I first came across Annushka Hardikar’s work through a social media platform where someone had shared visuals of her new zine to bring attention to feminism and the absurd myths around it. The zine titled, Oh Nari! So Sanskari brings to spotlight just that...the taboos we as a society want women to oblige at every step without even keeping the doors open for any exchange. The debate that has recenly opened at so many platforms doesn’t always find a dignified conclusion. What is interesting about her zine is that she has taken characters from the major Sanskrit epic, Mahabharat and has put them against the tribulations of today. She is a graduate from Srishti School of Design, Bangalore and is currently working on a few self initiated projects. She tells me more.
When did your romance with design begin?
When I look at my drawing books from when I was little I see a lot of semblance to the work I do now actually! It all revolves around finding something that's hidden in what we see around. I can see that I always enjoyed telling stories through my sketches, observing and documenting the spaces around me. I chose the Humanities stream in Junior College which gave me flexible hours and hence enough time to work on my portfolio to apply to design colleges. I would say 'design' was introduced to me only after I went to Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. It was all about how to go from creating something pretty to something pretty amazing.
How were the years at Srishti and how did it help make a solid foundation of design in your life?
I went to Srishti interested in film, but somehow was drawn to Illustration and Graphic Design, and ultimately chose that as my specialisation. The first year in Srishti was all about un-learning. This although at the time seemed rather unnecessary, I realized later on how important it is while working on a design project. We all come with out own capabilities, set notions and strengths, but what is most important is how we apply those to provide a design solution. In Srishti we were introduced to elements of design, applications and strategy. We had visiting faculty come in from all around the world which helped us get a world view of design practices. I also had the opportunity to go on a semester exchange to a design school in France and study Graphic Design there. It was I believe one of the experiences that really shaped the work I do now.
You took up familiar yet weird myths among Indian women and put it out for a debate through your zine...what inspired you at first to do something like this?
I was interested in exploring myths and behaviours that have carried through generations in our country. Mythology I felt was one such space from where we have picked up a number of interesting notions and norms which exist even today. I think my primary motive was to understand why we accept certain portrayals or roles of women. During my research I noticed an alarming number of women in this day and age who still conform to patriarchal norms simply because that's how it's always been. The idea of being a modern, liberated woman in the 21st century and still believing in age old representations seemed rather absurd to me, and was something I wanted to challenge through the zine.
How come you chose the famous Mahabharat characters?
The Mahabharata is a story with very interesting characters. They are all very 'human'.. real, flawed, with their own selfish motives. I felt this was a story which should be told for generations to come. The problem was that the epic wasn't relatable to anyone in the millennial generation. This was primarily due to how the characters ( mainly female) were portrayed. By redefining how the women in the epic are represented, I wanted to make them more accessible and relatable to girls and women today by virtue of which the story would be passed on.
What kind of research went into making the zine?
Several stages of research went into making the zine. Initially it was understanding the story, looking at different versions of it and recording how the characters were portrayed. I had to choose whether I wanted to work with all the characters or focus on stories of just a few. I also had to identify traits, characteristics and motives each of them had so as to then adapt them into my own version. I conducted 2 rounds of surveys and interviews with women from my target audience so as to understand how much they knew of the story, whether they felt there was a problem with the way female characters were represented and what they believe are the issues women in India face today. The second stage was research within design. I had to understand what media, material and tools worked best with my content and resonated with my audience. I conducted a number of trials for illustration and typography as well as looked at a number of references before arriving at a final style. At every point I would step back and get feedback on the content, visuals and flow based on which i would make edits.
Have you found your voice now?
I wouldn't say I have found my voice because that is such a finality and I am just starting out. But I do know what kind of work I find most interesting. Designers today have so much power and easy access to people all around the world, I have started to realize the responsibility on us to create work that challenges assumptions and notions and aims to create a more informed community. I thoroughly enjoy creating work that challenges human practices. One example is a children's book I designed to create empathy for other animals (See it here). The work I do also has a lot to do with observation of everyday settings, behaviours and responses. What excites me most is being able to record these as per my perception and probe the viewer to question their own established theories.
What are you working on now and what does 2018 look for you?
I am currently working on a couple of self initiated projects. One is exploring Decorative Typography through botanical motifs. I am also toying with a few ideas for another zine which revolve around graduation and the much dreaded 'adulting'. 2018 will be a lot about self-initiated work, re-designing my website, travel a lot more and also look at exploring collaborations with other creatives!