“Umm, isn’t this a bit dark for a child?”

By Shambhavi Thakur, Designer, Somnath Hore: Wounds

That question is a common first reaction from adults who have picked up the book Somnath Hore: Wounds, and I’m not entirely surprised by it since it was one of my first thoughts on reading the manuscript as well. After seeing the illustrations in progress, the question lingered, weaving itself in and out of the creative process. As I write this, I still don’t know what the correct answer is, but I hope that after I outline my perspective in helping create the book, you might be able to answer that question for yourself. 

When the author, Likla first briefed me about Somnath Hore, I instantly understood that his creations were timeless and will continue to be politically and personally relevant for decades to come. 

With my industrial design background, I felt a deep connection with Somnath Hore through his bronze sculptures. As a designer, I believe that when the production process, materiality, intention and aesthetic of a piece come together and overlap in layers – connected in ways that make all the aspects feel perfect for each other – it can be profound.  The creation can feel like it was meant to be created and exist in that specific way. That is something that I genuinely admire and something that I recognised in Somnath’s bronze works. 

The figures Somnath depicted were explicitly weak and yet immensely powerful. They were often skeletal, angular, falling to the ground with the burdens of hunger, anxiety and war extending off their surfaces onto the viewers. However, Somnath’s creation process put everything into place for me – he would take sheets of wax and mould them with his fingers, creating intimate, textured pieces with open-ended concave surfaces. He would directly cast his waxwork into bronze, not making any moulds from the original to make copies – ensuring each piece was a unique creation. 

What blew my mind was that in the process of casting, artists usually pour the molten metal through narrow conduits that then solidify along with the sculpture but are later scraped off and removed. Somnath incorporated those conduits into the design of his sculptures, placing them so that they became the fingers of the figures he was depicting. The hollowness and frailness of those metal pipes, along with the rough, unfinished gaping bodies, made the bronze works look like they had truly internalised the narrative of suffering and strife that consumed Somnath. The process and materiality had come together perfectly with the aesthetic and intention.

The sculptures were remarkable, the sorrow was inescapable, and I knew then that my design approach for the book had to centre around the genius and intentionality with which Somnath created. With Likla’s words and Kripa’s illustrations, my role became one of creating balance, which allowed whatever Likla and Kripa intended for the viewer to feel on each page to be felt without being overwhelming. The design philosophy for the book became guided by showing restraint and carving out spaces that allowed the reader to stay on a page and engage with its contents. 

Every additional visual in the book – icons, bullet points, accents and highlights – were extracted from either Somnath’s art or Kripa’s illustrations. I extended the textures from Somnath’s works to bleed off the pages, making the spreads a portal into the art. Kripa’s approach with her collage of textured papers influenced another stylistic theme of papers with torn edges – subconsciously reminding us of the duality of its roughness and softness. 

The font choices of the book were again minimal and slightly textured. Inspired by Somnath’s journal entries and typewriter fonts from the era, I intentionally spaced and indented the text, giving it room to breathe in the bold world of reds and black.  I subliminally highlighted words and phrases that needed attention, leading the eye through triangular arrangements of graphics and using textures from Somnath’s art itself. 

The book’s cover was an ode to the essence of the Art Exploration Series – looking at the life and art of an artist through the lens of a child. The series aims to familiarise children with distinguished modern and contemporary Indian artists through events that inspired them and influenced their styles. With this book, Somnath’s story is outlined to contextualise his art and his obsession with Wounds transcends into a child-like fascination. When reviewing the different options for the book’s cover, everyone on the team instantly knew the one, and I think it’s because deep down, we all knew what we wanted this book to be. We wanted to take that child-like fascination and curiosity untainted with preconceived notions and direct it towards exploring wounds through art. We wanted ‘Somnath Hore: Wounds’ to be a starting point for readers to reflect on ideas and start conversations that might be unpleasant, a reminder not to shy away from any darkness; a darkness that we as adults might be scared to navigate ourselves. 

Shambhavi Thakur is a designer at Art1st, where she helps bring their books to life. She loves all things creative and existential, curious and comical, musical and tasty. To get in touch with her email her at shambhavi@art1stindia.co.in.


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