In college I read a shortened translation of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, all text and no illustrations. I remember it captured my attention, but it also felt a little strange to take in the story without visuals. I was more used to seeing it performed by dancers, or actors on the small screen, and also in comics, thanks to my parents taking me to cultural programs, thanks to my grandmother (named Sita) who watched the epic in installments via video rentals, and thanks to a gift I received one summer in India, a volume of Amar Chitra Katha comics.
A new art exhibition brings together those different ways (and many others) of experiencing the Ramayana visually, with a focus on four characters from the epic: Rama, Sita, Hanuman and Ravana. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum hosts The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe from October 21, 2016 through January 15, 2017. In addition to the paintings, sculpture and other objects of art on display, the exhibition has scheduled a number of programmed events. These include the screening of G. Aravindan’s Kanchana Sita on opening weekend, an eco-cinema telling of the epic by artist Anuj Vaidya on December 10-11, plus Balinese, North Indian and Cambodian dance performances.
This weekend, on November 5, the museum offers an interactive event with five local illustrators who were invited to reimagine the epic with a contemporary San Francisco spin (one envisioned Ravana as a tech titan). Four illustrators (Jon Adams, Wesley Allsbrook, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Andrea Nguyen) drew key episodes and the fifth (Sanaa Khan) designed the poster for this comic zine-style limited edition version of the epic. Get a glimpse of their work in the images below:
Meet Ravana, mighty king of demons. He’s a loathsome yet complicated foe. “I liked thinking of him as a sort of abstracted tech prince,” says illustrator @WesleyAllsbrook of her ten-emoji-headed take on our villain. Meet Wesley and the other #DrawingRama artists in a special Q&A at the museum this Sat, Nov 5, AND see the exhibition that inspired it all. 😥😫😠😬😊😑😍😆😵😏
Meet Hanuman! 🐵 Our Mr. Monkey warrior, he’s the resourceful monkey ally of Rama and a god in his own right. In India, people think of him as a celibate servant, devoting his entire life to Rama. In Southeast Asia, he’s known to be the ultimate ladies’ man and an incorrigible woo-er. Here’s a funky monkey fact: Hanuman has become the patron saint of wrestlers, and is represented as increasingly buff. #DrawingRama artwork by Andrea Nguyen. A designer, illustrator and RISD ’13 grad, Andrea currently works at Airbnb in San Francisco where she gets to make fun things and snack a lot. This limited-edition comic is also available in our museum store. A photo posted by Asian Art Museum (@asianartmuseum) on
Meet Rama, the hero of our story. Brave, virtuous, handsome, he’s a total heartthrob. Prince Rama is an incarnation of the god Vishnu and, like the deity, sports blue- or green-toned skin. Armed with a mystical bow and arrow, you can find him ridding the world of demons and searching the world over for his beloved wife, Sita. Learn more about our hero in the #RamaEpic, opening this Friday. #DrawingRama artwork by Jon Adams, a San Francisco based artist currently writing “The Enchanted Tiki Room” for Marvel. This limited-edition comic will be available in our museum store.
Meet Sita from the Ramayana epic: Prince Rama’s beloved who is an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. Sita embodies beauty and, above all, quiet courage. After following Rama into exile, she is later abducted by the demon king, Ravana. Learn more about our heroine in our upcoming exhibition, the #RamaEpic, which opens Oct 21. … … … #DrawingRama artwork by @hellophia, a cartoonist, illustrator and former Google doodler. This limited-edition comic will be available in our museum store. A photo posted by Asian Art Museum (@asianartmuseum) on
Righteous vengeance, eternal love and everlasting friendship? We’ve teamed up with five Bay Area illustrators to bring the #RamaEpic to life through a limited-edition offset comic book with a contemporary, San Francisco spin. On Nov 5, meet them at the museum for a special Q&A and hear their inspiration behind the tale. #DrawingRama
* * *