At Animania, which concluded on 28 November at the Gallery BMB, Mumbai, a manga-esque vulture cast a black shadow on the gallery floor to the right of the entrance. A modernist grey and red Bengal tiger stared somberly from a rug-like canvas. The Eastern imperial eagle, a weird, stark inversion of Euro-American imperial emblems, fixed a stern eye on a motif that read, In Garuda We Trust.
These and nine other thoroughly postmodern animal images were Animania’s unlikely depictions of much-mythologized Indian animals in bright, peppy graphic art format. Curated by Mumbai graphic art studio Design Temple, they are the products of a quest for a new aesthetic for ancient icons, of which Garuda is just one.
The show brought together artists from India, Argentina, Japan, the US and Sweden. As Divya Thakur, Animania’s curator, creative director of Design Temple, and the artist of In Garuda We Trust says, “We brought together graphic artists, some of whom are the world’s best in their field, to create something very Indian in spirit. We had to make ourselves very clear about the nuances of the subject they were working with, what these animals mean to Indians as well as the challenges they face today.”
Some of the animals featured in the show, such as the owl, face endangerment. Some, such as the rose-ringed parakeet or mongoose, are known popularly only as caged, often poorly treated animals.
In the work of foreign artists, some of these resonances acquire a certain poignance. For instance, the Gangetic crocodile (or ghariyal), in the work of Argentinian artist Christian Montenegro, appears serene; a bright, long-snouted green arrow cutting through a bed of tranquil blue water. The sides of the canvas are taken up by a deeper blue, studded with lotuses. “The ghariyal is supposed to symbolize single-mindedness in Indian mythology,” Thakur explains. “It cuts through temptation and resistance to move forward, and that’s the spirit in which (Montenegro) creates this.”
The ghariyal has been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s list of critically endangered species since 2007.
Thakur says the aim of Animania is twofold. Apart from adapting the ancient awareness of these animals into a modern, fun vocabulary (“to delight”, she smiles), it is also meant to aid animal conservation. Ten per cent of the show’s proceeds will go to animal charity. One of the main beneficiaries will be Wildlife 101, an Indian conservation project that has worked to rehabilitate dancing bears as well as rescue leopards and elephants, among other species.
Beyond the gallery exhibit, Design Temple has reproduced the show’s art in notebooks, planners, flash cards, and yes—tiger rugs (the original is the work of the US artist Josh Brill).
The products will be available at outlets of the Good Earth showroom starting 1 December. Animania will show at Lodi, the Garden Restaurant at Lodhi Gardens in Delhi between 4-7 December.