Tales of the tribes: animation as a tool for indigenous representation

Tara Douglas recently completed a PhD at the Centre for Digital Entertainment, an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training.

In India, the animation industry is dominated by commercial animation produced for the outsourcing market, with the USA providing the largest market for animation. As a result even the animation that is produced in India for national broadcast delivers a particular Western universalized aesthetic targeted at mainstream audiences. Local animation production that has cultural relevance to the diverse indigenous communities in India is considered untenable, resulting in the absence of indigenous representation in the animation medium in India.

According to the 2011 census the tribal population is just over 84 million or 8.2% of the total population in India. These indigenous communities are experiencing the impact of change and the need to adapt to the modern world. However they are now receiving unprecedented exposure to commercial television programmes including animation. The young generations now cite popular Hollywood blockbuster animation films as their favourite films. Parallel evidence shows that these young people are also losing touch with their own rich heritage of oral traditions. The power of the media for normalizing ideas and emotions and mobilizing action shows how the absence of indigenous representation in India is problematic: the ever expanding viewing of animation by Indigenous children arguably reinforces the assimilation of non-indigenous values that are at odds with their own cultural paradigms and so increases alienation from their own community heritage. This has led to the two questions of my research: Can animation be used to reconnect the young generation with existing cultural forms and practices? And if so, in what ways can indigenous art and culture be adapted to the medium of animation?

My research, "Tales of the Tribes: Animation as a Tool for Indigenous Representation" is a practice-led doctorate, supported by the EPSRC, in which I have explored collaborations with specific local communities and used participatory film-making practices to engage five different groups of Indigenous artists and participants based in the North East and Central India to reinterpret a sample collection of their oral folktales into short animation films. These sample films are "Manjoor Jhali" (the story of the creation of the peacock) from the Pardhan Gonds of Madhya Pradesh, "Man Tiger Spirit", "Abotani" from Arunachal Pradesh, "Nye Mayel Kyong" from Sikkim and "Tapta" from Manipur. In the process, experimental animation techniques have been combined with computer technology to produce animation that connects more closely with Indigenous artistic styles and art forms.

The impact of this work has been to involve more young artists in animation from the context of indigenous culture. The young participants now recognise that animation can be a tool for them to sustain their own narratives for their younger generations as well as providing a way for them to communicate their stories to other audiences. It is hoped that this research will also have impact on policy so that government support can be targeted at continuing this work of using animation as support for indigenous cultures.

For our local partner in Arunachal Pradesh in North East India, animation was not only a way of preserving culture, but of reinterpreting it so that culture acquired contemporary relevance for the young generation: I thought that it was a very good way of trying to communicate to a larger audience in an interesting way. The problem is really that culture has become a very boring and traditional word. People think of culture as 'we need to preserve culture, museumize it', so this workshop was for me something to make it relevant, make it contextual and make it accessible.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Tara Douglas
Organisation: Centre for Digital Entertainment

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