC BK) is a retelling of an Indonesian folktale about pride coming before a fall.  In an Aesop- like tale, a boastful deer, Kanchil, challenges all the animals of the jungle to a race to prove who is the fastest.  Only a tiny snail comes forward to accept the challenge.  To the amazement of all of the animals, the snail beats the deer twice.  How did he do it?

It’s the art work that really shines in this book.  It fits very well with traditional storytelling with a strong folk style and limited colour palette.  There is a write-up at the back that explains that the Waghari were formerly nomads who created block printed textiles as a form of worship.  We learn about the method used to create these pieces of art and how they are growing in popularity with the upper classes of India.  We also learn that the low caste Waghari, though making some money from their skills, are still considered socially inferior.

 Mangoes & Bananas by Nathan Kumar Scott and T. Balaji is another folktale from Indonesia that introduces us to different traditional Indian textile art form.  Kalamkari is a centuries old tradition that depicted “Indian epics on large pieces of textile, which were hung in temples and carried from town to town by minstrels.”  The process of production is epic in itself with lots of preparation of the cloth, renderings of the pictures, and labour intensive hand colouring. 

This tale, again, features Kanchil, the boastful deer from The Great Race and his friend, Monyet, a monkey.  Kanchil comes up with the idea to plant a garden as a way to have easy access to their favourite foods, mangoes and bananas.   But as with many plans there is often an unforeseen flaw.  Kanchil cannot climb trees to pick his own mangoes and must rely on Monyet.  With the best of intentions to share, Monyet gets caught up with the wonderful bounty and eats all the bananas.  This entitles Kanchil to all the mangoes without sharing.  Of course, Monyet is still the one having to pick the fruit and thinks that just one mango won’t be missed.  One, leads to two and you know where this going.  Realizing that he is about to miss out on the mangoes, Kanchil starts insulting Monyet (“face like a papaya”, “head like a cabbage”, etc.).  Monyet reacts by throwing the remaining mangoes at Kanchil.  Who’s the winner in this one?

The stories are entertaining, but I have no way of knowing how authentic the retellings are.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations from both books.  I love that this enterprise between Tara and traditional artists introduces us to art styles from across India we would  never see otherwise.  Educating the reader about the peoples and art processes is fascinating. 

See for yourselves.


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