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Questions of Reading and Readership of Pictorial Texts: The Case of Bhimayana, a Pictorial Biography of Dr. Ambedkar

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Bhimayana (2010) is a pictorial biography of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (1891–1956), a very important Indian leader whose struggles and writings about uprooting the caste system from the Indian society have been of crucial relevance for contemporary struggles by dalits and adivasis (tribals) in India. It is in this spirit of Ambedkar’s encounter to the dominant Brahmanical hegemonic forces that the title of the pictorial text under consideration, ‘Bhimayana’, gains relevance – that is, in providing a counter-epic to the dominant Brahmanical, nationalist epic of the Ramayana; it subverts the commonsensical nationalist narrative of what constitutes an epic. The visual narrations in Bhimayana by the well-known Gondi (tribal) artists Subhash Vyam and Durgabai Vyam, have come to challenge the conventional way of storytelling in a sequential format like that of a graphic text along with challenging the way in which image-word texts are generally read. The visual and the verbal arrangements in Bhimayana have shared a different strategy of storytelling which defies marking this text into categories such as ‘comic book’ or ‘graphic novel’. It has brought Gond art to a medium of mass media but only as an exclusive commodity. This paper attempts to address the problems of image-word relationship in the text – Bhimayana, by scrutinizing the challenging reading patterns it has called for. The discussion ranges from inquiries in art-historical studies, to more contemporary aspects of visual culture and mass media in everyday life like graphic novels, comics etc.

Keywords: Gond (tribal) art; caste system in India; image-word relationship; pictorial text; questions of readership; sequential art; story telling; visual narratives; visual vocabulary

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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  • The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice is the official organ of the Writing Purposefully in Art and Design (Writing PAD) network. It offers art and design institutions an arena in which to explore and develop the notion of thinking through writing as a parallel to visual discourse in art and design practice. The journal aims to extend the debates to all national and international higher educational art and design institutions.
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