We don’t often hear about graphic novels written by women. It’s not that they’ve not being made, but it’s just the usual process of whitewashing over women’s achievements by simply writing them out of history. We’ve all been there, in corporate work culture you would have heard of it as the Matilda effect.
It’s not that I have anything against Seth, or Guy Delisle, or any of the other authors we hear about. But sometimes we all like to be reflected through media. It validates our existence, it makes us feel seen. It universalizes us.
If there was ever a book for the pandemic, it was this one for me – Olivia Laing’s Lonely City – Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Though written in 2016 I could not believe it was not written about the early days of the pandemic, our first experiences of living through a lockdown, and a disease for which, at the time, there was no cure…
Simply put I just loved this book. I read it first on Kindle, then bought a paperback and read chapters multiple times. Olivia Laing is a genius and a master of art and language. She skillfully weaves her experiences of being lonely in Manhattan, through the stories of these artists in Manhattan who had used their loneliness to create, and derives the most definitive insights about loneliness and art.
As always I keep drawing as I read.
“If everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is.”
“Art was a way to bear witness; to reveal things I’d always felt pressured to keep hidden.”
One parallel to our present time was of course the loneliness that people felt as they stayed shut up in their houses. We often overlook the smallest social interactions we have in shops, with neighbours and so on. It’s even more pronounced if you live by yourself and then these small interactions are also missing. There is a universal human need for connection, for reaching out, for just being seen. I remember my first few weeks in Sweden when I didn’t know anyone. Swedes are wonderful, gentle people, but terribly shy, and they really respect each others’ personal space as well. For most, it means not even making eye contact. So you can imagine, even a smile from a shop assistant was a special day for me. For the first time in weeks, I felt seen.
The other parallel was the onset of the AIDS crisis in the States, and how the gay community were shunned and excluded. India’s Covid Relief has by default excluded multiplemarginalizedcommunities. (If you want to help, take a look at #DesignUpForACause)
Despite, or maybe because of all the pain, I found the book so uplifting and inspiring. I would read a few pages every night, these moving accounts of the pain and suffering that gave birth to so much art, and how they created what they did, and feel inspired and grateful.
There are so many things art can’t do…but it does have some…odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and…of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly…
Looking back for the year-end post, this is what I discovered:
29 sketchbooks in 6 years! Not bad at all! And before 2014 I have about 98 more, shown here, over the years of 2002-2013.
I’m so proud of myself for persisting with keeping a drawing journal, despite challenges! When my son was born in 2015, I couldn’t draw for the first 2 years of being a parent…I also couldn’t draw when we got married and was jealous of the the brown boy‘s constant talent! And some other times I was just lazy….
It’s always such a struggle to make time for improving my drawing skills and the craft of storytelling through drawing.
Like most hobbies there are few overlaps with my professional skills, but it’s the need for creation and expression that has persisted throughout. Some wise person once said it’s almost like you are the channel through which the expression manifests…and it sometimes does feel like that.
For Basu, journaling is a process of making life. She shared with us that through these “letters for her future self” she “often remember(s) forgotten wishes and goals or events” that shaped her. It’s delightful to stroll through the worries and victories of her daily life. One can trace the arc of the conversation the young designer has had with herself over the years and feel like a confidential encounter has taken place.
So here’s to more drawing, more feedback and commentary from friends and well-wishers who see me drawing in real life – and onwards to 2020!
I read about 25 books this year, as compared to 33 books last year and 26 books in 2017. I try to have a healthy average around the number of books I read, since my reading habit also makes me who I am, but I’m not fixated into gamifying it by making it a challenge or beating my last years’ goals or anything like that! How about you? Do you keep a count of the books you read?
In 2019 I found that I read quite a bit of fiction, non-fiction and design books – and I’m still reading a couple of them. Also, if anything resonates with me, I often make quick drawings in my sketchbook while reading. It’s always interesting to go back and see which books sparked off drawings. On Kindle sometimes I leave tons of notes and highlights for myself, but drawing is usually much more alive!
Lots of great books this year:
Sapiens: I was late to the party but so good, nevertheless. Now looking forward to reading his other book.
Good Talk: I laughed and giggled through this one Sunday. If you’ve ever had to think about your race or felt uncomfortable about your identity you’ll relate to this graphic novel by Mira Jacob. (I also loved Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, obviously the defining book in this genre). Though Mira Jacob’s visual language didn’t appeal to me at first, it grew on me as I read, and integrated with the storytelling and the humor to emerge as an excellent read.
Land of the seven rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal: A book published in 2012, and still so relevant. Found it in my parents’ house and really enjoyed it. It sheds light on a lot of questions that our classroom history of the Indian subcontinent didn’t answer. There’s also a version for children called The Incredible History of India’s Geography for young readers. The times we are living in are an apt time to be reading books like Sapiens and Land of the seven rivers as I found.
Here are a few drawings made while reading Kudos by Rachel Cusk in Kolkata. Rachel Cusk has an amazing sense of storytelling, unique in it’s own way in the way she develops her characters. I will probably re-read this trilogy again.
Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything — what a waste!”
The Little Drummer Girl: I enjoyed both the book by John le Carré, and the TV miniseries. John le Carré is a master of craft, so I read not only for the story but also the language and the storytelling. The TV series was fabulously crafted by Chan-wook Park – the first time I watched anything by him and it was spectacular.
At the end of the year, I gave up a few books not worth the time, and I’m still reading The Year of the Monkey and a couple of other design books.
Someone once said that the point of reading is not to to see how many you can get through, but how many can get through to you!
A couple of years ago I had a free weekend on a work trip and I flew up to Seattle to spend it with my friend Lekha. She had planned the most marvellous time for us.
First we had brunch at Pike Place Market and then we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park. I saw most of the sculptures for the first time so you can imagine what an experience it was. Here’s the biggest Calder I have ever seen, the Eagle.
Here’s me in front of yet another inspiration from my past, Ellsworth Kelley. He had used weathering steel, knowing that a patina of rust would gather over time, and the piece would continue to change visibly over time.
We went to see Nalini Malani – A Retrospective. I found it surprisingly thought-provoking. The pieces exhibited in the hall where the Wedding Dress was displayed were the ones that resonated the most with me. Listening to Shades was nice as well.
Next was a group show called Is That What You Think. Some of the pieces were interesting – because you really could figure out the narrative behind the artwork if you try. Like the piece by Vivan Sundaram which didn’t make sense at a cursory glance, but as I moved around the room I really began to open up to the feelings that the artist might have wanted to express. One – a piece of video art showing rolling waves was a transporting experience though I didn’t really understand it. Lightning Testimonies was an interesting way to watch the films, and that’s not the least of it. (And by the way if you want to see the drawing larger just double click on it – and then remember to return to this post!)
And here’s a page from a personal journal – I got this beautiful Dreamvilla postcard from Rukminee.