Do you remember the last time you rode a bicycle? If you live in an Indian metropolitan you probably can’t. The various other modes of faster and more comfortable transportation along with the thought of having to battle your bicycle with aggressively honking cars, buses and taxis is bound to keep you away. In the bargain the this two-wheeled wonder is being forgotten.
Berlin-based Indian artist Allen Shaw is about to change that by reviving the memory of the bicycle in India through his illustrations in his project “Bicycle Stories From India”; that presents the bicycle as used by people from various parts of the nation. Though the project is one of the many Shaw has done on bicycles this is first one that explores the bicycle from the Indian lens, having germinated during the December of 2012 while he was on a bicycle trip-The JOSH project, from Delhi to Udaipur with a German friend. For Shaw his love affair with bicycles began after he went to Europe and became fascinated with the number of people using bicycles there irrespective of their financial or social status and contributing towards the preservation of the environment.
Shaw has been documenting the stories of Indian bicycles through photographs and sketches for sometime now but it is only now that they have started working as references for a series of illustrations. People have also started sending photographs and information about the bicycle culture in India to Shaw for this purpose. To have some sort of harmony through the illustrations in the series he tries to keep the focus on the bicycles and gets rid of the background completely, unless there’s an element that helps the story.
Each illustration in the series has been created in watercolour; a medium Shaw has been using in his art for the past two decades. “I think watercolours are like mischievous children, you want to have them in your control but you don’t mind if they misbehave a little,” says Shaw referring to the non-static nature and of watercolours and their unpredictability that adds “magic” that was not always intended. For example Shaw feels that the emotions in the series comes from the way the watercolours bleed into one another.
Eventually Shaw wants that “Bicycle Stories From India” becomes a project with which he can collaborate with other thinkers and artists who are into creative activism; helping the bicycle become popular in India across different sections of the society and not remain a poor man’s vehicle.
Below are some of our favourite illustrations from Shaw’s “Bicycle Stories From India”
“On the bicycle trip in India I spotted this vegetable vendor carrying his entire shop on a bicycle, and one of the the bundles almost appeared to be like a big heart, the sharp contrast between my fun and adventurous trip and his necessity was something that has remained in my head.”
“Many businesses in India are run on bicycles, surprisingly sometimes bicycles are, used as a trolley, in this case the guy had gas cylinders on both sides of his bicycle and was running in the heat of the afternoon sun, I thought to myself- he’s working hard to keep the stove burning for other homes but how hard it is to keep his own stove burning.”
“These kids were just happy. Though the elder brother a little serious, a little more responsible, the younger one a little naughty, yet obedient. This is a story which has an immediate connect for many of us because at some point we also were either on the seat or the carrier. This illustration is based on a photograph I found on the internet, asked the photographer Achintya Guchhait if I could use it as reference for my illustration and he gracefully agreed.”
The artist credits the girls from Kutch who he saw trying to figure out how to ride a bicycle and Sattarbhai from Rajhastan for the cover image.
To view more of the artist’s work follow him on his Instagram handle here.
If you enjoyed reading this article you might also like: