In Poetics, arguably the first work of dramatic and literary theory, Aristotle remarks that objects which may be mundane by themselves can be delightful to contemplate as works of art. Artist Angana Kundu has perhaps achieved just this, by trapping the faces of her fellow metro passengers on paper in Munchian fashion.
Kundu is a self-taught, independent artist based out of Kolkata. She began drawing at the age of 19 after being overcome by a bout of emotion. ‘I remember being blind with rage, picking up a piece of charcoal and drawing on the wall of my room. I have no idea where or how I got the piece of charcoal from. After I drew, I was calm and could think straight,’ she recounts.
Angana’s Metro Movement series, which is an eponymous collection of drawings made in underground transit, emerged from a period of personal crisis. It began with her fidgeting with the drawing options on Instagram to keep herself calm on her commute to and from university.
Was the metro a challenging setting to draw in?
I wanted to draw on the metro as a coping measure so I attempted to do so with pen and paper but this new medium presented me with new challenges: I seemed to no longer know how to draw. Even if I did know how to draw, the crowded faces in the metro made it impossible for me to concentrate or even make a line. The faces and the noise and chaos of an office-going and office-returning metro added to my anxiety.
How did your outlook evolve while drawing in the metro?
I hated that my choice of expression relied only on visuals. So I decided to use the motion of the metro. I held my pen over the paper to see/observe how the movement of the metro guided it. And using that very motion, I made my lines. I drew the faces of the people around me, but nobody in particular. I was at once drawing all and none. I tried to draw the emotions I saw and the emotions I felt. And somehow they were all horrified or in a state of shock and/or worry.
Why is the series dominated by faces?
Faces strike me as special subjects because I think they are deceiving. People rarely show what they feel. Everybody strives to present themselves as happy and perfect and I do not understand why. It tends not to work. You can tell if someone is truly happy or not if you look at them. So I drew people as I saw them. Tired and struggling and worried, that is essentially human. We just worry about different things and in different ways.
Angana has further experimented with other modes of transit such as trains, buses and cabs. But she believes that none of them have the appeal of the metro. She remarks, “Perhaps it is the geometry of the metro. Where you sit side by side and face to face at the same time. And several feet underground, in a brightly lit almost futuristic setting, but everybody dresses how they do above the ground.”
Tell us about the two child-portraits in the series?
I rarely ever drew children. They were a stark contrast to subjects that interested me. The only children I drew were a girl and a boy of around the same age, playing together. Running from pole to pole of the metro and swinging around, unperturbed by the motion of the train. And in their game, they were silent, intensely absorbed in their game of repeatedly swinging from pole to pole and circling it with one hand around it.
Children, however, often made for an interesting audience. Without any words exchanged or even so much as a glance at them, I would have their attention as they shyly or boldly peeped into my notebook. They expressed their amusement in their way or would get bored soon. But I always managed to grab their undivided attention even if for a few seconds. In the emptier metros, they’d sometimes laugh and squeal and point at how ugly or absurd the people in my drawings looked, and that always made me smile.
Do you have any memorable instances to share of children while in transit?
One particularly ill-mannered child demanded my pen and threw a tantrum on being ignored; he tried to touch my notebook, perhaps to assert his dominance or disrupt what he could not have. Or both.
A supremely shy child was a favourite of mine. He was quiet and peeped curiously at my work only when he thought I didn’t notice him. He would turn away when he realised I was aware of his staring, but we got more comfortable during the course of the journey. I ended up offering him my pen and asking if he would like to draw, which he shied away from altogether, burying his face and keeping it buried for the rest of the ride.
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