Creator’s Interview: Abanindranath’s House of Stories

As you walk down the small and crowded streets of Kolkata, you might turn a corner and stumble into Jorasanko. The red walls of the Tagore monument are unforgettable! The house in our book is a ghostly counterpart to the building that stands proudly today.” – Likla

The latest publication in the ‘Art Exploration’ series – co-published by Art1st and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, with research supported by Akar Prakar  -is  ‘Abanindranath’s House of Stories’. Written by Likla, illustrated by Eva Sánchez Gomez, designed by Rohina Thapar, and edited by Ayushi Saxena – this delicious, interactive book is based on the childhood of the illustrious artist Abanindranath Tagore.

We asked Likla some questions about her experience of visiting Jorasanko, writing this book, and collaborating with Eva. Read on: 

Likla

Art1st: What were some of the most inspiring/surprising facts that you found out about the artist during your initial research on the book?

Likla: I started reading about Abanindranath’s childhood first. His memories and connection with #5 Jorasanko, his childhood home, were evident. As I came to accounts of his life as an adult, it struck me that he was quite a homebody. His home was very much the centre of his world. As most of our book was created during the COVID-19 lockdown, I could empathise with this. It’s incredible how rich a life you can lead whilst living at home in a single area – how much you can experience, learn, create and live! Details of the surrounding streets and homes appear in Abanindranath’s paintings of the Arabian Nights. R Siva Kumar’s tome on Abanindranath sparked this curious way of looking at the threads between his works and his experiences.

How was your experience of visiting Jorasanko? Can you tell us a bit about the place?

As you walk down the small and crowded streets of Kolkata, you might turn a corner and stumble into Jorasanko. The red walls of the Tagore monument are unforgettable! The house in our book is a ghostly counterpart to the building that stands proudly today. Abanindranath’s home no longer exists; Rabindranath’s home is a museum. The rooms are preserved as they were when the family lived within – special items stored in glass displays and photographs to mark the important historical moments. 

I had read much about the Tagores, focusing on their upbringing. I could imagine them: playing in the courtyards, painting in the veranda and peeping out of the green shuttered windows as visitors of all sorts streamed in. These are some of the visuals I was able to carry back with me and to Eva as she drew them into our book.

Image from Likla’s visit to Jorasanko

Could you tell us in detail about the collaborative process between you and Eva? 

Eva and I worked remotely and virtually through the pandemic. Miro was our playground. Curiously, we followed a different process for this book. Ritu (Khoda) and I put together a larger storyline based on Abanindranath’s own account of his childhood entitled ‘Apon Katha’, and shared these with Eva. Just as we had, Eva soaked in his rich imagery of Jorasanko and the magic of the stories that marked his childhood. Together, Eva and I worked to build the details of the story and recreate the imaginative world inside Abanindranath’s head. Eva’s wild imagination matched his, creating visual magic from the very first storyboard. 

Previously, all my research had been text based, given the era and my own inclination for words. With Eva onboard, we started looking for a visual history of the Tagores, seeking the minutiae of clothing, commerce and colours of Bengal in the late 1800s. Eva and I wove these findings into the details of the illustrations. When Eva had completed her magical book, I began writing the text, finding ways to enrich and connect the drawings in each page. Finally, Rohina came on board to design the book. She was inspired both by Eva’s illustrations as well as Abanindranath’s own artwork.         

Art1st’s books are highly interactive in nature – what are some of the ways in which the little readers of this book can interact/engage with it?  

There are three parts to this book. It begins with a story of young Abanindranath, as illustrated by Eva. Read this as you would any other picture book – this beautiful harmony of text and image. The second part brings you to Abanindranath’s own works. The art appreciation section is filled with questions and thoughts that help you look deeper into each artwork. Look closely, with sharp eyes and a sharper mind – each person’s connection to an artwork is unique. The book concludes with several art projects for you to explore. We hope you are inspired by Abanindranath and can’t wait to begin creating your own art and stories!

The book is available on Amazon: https://amzn.eu/d/fj7h8o7
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