• ‘Return to the Kalahari’: A Graphic Novel | Bangalore, India — Capetown, South Africa

    'Return to the Kalahari' is part of the 'Heroes Project', a collaboration between the Law+Environment+Design Laboratory (LEDLaboratory) and the organization Natural Justice.


    'Return to the Kalahari' poster.

    “The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there’s something lacking in the normal experiences available or permitted to the members of his society. This person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a going and a returning.”  - Joseph Campbell, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces".

    The hero’s journey as articulated by mythologist Joseph Campbell is what inspired the Heroes Project. After a year and a half of working on the project at the Law+Environment+Design Laboratory (LEDLaboratory), as I reflect on the journey that I set on, it feels like a hero’s journey in itself, a journey of separation, initiation and return. A few back and forth emails became my ‘call to adventure’. I separated from the world that I was familiar with, and entered into an entirely new universe: stories of people I didn’t know, lands I had never seen, and learning from people I had never met was what prepared for the next stage. In September 2013, I set forth on a journey to South Africa, crossing my threshold and setting foot into a new land. And thus began my initiation, and with the help of mentors and guides I was able to navigate my way through this new land, get answers to my many questions and gather stories from the people.

    Abhishek presenting the project in Bangalore, 07/11/14.

    In October 2013 we conducted a workshop to capture stories from youth of the Cape Flats, a neighborhood of Cape Town. Most of these stories were personal, stories that never got talked about, or that get lost in the noise around them. With stories gathered, we had the task to build a narrative.  We began the process of character designing for a comic book. These characters started to acquire personalities, visual identities and life stories. After months of writing and illustrating, we had the Origin Story. The graphic narrative “Return to Kalahari” is first of a series of five, titled ‘The Hoerikwaggo Chronicles’.  The stories are layered with inspirations from real world issues faced by the youth of the Cape Flats, from Khoi-San mythology, and from historical events and people, all woven with fiction.

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    Illustration from the comic book.

    After almost a year since my last visit to South Africa, we took the work back to where it all began, for blessings and feedback; this was the point of my ‘return’. The first showing of the book was in the marketplace at the Open Book Comic Fest in Cape Town, one of the World Design Capital 2014 events. Our next stop was the Cumulus Conference in Johannesburg: “Design for the other 90%.” This was the first time such a conference was hosted in the African continent. This gave us an opportunity to look at the really underrated but potent design movement in Africa. Art and design play a significant role in reviving grassroots level economic and social change, and it was encouraging to see people from diverse nationalities and cultures see the potential of the power of storytelling. Storytelling manifests itself in multiple forms and hence can be easily adapted to various media, to address the issues of communities and ecologies. Through these networks and platforms, we hope to collaborate with art and design institutions to extend and expand the work of The 'Heroes Project’.

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    Abhishek reading from the novel at the Bangalore event.

    As the final event of this visit, we hosted a soft launch at the historic District Six Museum, Cape Town. The project was a deep collaboration and each member of team shared what they are most passionate about in this work. I shared my own experiences and the personal journey that I undertook as I developed the graphic narrative, from character design to illustrations. Every event we went to gave us fresh insights. The Open Book Fest gave us a glimpse into the comic lovers’ perspective, the Cumulus Conference provided us the opportunity to connect with the art and design schools and scholars, while the book launch enabled us to reflect deeply. ‘Return to the Kalahari’ marked my return to Africa, to give back to the people of South Africa the work that holds the rich experiences that they gave me. -Abhishek Choudhury

    Abhishek Choudhury, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, is a recent alumnus of the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India.

    The "Heroes Project" is a collaboration between The Law+Environment+Design Laboratory (LEDLaboratory) and the organization Natural Justice in Cape Town, South Africa. It is housed at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology and it was made possible thanks to the Shuttleworth Foundation.