A graphic artist and designer, Orijit Sen studied at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, in the 1980s. His 1994 book, River of Stories, addressed the environmental and socio-political issues surrounding the controversial construction of a dam on the Narmada river, and the subsequent movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan. It is widely considered to be one of the first graphic novels of India. Sen and his wife Gurpreet Sidhu also co-founded People Tree, a collaborative shop, art space and studio, in 1990. He is also a visiting professor at Goa University. Sen’s work is diverse. It includes a mural at the Virasat-e-Khalsa in Punjab, to a t-shirt design currently featured at an exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum and a multimedia project, Mapping Mapusa Market, which seeks to explore and document the complex life of Mapusa, a public space in Goa. Sen is perhaps best known for his controversial political cartoons, which he posts on his Facebook page. One such cartoon, titled Punjaban, an illustration of a half-dressed Punjabi woman, was recently removed by Facebook after it was reported as offensive. The illustration was restored after protests from various social media users.
In this conversation with Samira Bose, an intern at The Caravan, Sen discusses the origins and inspirations for his politically subversive art, social media as an emerging arena for popular politics, and his views on the current dispensation.
Samira Bose: Your work often contains socio-political themes. Did you always want to create such artwork?
Orijit Sen: There are different aspects to my work. Some is more overtly political in that it addresses particular issues that are more cartoon oriented because my work spans from murals to comic books to cartoons to textile design. People Tree is kind of an expression of arts practice, design art and crafts, practice a broader sense, not restricted to a particular medium. There are many different facets to my work but there are certain underlying concerns with community, with context and as well as with the social significance and the place of art in society.
I’m going back to a point in time as a design student, and how design is defined as a practice where you as a designer respond to the expectations of your client and you’re not responding to what’s happening in society, you’re responding to what your client brings to you. I always felt a need to push outwards from that limited context.