Indian Cartoon Gallery Art with a sense of humour
Midford Garden Road is an inconspicuous road off Mahatma Gandhi Road near the Trinity metro station. It is named after John Campbell Midford, an industrialist who owned Mysore Mining Industrials and G Baccala and Co, a chocolate manufacturing unit on South Parade (old name for M G Road) around 1915. The narrow road is just about 227 meters long, packed with buildings and there is nothing resembling a garden on this short stretch. However, Midford Garden Road is home to a very unusual gallery that celebrates cartoons and their creators. Interestingly, the word Cartoon has art embedded in itself. It is based on the Italian word cartone and French word carton which stood for the heavy paper on which the sketch was made in the early years
Indian Institute of Cartoonists (IIC) was founded in 2001 and has been going strong for about 22 years. So, what was the motivation to start this institute?
V G Narendra, one of the founders of the institute said, “It was started to promote the art of cartooning in India. Other forms of art had their own organisations that helped develop and promote their art. But for cartoonists there was nothing like that.”
V G Narendra, who still manages the institute’s activities, was born in Dharwad, Karnataka. Drawn to cartoons at a young age, his first cartoons appeared in Samyukta Karnataka, a Kannada newspaper when he was still in college. After graduation, he got an opportunity to join Free Press Journal, where Bal Thackarey and R K Laxman started their careers. His work caught the attention of Shankar Pillai, the founder of Shankar’s Weekly, perhaps the most famous satirical magazine of India. Unfortunately, just a few years later, the magazine closed down due to press censorship during the emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. V G Narendra moved south and worked as the staff cartoonist at two Kannada newspapers, first Samyukta Karnataka and then at Kannada Prabha.
It was during these years that he joined the Karnataka Cartoonists Association (KCA) as a member. Later, S K Nadig and K R Swamy, two famous cartoonists of Karnataka requested V G Narendra to become the president of KCA. He remembered a memorable event organised by KCA and said, “We honoured R K Laxman at one of our events and to our luck both Mario Miranda and Abu Abraham were in the city at the same time. I invited both and they also came to the event held at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat in Chamarajpet. So, as they say ‘na bhuto na bhavishyati’ (an extraordinary event that has never before been witnessed by man and is not expected to happen again) all of them were on the same stage for the only time in 1979.”
He wrote to other cartoonists and received good support for the idea of a national level organisation and thus IIC was born. Mario Miranda (whose full name was Mário João Carlos do Rosário de Brito Miranda ComIH) was nominated as the chief patron with Unni of Indian Express and Keshav of The Hindu as members of the national advisory body. Later B V Ramamurthy (Murthy of Deccan Herald fame) became its chairman.
S M Krishna, who was the Chief Minister of Karnataka liked the idea and the Karnataka Government funded the inauguration event. V S Ramadevi, then-Governor of Karnataka, inaugurated the institute and the two-day event in which over a hundred cartoonists participated. R K Laxman could not come to the inauguration as he underwent a surgery. So in 2002, an exhibition of his cartoons was arranged and he was felicitated with a lifetime achievement award at the Institute of Engineers building.
However, the institute did not have a home of its own. Strangely, one of V G Narendra’s own cartoons helped fulfill this objective.
“I did a cartoon on Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE) and Ashok Kheny liked it very much. He agreed to support us in order to set up IIC in the city. We looked for a place for several months but could not find anything. Then he offered space in the current building and promised funds to develop it as well. He also put us in touch with an architect, engineer and interior decorator. So we came up with this 2000 square foot Indian Cartoon Gallery, an auditorium and this small library adding up to about 5000 square feet in all.” said V G Narendra.
The first cartoon exhibition featuring works of B V Ramamurthy, B G Gujjarappa and V G Narendra was inaugurated by T N Chaturvedi, then-Governor of Karnataka. This was followed by a new exhibition every month. V G Narendra remembered, “In 2009, we exhibited Laxman’s cartoons and R K Laxman agreed to come even though he was confined to a wheelchair at the time. This was followed by exhibitions of cartoons by Shankar Pillai and Abu Abraham. Abu’s daughter Aysha who lives in Bengaluru. provided the original framed cartoons for this. We also featured new and upcoming cartoonists. Now we are holding our 191st exhibition.”
IIC started foundation training workshops for aspiring cartoonists and over 500 participants including women and children have enrolled till date. Some were excellent and they were given free space in the gallery to exhibit their work.
Maya Kamath Memorial Award, in honour of Maya Kamath, a well-known cartoonist, was given every year until 2021. This attracted entries from both within India and abroad. These also inspired cartoonists to participate and encouraged the younger generation all over India to draw cartoons.
Shankar had given V G Narendra some books by David Low, the famous political cartoonist from New Zealand who lived and worked in the United Kingdom. This was used to start a library and later supplemented by books given by other people. The library now has over 3000 books, some of them very rare ones. After the library became well known, university students involved in research came from Kolkata, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Coimbatore and other places to refer to these books.
In addition, V G Narendra said, “We have built an archive of cartoons in the institute. Starting last year, we have started publishing Cartoonists India, an annual publication.”
Barton Son & Co Pvt Ltd , started in 1861 on MG Road, sponsored the Barton Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022. The first was given to Ajit Ninan who passed away recently. This year Jayantho Banerjee from Hindustan Times was honoured.
V G Narendra said, “I have invested a lot of my time in this effort to help cartoonists and encourage this form of art. Now I’m 75. I’m happy with what I have done but we have to expand to house more galleries for newcomers, international cartoonists and so on. An international travel company made a video of seven unique facts of the city and included us in it. This prompted international visitors to visit the gallery. People have supported and embraced the idea”.