Graphic artist Orijit Sen made a recent visit to Palestine to exchange creative ideas, and to learn from and celebrate each other’s struggles. In a conversation with NT BUZZ he speaks about his journey, people of Palestine and why he feels hopeful and empowered after this tour
ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
Graphic artist Orijit Sen recently visited Palestine, the state, which is under Israeli military administration and is subject to bombing, military attack and where human life is under constant threat.
Orijit was part of an initiative with Jana Natya Manch, Delhi, and The Freedom Theatre, Jenin, earlier this summer, in order to exchange cultural ties and most importantly to develop human relationship. It was to speak the language of art not diplomacy, to exchange creative ideas, and to learn from and celebrate each other’s struggles.
“The experience was really amazing and I consider myself fortunate to able to travel to so many places and meet so many people and exchange ideas with people, children,” says Orijit who will be speaking about his experiences at a talk titled ‘3 Weeks in Palestine’ organised by People Tree on June 20 at Assagao.
Orijit confesses that he did feel intimidated by the military presence there but while observing the people of Palestine he also developed a sense of hope and empowerment. “I felt scared and empowered at the same time,” says Orijit. He further adds, “It was quite empowering to look at the people who deal with resistance on day-to-day basis. There is lot to learn from there. There is a sense of dignity and courage. I felt quite hopeful in a way.”
He travelled to Jenin, the Jordan Valley, Hebron, the South Hebron Hills, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem. During his three-week stay in Palestine he interacted with people, shared meals and also participated in making of three public art pieces. He was part of these art pieces within Palestine – two in collaboration with school children, in the villages of Fasayil and Attuwani, and one on his own outside the refugee camp next to a public theatre in Jenin.
Speaking about the art scene, Orijit says, “Unlike in many apparently peaceful countries, where art hovers on the edges, performing mostly as a distraction for the wealthy, art in Palestine is often out in the streets, highly politically charged and constantly challenging and inspirational.”
When asked about the people’s approach to Indians there he confessed that the people of Palestine are quite warm and they welcomed them with open hearts. “People of Palestine have some idea about India mainly through Bollywood movies. Khans like Shah Rukh and Salman are quite popular there. Also if we look at past India had supported Palestine during Indira Gandhi’s time, so they do have lot of respect for Indians. However, the recent attitude of government towards Palestine is not encouraging, but they do consider Indians as their friends. Whenever I met them, they hugged me, invited me for meals. I even met a lady in a village of Jordan who has named her daughter ‘Hindi’, which is an Arabic word for India. They also address Indians as Hindis,” says Orijit.
Even though the people of Palestine were hospitable the overall environment was not so pleasing. There were various issues, which people had to do deal with on a day-to-day basis. “It was very uncomfortable to see the military presence, check points, etc. Most of the times we are not even aware about everyday matters like farmers fighting to build water tanks or closing down of a school, arbitrarily or detaining children. In a way this also made me think about the people in my country in north-eastern regions of India where people there also have to go to similar situations. These are very difficult situations to live with,” says Orijit.
Anthology of non-fiction comics
Orijit these days is also promoting the non-fiction graphic novel, ‘First Hand’ which he has co-edited with Vidyun Sabhaney. It is a collection of new non-fiction graphic narratives, features works by independent writers, artists, reporters, activists, researchers, designers, anthropologists, academicians, and film-makers based in India, who comment on and describe their world through comics in six genres: biography, autobiography, oral history, documentary, commentary, and reportage. It has 22 stories by 30 artists.
Orijit explains that he was working on this project for the past two years. Initially when they asked for entries for this project they got more than 50 entries and it was then brought down to 22.
When asked whether graphic novels are coming out in mainstream and is it because they connect a reader in a deeper way, he says, “Not deeper, but in a different way. It is a combination of drawings and text, so it goes beyond verbal description. There is a lot of interest for graphic novels now and we getting 50 entries from people of diverse backgrounds is an indication of that,” says Orijit.
This book also contains a story which speaks about the mining problem in Goa. “This story is by Mumbai based graphic designer, Dhwani Shah who participated in the workshop ‘Digging Deeper’ which I conducted under Goa University’s VRPP Programme. She created this story on mining in Goa. I am glad it is part of this book as even though mining is a big issue in Goa, it is not much talked about on a national level. It also speaks about the different side of Goa which not many are aware about,” says Orijit. There is also a story by Goa based Mexican artist Isa Hinojosa who speaks about banning of liquor in Kerala.
The other stories are—reporting the murder of an RTI applicant; an account of the Gujarat riots; biography of Begum Akhtar; a narrative about becoming familiar with one’s city through the use of its public transport system to name a few.
Dealing with censorship
Orijit recently was subject of censorship as his drawing named ‘Punjaban’ was removed by a social networking site as it depicted a half naked woman tying up her salwar. It made quite a furor among netizens and tremendous support to Orijit, which then resulted in retrieving it onto the site. This incident is one of the many such examples of curbing freedom of speech and expression in today’s time and age. The censoring of yet to be released Hindi movie ‘Udta Punjab’ is the latest example of it.
Speaking on this issue, Orijit elaborates that more than censorship it is the self-censorship which is more dangerous. “Censorship is the tip of the iceberg. The remaining 90 per cent of the iceberg is self-censorship. Also this culture is promoted by the government and its B team which mainly consists of some sadhvis, babas, etc who are non-elected representatives of the government. They try to silence people, which in turn brings in self-censorship. There are also some laws like the sedition law, which are there from British times. It is quite ironic that these laws were brought up by British to use against us and we are using them, even after 70 years of independence, against our own people. Also when you censor anything it gives an idea that people cannot be trusted. Censorship in all its forms is dangerous to society.”
(‘3 Weeks in Palestine’ – Talk by Orijit Sen will be held on June 20 at 8 p.m. at 6 Assagao, Assagao. The event is open to all.)