Kumbh Mela

"Sadhu (Hindu holy person) at Maha Kumbh Mela"  by Kris G Hariharan

Kris Hariharan reached out to me around the same time that my long time colleague and friend Darrol Bryant first told me about the Kumbah Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. Bryant has made the pilgrimage three or four times over his lifetime, and of course I was fascinated to hear that the friends who host him each time are the very same who hosted George Harrison and Ravi Shankar at their ashram back in the 1960s.

Hariharan’s work is compelling and you’ll see it in Bryant’s piece "Kumbha Mela," and of course, right here with this interview.

A\J: You exhibit a wide range of artistic talent and passion – photography, painting, and cartoon. Which inspired you first?

KH: I would say the world around has always intrigued me and I have persisted in expressing my inspiration through various forms of art. As a curious six-year-old, my father’s sketches fascinated me. Later on as a teen, I started following editorial cartoons and tried to teach myself to sketch, doodle, cartoon and paint abstract art. I also stumbled upon photography as I traveled across India documenting culture and contemporary issues. What draws me to art is its power to take transformational ideas to people and maybe even cause a small dent in the world.

"Kumbh Mela" by Kris Hariharan

A\J: What first made you aware of environmental issues? What put the fire in your belly?

KH: I frequently feel overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions: anger, sorrow, annoyance, guilt and most fundamentally, a deep sense of responsibility to preserve nature.

As a child, I experienced scarcity of water in the locality I grew up. I recollect water purchased in plastic containers, biweekly, conserved and used very diligently. Coincidentally, my residence was situated behind a lake, which flooded during the rain season and became very dry in summer. Intermittently seeing water around, yet unfit to drink, made me realize the importance of water and its impact on civilization.

I vaguely remember another incident involving waste dumping, primarily non-biodegradable materials. The notion of sorting waste was regrettably missing back then. Moreover, each residence was equipped with a makeshift mini-landfill in their back yards, lending to the overall stench. I recall now the amount of plastic and other non-biodegradable waste deposited around the area by a small negligent community.

"Equality" by Kris Hariharan

Some of these memories have stayed with me for a long time. While I have consistently made conscious efforts as an individual to create change, I realize I can reinforce ideas of environmental sustainability in the larger society using different art forms.


A\J: When did environmental and social justice themes start infusing your art? Which came first?

KH: I recollect the time I scribbled abstract lines and curves to vent out ideas that often resulted in an empty squiggle. Soon, my personal experiences with the state of our environment drew me closer to connecting art with purpose. I have come to see art as visual metaphors, and believe they can be powerful weapons to bridge the gap between thought and action. I attempt to combine my artistic skill, hyperbole and humour to question existing paradigms, narrate impressionable stories and draw attention to contemporary issues among readers.

A\J: Who are your artistic influences?

KH: I drew inspiration from several cartoonists such as Chris Madden, David Levine, Mike Keefe, Dave Granlund and R.K. Laxman to name a few. I have always loved work by James Natchwey and Steve McCurry for their distinct photography style. I studied their fundamental approach, thought process and basic workflow.

"Water Tree" by Kris Hariharan


A\J: What are you working on now?

KH: Currently, I am engaged in a mobile art project, which I call “Augmented Art.” The process involves overlaying doodles over pre-shot photographs. The idea is to provoke viewers to visualize art around them. I am also working on a painting project to depict 10 mythological incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Every morning, I start my day with a quick doodle, which I publish on my Facebook page and on my website.

I also intend to venture into animated cartoons that express powerful social, environmental and political ideas to young students.  In the long run, I intend to promote and educate readers on environmental and social ills through graphic narrative books filled with fictional characters and tales. 

"New Buddy on the Block" by Kris Hariharan


Marcia Ruby interviewed Kris Hariharan in January 2017.

Follow Kris on his Facebook page and website.

Marcia Ruby is the publisher emerita and creative director of Alternatives Journal.

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