Artist guides audience to Ambedkar’s life through graphic work Bhimayana

Kochi, May 10: For SubashVyam, the Gond tribal artist who had worked on the much celebrated book‘Bhimayana’,  a graphical narrative that unfolds the life of B R Ambedkar, the experience was something  interlinked with his life too, as he also had experienced caste discrimination in his village because of his dalit status.

Subhashrevealed this while  narrating his experience at the ‘Let’s Talk’ programme titled ‘Bhimayana: A stupa for BhimraoRamjiAmbedkar’, organized by Kochi Biennale Foundation here on Wednesday.

 “At the outset, I had my apprehensions about the work. I could not understand the concept initially because it was being explained in a version of Hindi which I found difficult to comprehend. Because of that, we had several false starts and there were financial difficulties too,”the artist said.

But, as the project progressed, I could easily relate with ‘Bhimji’s life, said Subash.

“I had similar harsh experiences in myvillage.  For instance, we all draw water from the same well. Still they say that water is different for different castes,” he noted.

Elaborating on the structural and aesthetic aspects of the work, he said the creativetouches  in the book were based on the traditional and original Gond art patterning called ‘Digna’.

RoshniVyam, daughter of SubashVyam and DurgabaiVyamwas 10 years old when she assisted her parentsto come up with this work.

Responding to the question by Ms Anita Dube, curator of the fourth edition of Kochi Muziris Biennale, on what made her club the life of Buddha with Ambedkar, Roshni replied “ while I was growing up I could see Bhimji being worshipped along with other Gods. I was not aware of his stature and struggles, then. But over a period of time, I learnt that though many around me stopped worshipping God, they never stopped worshipping Buddha and Ambedkar. That’s how I understood their influence on people.”

The result was a drawing of Ambedkar which featured Ambedkar’sattire but with Buddha’s face wearing the Dalit icon’s signature spectacles.

While working on the book the major challenge was not to give the conversations in boxes as had been the common nature of graphic narratives in India, remarked Mr S Anand, the publisher, ‘Bhimayana’.  “We wanted it to be a free flowing narrative with lots of spaces to read into. The issues of dalits were confined to certain spaces and by giving the conversations in boxes, we did want to avoid that comparison.

 Published in January 2011, this modern retelling of Ambedkar's fight for equality is a celebration of the aesthetic and the political, resembles a Jataka tale.

The book has been a stupendous success. But sometimes, Subhash wonders whether people have really understood the symbolism and visual idioms used in the book.



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