“Have you ever had a wound, a little bruise, a cut, a scab, that you simply cannot look away from? The way it changes colour—purples, reds and greens. Ohh and how it itches, on your skin and in your mind. Somnath’s mind could not stop itching either. He had seen wounds much bigger than the scabs on your knees…” These are the opening lines from Somnath Hore: Wounds, the latest title by Art1st, an organisation that seeks to spotlight visual arts as a core discipline in the school curriculum. Through its publications section, it introduces children to the vibrant world of Indian art.
The book about artist Somnath Hore (1921-2006) comes on the heels of the artist’s birth centenary. A sculptor and printmaker par excellence, Hore was born in Chittagong (now in Bangladesh). His work was deeply influenced by the suffering that ensued after the Bengal famine of 1943 and the peasant-led Tebhaga movement in 1946-47. He poured all his observations and feelings into his series, Wounds.
Parents and teachers might wonder about the impression that a body of work— seemingly dark and populated by fragile, broken bodies—would make on the minds of seven-year-olds. Children, however, have been able to connect with the empathy that Hore imbued his work with. During the pandemic, when kids have been grappling with anxiety, grief and other inexplicable feelings, Somnath Hore: Wounds talks to them about difficult emotions and ways to express them. It speaks of ways in which children can make sense of all that they feel. “He burnt, tore, pushed, hammered, twisted and reshaped metal into statues that carried pain,” states the book about Hore’s work.
Wounds is divided into three sections. The first narrates the story of Hore’s life. The second is about exploring how you feel about suffering as a child—for instance, you could pen your thoughts about what the world would be without violence. And the third is about creating like an artist, expressing what you feel. There are pages where you could draw sketches of figures in pain, and a clock, where you could write about what happens to wounds as time passes—do they heal or do they fester away. The book also breaks down the process of printmaking for kids, and introduces them to the worlds of carbon printing, screen and collagraph printing.
Wounds has been created with the support of Akar Prakar, Kolkata, and is part of Art1st’s Exploration series. It has put pieced together by author Likla with great sensitivity. A creator at PanicNot!,a collaborative storytelling community and collective, she has already worked on several titles for young readers such as Art is a Verb. For Wounds, she has collaborated with illustrator-artist Kripa Bhatia and designer Shambhavi Thakur to create this book during the lockdown.
“The book makes (Hore's) story accessible to children without removing the layers of complexity,” says Ritu Khoda, founder, Art1st. “Through such publications, we want to inculcate the culture of visual literature and critical thinking. Kids know very little of art and artists in the country. We want to break the myths and cliched notions that people carry about artists being esoteric, and more.” In order to help children establish a connection with the artists, it is important for them to understand the commonality of experiences that they share with these masters.
To put this book together, Likla read journals written by Hore, and books about him, four of which were published by Seagull. “He was a great writer with clarity of expression. He talks about wounds as a concept. I took into account his reflections, the connection I felt with his writing and also what a child would think of his work,” she says. The design by Thakur tried to maintain a balance between Likla’s text and Bhatia’s illustrations. As she mentions in an article published on Art1st, every additional visual in the book—icons, bullet points, accents and highlights—were extracted from either Hore’s art or Kripa’s illustrations. Thakur adds that she extended the textures from Hore’s works to bleed off the pages, making the spreads a portal into the art.
For Bhatia, the response to the book came from her son Dhruv and daughter Lola. Given the difference in their ages, their engagement with the book has been varied. “While Dhruv wrote in the clock, Lola chalked down the different kinds of hurts. Not once did they ask me about the Bengal famine or the other incidents mentioned in the book. But we had many interesting discussions. I feel that expounding abstract concepts is not required. Children have an innate sensibility to understand things,” she adds.