Debasmita Dasgupta is an artist from India, based in Singapore. She run an arts-based initiative to promote the rights of young girls through a creative dialogue process that engages fathers and daughters. Dasgupta collects stories from fathers and daughters around the world and illustrates them, a project that has seen her illustrate over 150 stories from more than 36 countries since 2013. And this summer she introduced a new chapter to the project: “Doodle with Dad”. Partnering with community organizations, Dasgupta is bringing together fathers and daughters from underprivileged communities in Dahisar & Vikroli (in Mumbai) to talk and doodle.
We recently sat down with the creative artist to discuss the inspiration behind her project and her vision moving forward.
What inspired you to launch your project My Father illustrations? And how did Doodle with Dad come about?
It was a Sunday afternoon in 2013 when I heard Shabana Basij’s TED talk. I was completely bowled over. I watched it again and again over the next few days. Her honesty, simplicity and power of narration moved me. Shabana grew up in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. Despite all odds, her father never lost the courage to fight for her education. He used to say, “People can take away everything from you except your knowledge”. Shabana’s story gave me a strong impulse to do something but I didn’t know ‘what’ and ‘how’. That’s when my red sketchbook and pencil caught my eye. Before I’d even realized it, I had taken my first step. I illustrated my first father-daughter story – Shabana’s story. And my journey started. I kept looking for moving father-daughter stories from across the globe. Some I found, some found me. With every discovery, my desire to create art for people kept growing. Till date I have shared over 150 stories from 37 countries through “My Father illustrations” Facebook page.
After the success of My Father illustrations initiative on the social media, I decided to expand the scope of my work by collecting stories from the communities directly. So I stepped out of the orbit of the Internet and started “Doodle with Dad (DwD)” in 2015. By DwD, I go to the communities and bring together fathers and daughters to share and illustrate their stories. Sometimes they share a specific experience and sometimes a piece of advice. I urge them to use art as a means to express these ideas. In August 2015, I facilitated the first two DwD camps pairing up with India-based non-profits, Magic Bus and Leher. At first, I wasn’t sure how the communities would respond.
But I was amazed when these fathers, who did not come from very privileged backgrounds, had so much ambition, respect and emotional understanding towards their daughters. They wanted their daughters to find the best education and find happiness by serving their communities and lead by example for many younger girls in the community.
What cause are you supporting and why is it so important to you?
In many countries, girls are vulnerable due to lack of education, economic disempowerment and gender bias. Issues such as female foeticide, child marriage, verbal or physical abuse and sexual exploitation are common. The challenges however, are not limited to marginalized communities. The ever-shrinking number of women in corporate boardrooms and nation’s top governing positions is an indication of how little we have progressed when affording basic rights to our young girls. That is where the root of the evil lies. Oftentimes, patriarchy is blamed and punishments are meted out to men violating girls’ rights. These men are systematically excluded from the dialogues and interventions addressing these problems. Unfortunately such exclusion only worsens the problem.
Therefore, I see the urgent need to bring men to the forefront of dialogue. By bringing the positive stories of men – being the agent of success in the lives of their daughters – to the forefront, I am breaking the chain of hatred and blame. My stand is positive since the world needs positive stories to bring down the negative bias.
My illustrations are based on true stories. Every story portrays how a father protects the rights of his daughter and inspires her to become a good person and do better for everyone. The common thread for my illustrations is love, strength and mutual admiration.
Art is an integral part of this mission. Art is healing. It breaks boundaries and creates a direct and emotional connection with people. We see their softer side as art comes in picture. The issues I touch upon are highly sensitive, so I use the healing touch of ‘art’ to communicate my ideas. However, communication through art is still largely underappreciated and underplayed in many societies. We somehow find it hard to justify using art for social change. That is another social bias I aim to break through my initiatives.
Over the past few years, I have created a process to collect the stories and developed my art to express them best. In earlier days of “My Father illustrations”, I would go online and find stories. Now the stories find me. I meet so many people through my work and almost everyone points me to one story or other.
The community organizations I work with help me organize the DwD camps and find participants. They sometimes mediate the conversations due to language differences. Currently, the projects are self-supported however I am looking for funds and grants to scale-up the scope and reach of the projects.
What is your long-term goal with this project?
I want to reach out to every ‘unheard’ father-daughter story that has the power to move the world. I will continue to partner with individuals and organizations to maximize my reach and inspire millions with people’s stories and my art.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I have received hundreds of messages from the followers of “My Father illustrations”. They express awe, inspiration, pleasure, happiness and myriads of other human emotions that are hard to express in words. Many subjects of my stories have expressed gratitude and love. Sometimes a child shares a picture based on one of my stories and it melts my heart. Sometimes a father tells me how beautifully connected they feel to the cause. Many people connect to more stories in their communities and so a chain of positivity has formed where the communities are charged to take action. With every “like” on my Facebook page and every word of appreciation I get in my inbox, I feel more driven towards the cause. Every drop of inspiration means an ocean full of positive waves that keep me moving on.