Jaipur Literature Festival: An Illustrative experience

Abeer Kapoor Jaipur 

The walk into Diggi Palace, the venue for the 2016 edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, was particularly eye-catching. There were large boards on either side with playful illustrations depicting not only what was on offer inside the palace but also in the city around. In one illustration, long-moustached men wearing turbans rode elephants, carrying large alphabets to the festival. In another, the Hawa Mahal, a landmark associated with the city, was playfully drawn in the background while, in the foreground, was a representation of the cacophony that ensues at the festival. The illustrations were the work of Delhi-based illustrator Ujan Dutta, whose day job is to do communication design for events. He moonlights as an artist, drawing epic artworks from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. He chatted with Hardnews about the literature festival and expressing a city, its history and culture through illustrations, an art form that has seen a resurgence through social media.

 

Why did you choose to design for the literature festival like this?

When we were first given the project, we knew we had to create a brand language that would complement both the scale of the festival and represent the larger history, visual culture and feel of the city. The festival has a large audience and a certain sensibility built into it, the trick was to do something that functions within that tradition, but also takes it to the next level. The pressure on the design team was immense, the visual communication is the first thing the audience sees and it’s what they remember when they leave.

Here we had to weave modern literature and the idea of a festival with a vibrant, colourful city. The most important realisation I had during this experience was that it was a literature festival, a celebration of the written word. After several concept discussions, we decided to go with an illustrative approach as we felt it fit the ‘celebration’ theme the best, and would instantly appeal to all audiences.

 

Is there a shift in the art scene in India with illustrations seeing a comeback, and why?

The illustration itself is a constantly growing and evolving medium, much like any graphic medium in today’s world. As more and more people are exposed to it each day, audiences are easily captivated by its ability to showcase the emotive, imaginative and impossible. With the social media, the freely available representation of art, it is illustrations that are growing in popularity. They’re a fun, easy way of representing what we see around us. Even during the festival we had interesting panel discussions, where the power of illustrations, as art, was explored in conflict zones – like Eyeless in Gaza, where Molly Crabapple talked about her work.

While researching style ideas, I often found myself struggling with important questions such as whether to keep it more classic or contemporary and kitsch, the latter  being more popular with audiences today. I felt I needed to find a balance between the two, keeping the illustrations simple while using the colours, though minimal, to complement the festival’s themes. 

Was telling the visual story of Jaipur through illustrations difficult? What were your challenges?

The biggest challenge was to create a brand language which could capture the essence of the city and its character, and the festival and its ideals, all in one unique composition. The imagery had to be carefully sorted and presented in a way which was controlled, and at the same time quirky and entertaining, for mass appeal.  

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2016