Roma Chatterji

Arts Research

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

Through a previous project funded by IFA in 2007, Roma studied some of the consequences of the commodification of folk arts and its impact both on their aesthetics as well as their narrative forms. She explored the new spaces for interaction and display in cities opened by new forms of patronage by the state and market leading to the emergence of new kinds of narratives that are self-reflexive and structured around ideas of circulation and translation into other performative forms and media.

This grant will enable her to concentrate on the ways in which modern forms of storytelling such as animation and the graphic novel and their traditional counterparts in the folk and tribal arts, are turning to each other for new modes of expressions, subjects, and audiences to expand their practices. She will focus on the works of the Chitrakar community of Medinipur, West Bengal and the Pradhan Gonds of Madhya Pradesh; and also study recent collaborations between graphic novelists and folk artists. She will examine the experiments that are taking place as folk artists self-consciously work with forms of storytelling in other media especially looking at traditional or historical narratives represented through the new forms such as the graphic novel. For example, Manu Chitrakar from Naya village in West Medinipur, worked as the illustrator for a graphic novel of Martin Luther King published by Tara Books, Chennai.

Roma’s larger aim as a sociologist and a long-term researcher in the field of folklore and folk culture is to offer a sustained and responsible critique of the representation of folk culture as a form of collective creation that is embedded in ‘timeless tradition’ and is vulnerable to the changes in the wider socio-economic environment. Instead she will build through a ‘thick description’ and ‘extended case studies’ the proposition that folk cultural forms are emergent phenomena responsive to socio-political, economic and above all aesthetic developments and discourses in the wider environment. Therefore she will focus on particular stories to highlight how they have been rendered by different artists. To be able to study what exactly it means to ‘contemporise’, Roma will focus on specific dimensions of storytelling in creating relationships between words and images studied across a set of three narrative genres – Gond art, Patua storytelling from West Bengal and the graphic novel – all of which is based on pictorial narratives.

Roma will closely study particular cases – performances and paintings of well-known epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata – to trace the transformations that take place when the texts move from one genre and narrative context to another and have to adapt to new kinds of constraints imposed by different media forms. She is interested not so much in the finished forms that these stories take but rather in the processes by which they emerge, translated from one genre to another. The research will entail fieldwork in West Bengal, Bhopal, and Delhi to enable the researcher to interview practitioners and collect material forms of storytelling like pictures and books. She will also have the Gondi version of the two epics translated with the help of an expert from the community.

The decision to make this grant is embedded in IFA’s mandate to support projects that investigate marginalised or relatively unexplored areas in the arts to contribute to discourse building in particular areas. The outcome of this project will be a monograph. 

This grant was made possible with support from Titan Company Limited.