From offline to online: how Indian Cartoon Gallery’s VG Narendra keeps humour alive during the pandemic

A sense of humour is sorely needed during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In our final photo essay on ICG’s caricature exhibition, we feature more creative works and curator insights.
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Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 500 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festivaltelecom expomillets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.

The coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of abating any time soon, and courage and resilience are called for – along with a sense of humour. Through cartoons and satire, humour helps keep our spirits up, gives us a bigger perspective on life, and renews a sense of hope during crises.

One of Bengaluru’s cultural treasures is the Indian Cartoon Gallery (ICG), tucked away in a lane off MG Road at Trinity Circle. See our earlier photo essays on the gallery’s exhibitions from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

The gallery manager and curator is VG Narendra, Managing Trustee of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists (IIC). He is a cartoonist himself, and trained under Shankar Pillai, who was the Founder of Shankar’s Weekly and is often regarded as the father of political cartooning in India.

One of the gallery’s exhibitions featured the outstanding works of caricaturist YS Nanjunda Swamy (see Part I and Part II of our photo-essay and artist interview). He regards a sense of humour as the most precious asset we can have, particularly during these times of stress and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.

“So far, we have organised 167 exhibitions at the Indian Cartoon Gallery. Exhibitions of works of most of the leading Indian cartoonists have been showcased,” VG Narendra explains, in a chat with YourStory.

Featured cartoonists include RK Laxman, Shankar Pillai, Abu Abraham, Mario de Miranda, Sudhir Dar, Ranga, Maya Kamath, BV Ramamurthy, and Pran. The works of leading international cartoonists have also been showcased, such as Liza Donnelly and Signe Wilkinson from the US.

“We have organised exhibitions of works of three eminent cartoonists of the UK, William Hogarth, David Low and Frederick Joss. Hungarian cartoonist Edua Szuck, Ukraine’s Vladimir Kazanevski, China’s Liu Quiang, and Japan’s Tadao Kagaya have also exhibited their works at the gallery,” Narendra proudly adds.

Some exhibitions and workshops have been held for social and environmental causes as well. These include the show Cartoons for Climate, organised in collaboration with British Council.

“Cartoon exhibitions were also held on Women’s Rights and Freedom of Expression, in association with ToonsMag, Norway. An exhibition on Refugees was organised in association with Turkish foundation Kimse Yok Mu,” Narendra says. An exhibition titled Zoological Garden was held in association with the Serbian organisation, Animal Cartoons.

“We have so far organised 12 International Maya Kamath Memorial Awards competitions of cartoons, and distributed Rs.1 lakh worth of cash prizes every year,” Narendra explains. Exhibitions of entries from the Indian and international participants were also arranged.

Over the years, dignitaries who inaugurated the exhibitions at the cartoon gallery include Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Former President of India; Former Governors of Karnataka HETN Chaturvedi and HR Bhardwaj; Justice MN Venkatachalaiah, former CJI; GR Gopinath, former chief of Air Deccan; and Jnanapith awardees UR Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad and Chandrshekher Kambar.

“We have organised more than 25 cartoon workshops at our gallery in the past four years. More than 500 participants registered,” Narendra adds.

This past weekend, October 24 marked the 100th birth anniversary of the late great cartoonist RK Laxman. "While he was studying at Maharaja College, Mysuru, he contributed his cartoons to Koravanji, a Kannada monthly satirical magazine brought out by Dr Rashi, a famous humour writer,” Narendra recalls.

His cartoon series You Said It remains legendary, and he also provided sketches for a series of books. The Indian Institute of Cartoonists earlier felicitated RK Laxman with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 in Bengaluru, Narendra proudly explains. The cartoonist visited the gallery as well, in 2007.

RK Laxman at the Indian Cartoon Gallery (picture credit: ICG)

“As a fitting tribute to the legendary cartoonist, IIC uploaded selected cartoons of RK Laxman every day on social media, from October 12-27. The initiative drew appreciation from across the country and fans abroad, according to Narendra. The uploaded works included Koravanji cartoons, political works, and caricatures.

“In the tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic, IIC has uploaded cartoons from the Glorious Memories series each day. Cartoonists and cartoon lovers from around the world have appreciated the popular initiative,” Narendra says with pride.

In this photo essay, we feature more of Nanjunda Swamy’s caricatures on the worlds of politics, movies and sports. See if you can identify the musicians, business leaders, filmmakers, actors and politicians in this selection as well!

(Note: These photographs from the gallery were taken before the national lockdown due to the coronavirus. The visit to the gallery was not in violation of any public safety guidelines.)

“I was following Nanjunda Swamy's works since the beginning. He has a magic wand in his hand. Within a few years of practice, he has achieved high standards of caricaturing,” Narendra explains. He now regards the caricaturist as among the best in India.

“As expected, the exhibition attracted a lots of enthusiasts from all walks of life. They all enjoyed and appreciated the displayed caricatures at the cartoon gallery,” he enthuses.

“Now, we are planning to publish a periodical called Cartoonists India with exclusive articles and cartoons,” Narendra signs off.

Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and unleash your inner creative voice in these tough times?

VG Narendra (far right), Nanjunda Swamy (second from right)

See also the YourStory pocketbook Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups, accessible as apps for Apple and Android devices.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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