Remarkable works of art depicting famine in Britain and India will help people reflect on today’s food insecurity and climate crisis


Notable new works of art depicting famine in Britain and India will be on display for the first time to allow communities to reflect on the current food and environmental crisis.

Beautifully illustrated scrolls and graphic art storytelling traditions will help communities discuss common stories of famine in India and Britain and how to cope with current environmental changes.

The researchers hope that raising awareness of the history of food shortages will enable them to understand the issues they face today, including food security, biodiversity, soil nutrition and climate change.

Professor Ayesha Mukherjee, University of Exeter, together with colleagues from the University of Jadavpur and the British Library, collaborated with urban graphic designers from Calcutta and traditional scroll painters from the village of Naya in Bengal Westerners, who produced new works of art depicting selected episodes of the early modern famine.

People can see the scrolls and works of art at an exhibition at the University of Exeter. Professor Mukherjee and his colleagues will also host a workshop – open to all – where participants can reflect on food security in their own lives and work together to produce a new scroll depicting the messages they are discussing.

Professor Mukherjee said: “It has been a pleasure and a challenge to lead a project that allows academic research on famines of the past to be channeled into stories told by communities of modern artists, who engage in their own way in food insecurity. There is much to be learned from their perspectives on the past, and the cross-cultural sensitivity and insight of their works.

Prof. Mukherjee worked with Prof. Amlan Das Gupta, from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, on an AHRC-funded project to create an online database exploring cultural histories of famine and famine at the start of the l Modern India and Britain. People can search for texts in ten languages. The database maps parallel famine experiences in India and Britain using evidence from hundreds of historical and literary sources, including poems, plays, sermons, biographies of saints, diaries of travel, official documents, paintings and folk tales.

The results of their research are now represented in the remarkable works of art of Indian graphic designers and scroll painters, who have used the database.

The scrolls are painted with natural colors drawn from flora and fauna by Dukhushyam Chitrakar and his family, scroll artists and storytellers who live in the village of Naya in West Bengal. Graphic designers in Calcutta portray the stories in a more modern style.

Communities in Renaissance England faced repeated food shortages. The most serious food shortages occurred in 1555-1557, 1586-1588 and 1594-1598. It was a time of rallying crisis; not only did the crops fail, but the population grew, prices rose, and war and disease broke out. England saw an increase in vagrancy, misery and food riots, especially in the north and west where markets were less accessible. In their works, Naya’s patachitrakars and graphic artist Trinankur Banerjee depict figures of historical fame like Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare, creating a character of “Shekkhopir” – drawing inspiration from a familiar 19th century Bengali appropriation. of “Shakespeare”.

The failure of the rice harvest in 1768, the lack of rainfall in the following years, the migration of peasants and the smallpox epidemic led to one of the most notorious famines in Indian history, where 10 million people are believed to have died. The artwork depicts the ecology of the predominantly rice-growing plains of Bengal. Graphic designers reflect on its social impact, portraying an imaginary dialogue between the graphic designers themselves and the historical figure of William Hunter, the colonial administrator who meticulously assembled and analyzed the historical records of this famine.

Shrutakirti Dutta, Project Member from Jadavpur University, said: “Something that attracted me was to see how stories were interpreted by scroll painters and graphic designers and how the same story can take. very different iterations depending on the media chosen and also the artists have their own lived experience.

“I think that today more than ever it is really important to reflect and learn more about communities facing food insecurity and to see the long experience of food shortage that has been featured in the literature, music and art; but to see it here, from the current point of view, being reinterpreted through the prism of current and continuing scarcity and the difficulties that afflict us. I think that’s why the project is particularly relevant these days.

The exhibition, in the Forum building on the Streatham campus, will be open from 9e to 11e November from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the workshop, at the Digital Hums Lab, will take place on Saturday the 13the November from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The exhibition and workshop are open to academics, students, families and local residents.

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