The Kadak Collective, an ever-expanding group of South Asian women, non-binary, and queer folk who work with graphic storytelling of different kinds, are now bringing out a unique anthology featuring over 50 creatives, which looks at an ever-changing world from the eyes of a bystander – someone who is present at an event, but doesn’t necessarily takes part.
The Kadak Collective started in 2016 as a response to the call for ELCAF (East London Comic Arts Fest). Since then the team has been working on the zine and comic fest circuit, either selling or setting up reading rooms, as well as working on a few commissions. They did not expect Kadak to get such a favourable response and somewhere last year there was the talk of expanding and including more persons especially since there has been such a boom in comics in India.
Graphic designer and illustrator Mira Malohtra explains, “So many creative people have been using their social media accounts to create articulate, politically aware content and this work is phenomenally beautiful. We wanted to bring them together on a theme everyone could relate to but is relatively less spoken about.
Our initial thought was to bring together gender and space: the private and the public, but as we went along we saw that very recently there has been a lot of that kind of literature. So we further zoomed in into a topic I think is unique to the subcontinent, which is the Bystander which Aarthi Parthasarathy came up with. There is no real translation for it, in South Asian languages, and because of the multitude of identities we have in this small space we call home, every community feels 'othered' or 'others' in some kind of way.”
So many creative people have been using their social media accounts to create articulate, politically aware content and this work is phenomenally beautiful. We wanted to bring them together on a theme everyone could relate to but is relatively less spoken about. - Mira Malohtra
The team deliberately made it a kickstarter project to include more persons, but also pay creatives for their work. And crowd funding, they feel, is a great way to keep control of the vision and fund it. This is very likely to be the first time a project of this sort has been conceived.
Designer Akhila Krishnan adds that this project has multiple aims. As a collective, Kadak has always sought to create a space for new work that amplifies new voices and new modes of authorship, “This anthology represents that step. We’re excited it has both a print and web component - since we do all of our work in online spaces, the web anthology was an important component of the project because it reflects our practice and also because it represents a new approach towards authorship in the publishing space.
As a collective, we say that we are from South Asia and our work is representative of that region - this anthology is also a big step we are taking in realising that, in opening out to voices from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives etc. we are now actively and truly representing a greater diversity of work from this region.”
Malhotra personally thinks that there hasn’t been much interrogation into the role of the 'other' in feminist conversation, even though othering is an important concept, sometimes feeling too abstract and intangible. She sees a desire for accountability in feminist discourse but not sure if we are going the right way about it. Who are these others and why do they turn a blind eye? What's it like from outside to look in?
We wanted to give an accurate view of South Asia, an alternative to the mainstream media's lopsided portrayal.
“So much turmoil is going on in South Asia right now and there is an unprecedented amount of change happening in this area. The cluster of such diverse identities of peoples, questioning their place in the world and their role is massive, and is not being represented correctly, we only hear a handful of voices speaking out for large sums of people who are ignored. We wanted to give an accurate view of South Asia, an alternative to the mainstream media's lopsided portrayal.
Another aspect is that we do this through visuals and strong storytelling- mainly illustration and comics, but also in the web version of the anthology, film and audio. While a lot of what we see politically in this domain is propaganda, what if we turned that on its head? And the visual medium is perfect for helping show nuance. Our contributors come from across gender and sexual identities, locations (South Asia and its diaspora), castes, religions, body types, design practices/media and ability. Their concepts have already shown how many perspectives there can be.”
The team spent several months arriving at their final list of contributors, based on their work and the kind of content that they regularly tackled. Some of that involved the editorial team trying to forecast the kind of concepts their contributors might delve into in the anthology.
Illustrator Shreyas R Krishnan informs, “Every single one of them went above and beyond our expectations for the ways in which ‘Bystander’ can be responded to. Importance was given to including emerging names and voices that are not amplified enough, especially in comics and graphic narratives anthologies. Kadak as a collective has a foot in the door (visibility, access to opportunities), and the larger intent for this anthology is to hold that door open to let more people through.”
While a lot of what we see politically in this domain is propaganda, what if we turned that on its head? And the visual medium is perfect for helping show nuance. - Malhotra
Print is a medium The Kadak Collective loves but they wanted to explore the skills of all kinds of creators in communication, which is why The Bystander Anthology has a web component as well. As Malhotra says, “Print, leaves out filmmakers, web developers, musicians etc. The web version allows for video, audio and moving image, and possibilities with a code to more interactive and experimental modes of communication.”
In the current political climate, where human rights of women and minority communities are at the constant risk of being violated, the creators and curators hope that The Bystander Anthology help readers see a complete picture here. That there's a whole bunch of diverse, all valid, viewpoints represented under the umbrella of this one book and theme which they think has been tackled for the first time, informed by the current scenario in Indian feminism.
“Perhaps change their minds as they get to 'listen' to other people's viewpoints. What I also hope readers will see is the vibrancy and depth by which these communicators use their voice, see value in their work, and give more commissions to these voices because they are some of the most important out there. Lastly I hope this represents a turning point for people in terms of the medium. For them to see genuinely, what graphic storytelling is capable of,” concludes Malhotra.
Image Credit: The Kadak Collective