Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Tara Books’

16 OCTOBER, 2012

Drawing from the City: Exquisite Indian Folk Art Meets Women’s Empowerment

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One self-taught artist’s journey from poverty to imaginative reinvention.

By now, you know my soft spot for visionary Indian indie publisher Tara Books, who for nearly two decades have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on beautifully crafted books celebrating Indian folk art traditions. Their latest gem, Drawing from the City (public library) by artist Tejubehan, is both more exquisite and born out of a more moving personal story than just about any book I’ve come across. Its gorgeous black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings, brimming with expressive lines and dots somewhere between Yayoi Kusama and Edward Gorey, tell the partly autobiographical, partly escapist tale of this self-taught artist who came of age as a woman trapped between unimaginable poverty and a wildly imaginative inner world in a patriarchal society.

Tejubehan takes us on a journey from her small village into the big city, where her poor parents move to find work. Three years pass. Teju is now a young woman and she marries a man who sings for a living. With his encouragement, she becomes an artist.

It is like magic. I sit in one place with paper and pen, and it is my hand that starts to move. Lines, dots, more lines, and more dots, and you have a picture. I can bring to life things that I have seen and know, but also things that I imagine. I can even bring the two together.

I have been moving all my life, looking for ways to survive, but this is a new direction. My heart is full.

I see a girl going somewhere on a bicycle, and I draw a whole group of girls, all of them on the way somewhere.

We reach the city! Everything is on the move here, not just the train. People rush past, pushing their way through the streets. Only the tall buildings seem rooted to the spot, along with a few trees that stand guard on the other side.

I don’t mind the rush though. The sun is setting, and I marvel at the lampposts that can turn night into day. Nights in our village are really dark.

Tejubehan at work

At its heart, however, the story is really a feminist story — a vision for women’s liberation in a culture with oppressive gender norms and limiting social expectations. In envisioning the woman of the city — biking, driving, flying — Tejubehan is really envisioning what it might be like to live in a world where to be female means to be free to move and free to just be.

I like cars. I wonder what it’s like to move at such a high speed and to be in control of where you’re going. There are always two women in my cars. One drives and the other looks out of the window.

I want to be both of those women.

But even in the plane, my women are not content to sit still. So I float them down, wondering where they should go next. Should they fly forever like birds? Or should I draw some lines taking them down to the sea?

I rest my pen here for a moment. I have time to decide.

Like many of Tara’s other books, Drawing from the City has been silkscreen-printed and bound by hand on handmade paper. The cover is colored with traditional Indian dyes, emanating an enchanting earthy smell that reminds you what it’s like to hold an analog labor of love in your analog human hands.

Page images courtesy of Tara Books

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23 JULY, 2012

The Great Race: An Exquisite Tale of Forest Creatures Illustrated in the Style of Indian Folk Art

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“I’m the fastest animal in the forest! And I challenge any animal to race me!”

If you read Brain Pickings regularly, you’re intimately familiar with the wonderful work of Indian indie publisher Tara Books, who for the past 17 years has been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on beautifully crafted books that honor the legacy and diverse styles of Indian folk art. Now comes The Great Race (public library) — an adaptation of an Indonesian folktale featuring Kanchil the trickster mouse deer, illustrated in the stunning Mata-ni-Pachedi style of ritual textile painting from the Gujarat region by artist Jagdish Chitara and written by Nathan Kumar Scott — a first-of-its-kind use of this traditional folk art in children’s storytelling.

The Great Race is the third in Scott’s Kanchil series, a follow-up to The Sacred Banana Leaf and Mangoes and Bananas, each equally exquisite in its own right and illustrated by a different Indian artist.

Images courtesy of Tara Books

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15 MAY, 2012

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail: 17th-Century British “Trick” Poetry Meets Die-Cut Indian Folk Art

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Exquisite storytelling as exquisite artifact.

Rarely do I get this excited about the release of a book, but then again rarely does “book” fail to capture the artifactual whimsy and singular storytelling genius of a printed work so completely. From the team at Tara Books, who for the past 17 years have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on remarkable handmade books, comes I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail — a die-cut masterpiece two years in the making, based on a 17th-century British “trick” poem and illustrated in the signature Indian folk art style of the Gond tribe by Indian artist Ramsingh Urveti, who brought us the magnificent The Night Life of Trees.

Each line of the “trick verse” builds upon the previous one, flowing into a kind of rhythmic redundancy embodied in the physical structure of the book as each repeating line is printed only once, but appears on two pages by peeking through exquisitely die-cut holes that play on the stark black-and-white illustrations. Thus, if read page by page the way one would read a traditional book, the poem sounds spellbindingly surreal — but if read through the die-cuts, a beautiful and crisp story comes together.

Not unlike Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, a book once dubbed “unmakeable” by bookbinders, this project required a remarkable level of ingenuity to make the conceptual structure of the poem fit the physicality of the book as a storytelling artifact. Over on the Tara Books blog, Japanese-Brazilian RISD designer Jonathan Yamakami, responsible for the book design, recounts the challenges and the Eureka! moment:

From the very beginning the main challenge to me was: how do we create a book that presents both readings without actually printing the poem twice? A lot of different solutions were considered. I think [Tara Books founder] Gita Wolf was the one who hinted at the direction of die-cutting although was still open to other possibilities. Using transparent paper and printing with two colours was another suggestion, but there was an issue of cost and, more importantly, it just seemed too complex for a poem that was in itself so simple. After all, once you crack the puzzle that it holds, you can’t help but wonder how you could have missed it to begin with.

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail is unlike any book you’ve ever held in your hands and in your heart, and outcharms even the most impressive die-cut books of the past decade.

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