In Conversation > Gita Wolf, Tara Publications
*An Indian By Design Exclusive*
Tara was my first feature on Indian By Design. I was fascinated by the handmade children’s books they published. My favourite being The Night Life of Trees. The artists from Gond – Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and Ram Singh Urvet – were a revelation. A collective of writers based in Chennai, Tara works with international artists and writers as well as tribal artists, oral storytellers, street and billboard painters. Here we are, in conversation, with Gita Wolf, founder of Tara. Also featuring, a video on how Tara makes their handmade books.
IndianByDesign:How did the idea of Tara germinate? What hurdles did you face reviving Indian art and giving it a new language
Gita Wolf: When I returned to India in the early 90’s I was looking to do something in the area of publishing, after being in academics while living in Germany. I couldn’t find a publishing house I would have liked to join, so thought of starting my own. While talking with friends who lived in the Cholamandal Artists’ village, the idea came up of using traditional art forms for making contemporary books. Tara’s first books were children’s books – and it helped that my son was young at the time, and I was always on the lookout for good Indian children’s literature for him.
The major hurdle was that this sort of thing had not been done before – one of our first books (The Very Hungry Lion) which went on to become a best seller that continues to do well for us, was illustrated in the Warli style of painting. The Lion King had just come out as a film, so that is the kind of comparison we were faced with. The second stumbling block had to do with quality, and price. Quality does come with a price, because good quality paper and printing are expensive. We were also making books by hand, which had never been done on this scale before, and it took a while for this to become as popular as it is now.
IndianByDesign: The art is unlike a regular children’s book. How do children react to them? Or are the readers largely appreciative adults.
Gita Wolf: We have very pre-conceived notions of what children like. What they appreciate is dependent on what they are exposed to. Children are as different as adults – what some children like is different from what others like. We think of the the standard Disney type of art (which can be very skilled and extremely entertaining) as children’s art per se, whereas it is one kind of art. So we do have an appreciative audience amongst children, although it must be said that it requires a discerning adult to introduce them to different art in the first place.
IndianByDesign: Tell me a bit about your workshops. They sound interesting and very involving.
Gita Wolf: We are currently doing a Warli workshop with children at Chennai’s KFI school, with visiting participants also from Olcott school. The visiting artists from Maharashtra teach their technique by seeing and doing. The children are very responsive to this and have the opportunity to create their own Warli art. We create books based on first hand experiences, and this has proved very valuable.
IndianByDesign: What’s next on the cards for Tara?
Gita Wolf:Tara has several new titles coming up. I’m also off to the Frankfurt Book Fair next month, which is always packed-full of exciting new deals and ideas.
Regarded as one of India’s finest independent publishing houses, Tara is based in Chennai, India. To know more about them, visit their website – www.tarabooks.com
Filed under: Indian Art, Indian Graphic Design | 4 Comments
Tags: Gita Wolf, Indian Children's Books, Indian Design, Tara Publishing