It is easy to miss the Indian Institute of Cartoonists in the hustle and bustle of Bengaluru’s busy Trinity Circle. Situated just a few meters from the circle in the basement of a building, spread across 5000 square feet, this institute is one of its kind in India.
The Institute, established in 2001, is the only place in the country that is working towards the cause of promoting the art of cartooning, recognizing and felicitating artists working in the field, and training young artists in the art form. The institute is also working towards creating an archive of cartoons for the future generation.
“There are academies for artists like painters and writers but there was none for cartoonists. I felt the need to have a body on national level that can work towards promoting the art of cartooning and that was the motivation behind founding the institute,” said VG Narendra, managing trustee of the institute.
Narendra, a cartoonist himself, started his career as a student. After completing his graduation Narendra left for Mumbai to pursue his love for cartoons and found himself working for the Free Press Journal, a place where stalwarts like RK Laxman and Bal Thackeray had worked as cartoonists. Later, Narendra went to Delhi to work with K Shankar Pillai, known as the father of political cartooning in India, for his weekly, Shankar’s Weekly, as a staff cartoonist. He worked with the weekly for two years until the Indira Gandhi government imposed emergency in 1975 and the weekly had to shut down. Narendra came back to Bengaluru in 1976 and in 1977, along with a few others, he founded the first state level organisation for cartoonists called the Karnataka Cartoonists Association.
“I was the president of that organistaion for many years. So that was very good experience for me to start an organization on national level,” he said.
The Indian Cartoon Gallery came about seven years later and was inaugurated by the then Governor of Karnataka, TN Chaturvedi, on August, 16, 2007. The gallery is currently exhibiting its 124th exhibition. The gallery has exhibited works of luminaries like RK Laxman and Mario Miranda, and has also hosted two American, a British, a Japanese, a Hungarian, a Norwegian and a Turkish exhibition.
The Institute is also working towards training budding cartoonists and giving them a platform to exhibit their work. “At the Foundation Cartoon Workshops we start with basics of cartooning. We teach them everything. We ask them to draw cartoons, we show them lots of cartoons, both foreign and Indian, and we give them tips on how to draw. We have trained more than 600 people in three years.”
“The art of cartooning has advanced many-fold in Europe and other western countries. That is how we want to train our students. We make them look at those cartoons and show them how without any words or captions they are drawing their cartoons,” Narendra added.
An interesting trend that Narendra has come across since the workshops started is that more and more women are wanting to become a part of these two-day workshops. Narendra said that the number of women cartoonists in India is not very impressive and the fact that women are looking at the art of cartooning with interest is not only encouraging but also makes them happy.
When asked about what future plans the Institute has Narendra, said that they are looking at starting a library where people can come and pour over books on cartoons. They have already collected around 600 books on cartoons and the art of cartooning, and a compilation of unpublished doodles by R.K. Laxman from his college days that they plan to make available to the public soon.