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Words and Images

Roma Chatterji

By Gita Wolf and Ianna Andreadis
Tara Books and Musee du quai Branly, 2010, pp. 54,, Rs. 650.00

By Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt and David J. Williams
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad and Grantha Corporation, New Jersey, 2010, pp. 94, price not mentioned


We are supposed to be living in an image-driven world where the written word is said to be fast disappearing, Yet, as the philosopher Roland Barthes reminds us, visual images are always accompanied by some form of text, however minimal it may be. The presence of words and images together on a page may be ubiquitous but remains a source of puzzlement for scholars. Are pictures merely illustrations filling out the text, channelling the mind along certain pre-determined paths or are texts the points of anchorage providing stable interpretations for potentially nomadic connotations that visual cultures might suggest? There can be no correct answer but the relationship between these two modes of representation and meaning-making is never straightforward. Words and images may mutually quicken or amplify each other; they may also be contradictory—the friction between them generating a field of semiosis in which meaning is constantly being deferred. No longer confined to academic discourse,some of these ideas are manifest in the renewed attention that the publishing industry is paying to the materiality of the book itself. Picture books in India have certainly come of age. No longer pigeon-holed as books on art per se or as coffee-table books or children’s story books, we see the rebirth of the ‘illuminated’ text, in which pictures and words converse with each other. Tara publishers, the producers of SSSS: Snake Art and Allegory, have been at the forefront of this new trend. Lovingly crafted by hand, the images reproduced by a laborious process of screen printing, their books are not just texts but aesthetic objects as well. The team at Tara Books have been experimenting with different art styles including the diverse folk arts of India, since its inception. Folk artists are not just given stories to illustrate but become collaborators in the book projects instead. The Tara team often works with small groups of artists over a period of several years—inviting them for workshops where ideas are discussed and suggestions thrown up so that ideas for stories often emerge from the painting styles and pictures themselves. Jointly created by Gita Wolf (text) and Ianna Andreadis (pictures), with the figure of the serpent as the main protagonist, the stories are rooted in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The initial stories portray them as the guardians of the earth, the protectors of the four quarters of the universe. We also come across ...

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