In seventh heaven: Crowdsourced arts project, The Saptan Story
"I found it hard to get over my broken heart, I thought I never would. Then one night, by the moonlit river, something happened that changed everything" - these are the lines that open The Saptan Story, a new online initiative and campaign led by the British Council.
"A unique Indian story. Told 7 ways, by 7 artists, and YOU," is how the hosts describe the project, which brings together a bunch of artists and illustrators from the UK and India - Saloni Sinha from Bengaluru, Adrita Das and Priyesh Trivedi from Mumbai, Gavin Strange and Tom Mead from Bristol, Gemma Correll from Suffolk, and Janine Shroff from London.
The concept is novel - each week, the hosts release a couple of sentences of The Saptan Story, which the artists then render into their artworks, in drawings, cartoons, and other largely digital styles. The planned result - one unique story and 49 artworks created over a seven-week period. Through all of this, the works are hosted online, and opened up for public voting.
Co-hosted by the Oscar-winning Aardman Animations studio, the hosts are describing this as "India’s first ever crowdsourced digital arts project", one that will result in the first-ever crowdsourced short story, interpreted and illustrated by the seven selected artists from India and the UK.
"We aim to inspire creative writing, thinking and participation with a giant game of consequences played out over all of India," enthuses Alan Gemmell OBE, Director, British Council India. Their intention is "to curate opinions, feelings and expressions in order to share and infuse different sets of perspectives amongst the masses", he says.
Brit, happy & colourful
For Gav Strange, who works for Aardman Animations and is yet to visit India, the subcontinent presents a grand prospect. "In my mind’s eye, I see a lot of colour when I think of India," says Gav. "It feels very rich in terms of aesthetics, culture and in history even though I've never had the fortune of visiting."
Strikingly enough, the colours are missing entirely in the pen and ink drawings of Tom Mead, who likes to identify himself as a surreal character designer. Tom extends his imagination to seraphic, transcendental and otherworldly creatures, some of them even seeming like zombies, in his renditions of the story.
For Janine Shroff, who spent her childhood in Mumbai in the 1980s, the bright colours are crucial, as she dabbles figurative and surreal creations, marked by humour with darker undertones and combining fantasy scenes, mostly in mundane and domestic landscapes. Janine lists miniature paintings and MAD magazine as her influences, while exploring themes of birth, pregnancy, relationships, sexual identity and gender.
Online networking plays an important role in their artistic practice, agrees Gemma Correll. "Social media has been invaluable in getting my work out there," says Gemma, whose work covers themes of modern life, mental health and pugs. "I didn't really set out to get my work all over the internet, but I think the simple format and humour of my art works well," she reflects.
"A lot of my work is personal, based on my own experiences - creating art is the way that I process and deal with life," says Gemma, explaining her artistic process. "For the most part, however, "I create art because I have to, to stay sane!" she adds.
The Saptan Story's second instalment reads, "As the moonbeams danced to a heavenly beat upon the silvery water, I gazed to the stars and contemplated my future. It looked bleak on introspection, when out of the water arose an apparition."
While the third part continues, "It was a woman, as translucent as fog and as ethereal as a dream. She smiled at me and whispered in a voice as soft as a dewdrop 'Love once lost can be regained, but are you willing to pay the price?'"
The takes on the story are fairly diverse among the Indian artists. Priyesh Trivedi, who prefers working under the pseudonym Adarsh Balak, places his version of the story in a familiar setting, against a backdrop of the glowing city lights of a metropolis, with a boy seemingly encountering a spirit in a river's murky waters.
Adrita Das, who also works on projects related to ethnography and educational games for kids, offers a more fluorescent take on things, with lustrous neon elements and bubblegummy doodahs and thingamajigs filling up her pieces. Adrita's creations are vaguely meditative, and easily among the more abstracted instances here.
Saloni Sinha, on the other hand, a professed "insect connoisseur", turns to bizarre, off-the-wall conceptions - for instance, an octopus-legged guitar-playing monster with fruits dangling off its hair. Music is her biggest source of inspiration, reveals Sinha, explaining that she made a lot of art for CDs, mix-tapes and gig posters for local bands as a youngster.
Ultimately, it's all about taking art to the people, concedes Saloni. "Art brings experiences," she offers, adding, "If more people can have access to it, they can experience much more of what reality can offer. And if art is introduced at an early age, people can discover themselves more and sooner."
The fourth chapter of The Saptan Story is expected on August 26, while the story will conclude on September 16. Visit saptan-stories.britishcouncil.org.in
- Jaideep Sen