How surreal artworks were inspired by Literature

What do James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, H.H. Munro ‘Saki’, Salvador Dali, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Aerosmith, Walt Disney and Tim Burton have in common? Some of their most famous creations have been inspired by characters of a supremely enduring work of literature with an impromptu origin.

No one could have imagined that a nonsense tale spun on a lazy summer day by a mathematics teacher to entertain three young girls on a boating trip over a century and a half ago would go on to become one of the most well-known literary works ever. Or that it would have continuing influence, across not only the genre of fantasy but various media and be adapted to teach about subjects ranging from grammar, orchestras, quantum mechanics as well as attacking contemporary politics and economics.

Discerning readers will by now have identified the work in question, but those who might not have, could need more hints. Where have you read about entering a fantastic land after falling in a rabbit hole, or through a mirror, meeting characters like the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the King and Queen of Hearts, the Jabberwock, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Humpty Dumpty, the White Knight, attended the Mad Tea Party, and a trial to find who stole the tarts? In Lewis Caroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) and its sequel, “Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There” (1871).

The appeal of these two books, by Oxford academic and cleric Charles Luttwidge Dodgson who took the pen name Carroll for them, can be gauged by the fact that they have never been out of print ever since their first appearance, while being translated into nearly 100 languages – Nabokov was the second to translate it into Russian.

As mentioned, they were born out of the tale recited on that boating trip in May or July 1862, which so entranced its audience – Alice,10, and her sisters Lorina, 13, and Edith, 8, the three young daughters of then Oxford varsity vice chancellor Henry Liddell, especially Alice that she requested he write it down for her. Dodgson complied, beginning the very next day. A month later, he told her the plot while on another boating trip and in November that year he began writing in earnest.

Dodgson was thorough in his work, researching the natural history of the animals featured and taking the opinion of other children before he presented Alice a 15,500 word plus hand-written manuscript in November 1864. Even then, he was busy on a more comprehensive work for publication, expanding the work to 27,500 words by adding the episodes featuring the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea Party. It was published in November 1865, with illustrations by John Teniel, the long-time cartoonist with the Punch magazine (and the first from the field to be knighted for his work). “Through the Looking Glass..” appeared six years later.

The stories’ plots are too well-known to repeat but to remember they are not merely an escapist fantasy, but like any classic work, can connote or symbolise different things to different people. Literary experts have detected plentiful allusions to Victorian political and academic matters, most of which is now long forgotten, as well as bountiful examples of word play and puns while mathematicians have teased out various mathematical and logical references and concepts in the narrative, and chess experts a new problem as outlined in “Through the Looking Glass.” And then the distorted worlds seen in a dream came at a time when Sigmund Freud was not even 10 years old!

Alice’s adventures also mark a paradigmatic shift in children’s literature. Not only was it the first example of a children’s book which seeks to entertain rather than teach morals, but the way she enters fantasy worlds has inspired almost every subsequent heroine of the genre – Dorothy into the land of Oz, Wendy (Peter Pan) into Neverland, and the Pevensie siblings in the C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series.

Alice’s adventures have been extensively retold, parodied or have influenced other works, not to mention being adapted into other media – films (Disney’s cartoon and Burton’s live action one being the most famous) , TV and radio shows, opera, plays, paintings, music, comics and manga, video games, and even advertising. Apart from the eponymous heroine, several characters have been used in other stories – the Cheshire Cat in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series for one.

The work has inspired a dozen paintings by Dali, as well as Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” (“Alicious, twinstreams twinestraines, through alluring glass or alas in jumboland?”). And then there is Lennon’s “I am a Walrus”, Aerosmith’s “Sunshine” or Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” as well as Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic “White Rabbit” or Pink Floyd’s “Country Song”.

Not bad for a bored but determined girl who followed a nervous rabbit moaning he was getting late?

(The views are expressed by Vikas Datta, IANS)

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Slovenia honors Tagore’s art

The anniversary of the passing away of Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore will be remembered in Slovenia from August 7, his death anniversary, to September 4, with a unique exhibition of prints of selected paintings by Tagore and his contemporaries provided by the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.

The exhibition displays representative works of Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, along with those of Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Jamini Roy and Amrita Shergil. The uniquely curated exhibition will be on display at the house of culture in the world heritage village of Smartno in the municipality of Goriska Brda on the western border of Slovenia with Italy, according to a statement issued by the Indian embassy in Slovenia.

The village of Medana in the municipality of Goriska Brda was the natal home of poet and jurist Alojz Gradnik, who was the most prominent translator of Tagore’s works into the Slovenian language from 1917 onwards. Gradnik’s translation of “Gitanjali” into Slovenian was published from Ljubljana in 1924. The memory of Gradnik is kept alive by the international festival of poetry and wine at Medana every August and by the “Gradnik evenings” in November each year.

This is the first time that the memory of Tagore is being so honoured in the birthplace of his major Slovenian translator after Tagore visited Yugoslavia in 1926. Slovenia, a country of two million people in Central Europe, is one of the breakaway countries of the original Yugoslavia.

By 1926, the Indian Nobel laureate’s works, translated by Gradnik and others, had generated an unprecedented response in Slovenia. Slovenian identification with Tagore and his people derived from a perceived common goal of striving for political and cultural independence. “One of Tagore’s aphoristic poems has been carved into a signpost in the mountains above the town of Polhov Gradec. Maribor city has installed a bust of Tagore in a central park,” said Sarvajit Chakravarti, the Indian ambassador to Slovenia, and the brain behind the exhibition.

The Slovenian ministry of education, science and sports hosted the first commemorative concert of Rabindra Sangeet in Ljubljana on Tagore’s birth anniversary May 7 this year. The municipality of Maribor also hosted an exhibition of prints of paintings by the three Tagores.

Following the widespread influence of Indian spiritual ideas in the West, British art teacher Ernest Binfield Havell attempted to reform the teaching methods at the Calcutta School of Art by encouraging students to imitate Mughal miniatures. Havell was supported by Abanindranath Tagore, a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. Abanindranath painted a number of works influenced by Mughal art, a style that he and Havell believed to be expressive of India’s distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the “materialism” of the West.

The mantle of the Bengal school was taken up by Santiniketan, a university focused on the preservation and uplift of Indian culture, values and heritage, which Rabindranath Tagore established. It included the art school Kala Bhavan, founded in 1920—21.

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The history of Queen Victoria is fading, so shall your pride!

Three statues of Queen Victoria are lying in a public park in Agra with no security cover even after the vandalism in Mathura museum when three persons damaged a statue of the Queen. The statues were earlier lying in the open ground in the Fire Brigade office complex and were lifted by a crane to be placed in the Taj Municipal Museum.

However, the Agra Municipal Corporation will need to construct pedestals with canopies because of their size. But the civic body lacks resources for these. Rajiv Saxena, a conservationist, told media, “These were installed in 1905 in the Victoria Park, now named Shah Jahan Garden. The three statues of Queen Victoria one as head of the British Empire, one as religious head with a Bible and the third as a warrior or protector are heritage pieces and need to be preserved.”

The matter has been brought to the notice of district magistrate Pankaj Kumar who informed media that, “Yes, it is important, something will be done.” Social activist Harvijay Bahia of the Agra Vikas Manch stated that, “It’s really sad, but we will all get together and provide suitable platforms with canopies and take care of the statues. The heritage of the city is a matter of pride for us.”

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Bangla Cartoon Exhibition displayed the history of humor

Poking fun at politics or a satirical take on socio-economic happenings, Maya Art Space hosted the Bangla Cartoon exhibition that showcased characters and cartoons made between the years 1872 and 2014. Curated by Debdutta Gupta, some of the well-known artists whose works will be on display include names like Asit Kumar Halder, Rabindranath Tagore, Amiya Ghosh, Sukumar Ray, Dinesh Ranjan Das, Debabrata Mukhopadhyay and Satish Chandra Sinha among others. The show will be curated by Debdutta Gupta. A diverse array of cartoons spanning nearly 150 years by masters of the art as well as famed modern artists from West Bengal was on display that began August 8 went on till August 16.

“We have showcased works by as many as 35 classic artists and 17 living modern-era cartoonists from 1872 to 2014. The exhibits would be arranged in two parts – ‘The Early’ and ‘The Contemporary’,” Madhuchhanda Sen, owner of Maya Art Space informed.

One look at the bouquet of the framed pictures culled from newspaper clippings, magazines and collections gave the viewers an idea of the caricatures, sketches and variety of techniques and art forms used through the decades. The event also included documentary screenings and discussions by contemporary artists. The exhibition identified more than 150 cartoonists who made their presence felt over the decades. The curator putting together this age old history of humor brought to the front the inspiration behind these caricatures! 


A throwback at the Five Best Possible Novels written on India and its Values

 At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the first Prime Minister of our Nation, Jawaharlal Nehru, said on 14th August 1947,midnight, India will awake to life and freedom. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. As we commemorate this landmark oration addressed to the world in 1947, let us take a look at the Five Best Novels describing India, its struggle and the milestones achieved, and the ancient history!

1) Thalassa Ali, A Singular Hostage:

Thalassa Ali, A Singular Hostage

This book is about an Englishwoman who risks everything to rescue an Indian baby and becomes involved with his family of Muslim mystics; #1 in the Paradise trilogy.

2) Gary Worthington, India Treasures: A Novel of Rajasthan and Northern India Through the Ages:

India Treasures A Novel of Rajasthan and Northern India Through the Ages

Also, titled as The Mangarh Chronicle in India, a series of novellas set in various periods of Indian history from the time of the Buddha on, linked by a story set in the 1970s involving a search for treasure in a fortress; self-published.

3) The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 by William Dalrymple:

The Last Mughal

William is an award winning historian and travel writer. The Last Mughal talks about a culturally diverse and rich soceity during the rule of Bahadur shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor. In 1857, the first war against the British (known popularly as the Sepoy Mutinee) marked the end of the Mughal rule. William lists the manner in which these events unfolded and the impact it had on the country – both politically and culturally. His writing style and flair for capturing insights makes this book a must-read.

4) India: A history by John Keay:


John Keay is an English journalist and author specialising in writing popular histories about India, often with a particular focus on their colonisation and exploration by Europeans. In “India: A history”, John provides a panaromic view starting from the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro of the Indus Valley civilizations all the way to the current modern India. This book is considered by many as a perfect textbook for any student of India.

5) The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor:

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

The Great Indian Novel is a satirical novel by Shashi Tharoor. It is a fictional work that takes the story of the Mahabharata, the epic of Hindu mythology, and recasts and resets it in the context of the Indian Independence Movement and the first three decades post-independence. Figures from Indian history are transformed into characters from mythology, and the mythical story of India is retold as a history of Indian independence and subsequent history, up through the 1980s.

P.S. Hope you enjoy reading these books! Happy Independence Day India

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