Bent over a long wooden platform, which is barely a few inches from the ground, 24-year-old Sunandita “Ita” Mehrotra is busy pencilling on sheets of white paper. It’s almost been four years since Mehrotra wanted to share her story. And now, finally, the process of storytelling has begun as her pencil drawings take on a narrative form.
In a workshop organised by The Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi and Zubaan, 15 graphic artists — all women — made the Sanskriti Kendra, Anandagram (on the MG Road) their home for almost a week. With a title that needs no explanation, the ‘Drawing Attention’ workshop-cum-residency programme ended on Sunday, and it is just one of the first steps towards a greater goal. “The participants are all working on different narratives, and these will be published as an anthology by Zubaan,” says Priya Kuriyan, city-based illustrator who is conducting the workshop with two German artists Ludmilla Bartscht and Larissa Bertonasco.
Mehrotra, a part of the KHOJ collective, is one of the participants in this workshop. Says the Delhi-based artist, “I had met Irom Sharmila on a visit to Manipur; I had expected to find an old woman who had become bitter because of her ongoing battle with the state, but there she was, talking about regular things and asking if I had tried Manipuri cuisine yet. That jail ward in Imphal was the unlikeliest place in the world for a new friendship to blossom, but it did.” As a single woman in Delhi, a place which has developed a notorious reputation for how it treats woman, Mehrotra talks about how the meeting inspired her to take on Delhi’s streets on her own, an inspiration that she is attempting to document through the project. So her storyboard shows sketches of a plane taking off from Delhi and then the journey to Imphal. “She’s always been seen as this ‘iron woman,’ and so much has already been written about her, but I want people to see how warm she is through my experiences,”
Bamboo mats topped with flat cushions lie all across the room she’s working in. DVDs of Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir lie among sketch books and graphic novels (which includes the German version of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis) at the workshop. It was the December 16 event, shares Kuriyan, that set things in motion. “The idea was to get more women to talk about issues being swept under the carpet. And both (The Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan and Zubaan) thought it was a good idea to use comic books,” she says. Other than Kuriyan, both Ludmilla Bartscht and Larissa Bertonasco have a special role to play as they represent Spring — an all-women German magazine, which has been around for a decade. While Bertonasco introduces Spring as the “female voice in the world of storytelling,” Bartscht adds, “It’s not like we only talk about women’s issues, people still ask us why we are an all-women set up.” A similar thought echoes through a tale being woven by Mumbai-based Angela Ferrao. “I am working on the idea that women need to prove themselves more than men at the workplace,” she says. With diverse short stories in black and white, the graphic anthology is shaping up promisingly, even before it has gone to print.