New Delhi: Gond tribal artist Gariba Tekam had never even seen a computer till two weeks back. Now, he’s working with technology to bring his images to life.
As he paints a blue fox on a piece of paper, part of the storyboard for an animation film on a squirrel’s dream, Tekam says he is excited to help one of the many folk stories from his Patangarh village in Madhya Pradesh reach a wider audience.
The artist’s quantum leap into computer technology comes after two days of not-so-intensive training, part of the two-week animation workshop conducted by the Adivasi Arts Trust, or AAT, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, or IGNCA.
Team work: Gond artists Rajendra Kumar Shyam (extreme left) and Venkat Raman Singh (in peach-coloured shirt) with students from the National Institute of Design at an animation workshop held at the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts in New Delhi. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/ Mint)
“Everyone’s talking about animation these days, then why should these tribal artists not get a chance to see their work animated?” asks animator Tara Douglas, who heads the Indian chapter of London-based AAT.
As part of the programme, tribal artists from three regions—Gonds from Madhya Pradesh, Santhals from Jharkhand and West Bengal, and Meiteis and Thadou Kukis from Manipur—work on animating their stories with final-year animation students from the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design, or NID.
The idea stemmed from a 2006 project called “The Tallest Story Competition,” which took five tribal stories with typical indigenous characters, animated and dubbed them into Gaelic (a language spoken in some parts of western Scotland) and then asked schoolchildren to vote for their favourite. The winning Gond story received an award from the Scottish government, which had sponsored the project to preserve local culture and language.
“This is the first time we’re doing something like this and it’s a very interesting experience,” says NID student Anish Daolangupu, who is helping out the Gond tribe. “We actually brought our process (of animation) with us and we’re taking their ideas to formulate the final thing,” says Deepak Verma, also an NID student working with the same group.
The students teach the tribals how to put stories to frames—and stress that they don’t need to be computer experts to be animators.
The team that seems to have caught on fastest is a group of six from Manipur, who have already completed the storyboard and partial voice recording of Man and Monkey, the story of how two monkeys fool a man and how he later gets even with them.
Laying their voice tracks over the painted story and working on the subtitles, Satya Hijam says, “We’re going to conduct a workshop in Imphal inviting all artists. We will try to get help from the MFDC (Manipur Film Development Corporation).” Hijam is a cartoonist with Imphal’s largest newspaper by circulation, Sangai Express.
Analysing the possibilities of animation, New Delhi-based social researcher Rekha Konsom says, “The disappointment is that people are only working with the commercial aspects. These people here take animation as an art form. This is also a great way to relate our folk stories with the current environmental problems like global warming, since most of our tales are inspired by nature.”
Voicing similar intentions are the members of the Santhal group. “We are looking at this opportunity as a means to preserve our culture, which is getting lost with modernization and migration into cities,” says Bharat Murmu, media coordinator of the All India Santhal Welfare and Cultural Society.
Kailash Kumar Mishra, the workshop coordinator from IGNCA, says, “This is an effort to engage the computer-savvy and animation-savvy generation and make them aware and understand their culture.”
Amid all this creativity, one practical problem looms: funding. “We really need funds to carry out these plans and at the moment, there are no willing sponsors as such,” says Mang Kipen, who is the only one from the Thadou Kuki tribe in Manipur. The organizers plan to do more outreach in the home states of the artists.
“We need a market. I feel the government should hold some animation festival, just like they do film festivals. Now, if I tell my people back there that I am an animator, they will give a big stare,” laughs Oyimbong Imchen, who prefers being called “Abong,” from Nagaland. He is working with AAT’s Douglas to organize a similar workshop in Nagaland later this year “to make them aware of the possibilities of telling their folklore in the audio-visual medium”, says Douglas. To battle the funding issue, “we are focusing on children’s stories, because they like animation and it’s a great way to educate them about their culture”, says Douglas, who plans to take these tribal art-inspired animation films to schools, and even state-run television network Doordarshan, as part of its education segment. “I’m hoping this will be a funding source in the future,” she says.
Waiting for this nascent project to really take off, the artists say it might open some other eyes also. Says Michael Soren, amid much laughter from his fellow Santhal animators, “At the very least, this might break the Jhinga-La-La, cannibal and half-naked stereotyped notion that people have about us, while preserving our culture in a fun way.”