This Zine was created as part of a class assignment for the course called Mapping to Understand Complexity (Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore). The course required us to listen to Stud Terkel's Radio Archives which were made available to us by its manager, Allison Schein Holmes, and through them, map the city of Chicago from the perspective of an outsider/tourist.
The idea of mapping Chicago, a city some 8000 odd miles away from where I live, a city I have never visited and only know very little of, seemed rather daunting at first. From the very beginning, I felt a constant need to draw parallels between the life in Chicago (from the little I learned) to that of my immediate environment, and the many cities I have visited/lived in, in India.
Mumbai is one such city where the slums exist alongside well to do localities and often in isolation due to income inequalities, lack of proper education, caste, and class-based discrimination, and improper political intervention that invariably leads to the ghettoisation of communities. I felt this segregation bears a stark resemblance with that of Chicago’s north-southwest, the white-black disconnection that draws its roots from the strict race-based divide.
What I eventually realised through this comparison though, is that the human condition is fairly universal, the cause might be different but the outcome as feelings of happiness or pain is experienced the same way, whether in Chicago or here in India... I believe that it is not the many cultural differences but the similarities in our struggles and the stories we share that bind us together and help us empathise with those who may otherwise appear physically distant from ourselves.
Perhaps, this is when I decided to don a literary and artistic lens to map this faraway place and propitiously chanced upon the radio archives of the famous Chicago-based cartoonist, songwriter, and poet Shel Silverstein. Silverstein’s philosophy that comes through his writings and art speaks to generations across the globe and helps break the idea of us and them.
By engaging with his works and his ideas on violence, authenticity, creating art, his teachings on how to function despite the problems, I am trying to visually and sentimentally map the artist’s life and rediscover the universality of the place through him.
I believe my work would be of importance to anyone who has grown up reading books by Silverstein or to those who wish to get introduced to his works. It will also serve as an inspiration to the many artists and art enthusiasts who seek to delve into the world of Uncle Shelby and the rich legacy he has left behind.
Through the process of mapping, I wish to find thematic reccurrences in the poems, cartoons, songs, and conversations of Silverstein and stitch them together as individual pieces that explore the ideas of simplicity, authenticity, art, children’s books, self-expression, etc. I would like to create a zine/small book called ‘Uncle Shelby’s Letters from Heaven’ as a tribute to Shel Silverstein and a small gift to his many admirers around the world.