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Interview with Tara Books

Interview with Tara Books

We are thrilled to add the award winning, Chennai based indie publishing house Tara Books to our milieu of Studios. From their widely known titles in over a dozen languages, we have curated 6 fabulous publications that represent various sections of Indian visual culture from kitsch to folk. Editorial Director of Tara Books, V. Geetha chats with us.

KS: What kind of work does your practice specialize in?

V. Geetha: Tara Books is a collective of writers, artists and designers — we publish illustrated books for children and adults. Our visual books span a range of genres: children’s literature, social and art pedagogy, popular culture, photography and art. We’re committed to returning the senses back to the physical book in an age busy writing its obituary. We value experimentation: in content, design and production. We also like to enhance the quirky pleasures of reading, for both children and adults — from picture books for all ages to experimental graphic narratives, we have developed new genres of expression. We work out of a space that we've created for the book and arts called Book Building. It is, however, more than a studio — it houses a bookstore, a small gallery, our publishing house, complete with editorial, design and production departments. In addition, we have a small flat for our art and design residents.

KS: What are some of the challenges you have found being an Independent studio in India?

V. Geetha: As an independent publishing house, with a strong design focus, we have found it both exhilarating and challenging to re-imagine design and art in the context of the picture book, for both children and adults; and also in relation to a book form we've pioneered, the silkscreen-printed book. Exhilarating, because we set of in directions that were entirely uncharted, and so we could experiment with art, text, material, including different kinds of paper, the printing process; challenging because, even as we were experimenting, we were also literally creating a new reading constituency — child readers of books that set out to be distinctly Indian in content, form and art.

Challenging — because we had literally no breathing time here, between idea, experiment, realisation and having to make it all work commercially... and with almost no precedents to fall back on. However, our work with various indigenous art traditions in the Indian context, has more than made up for all the difficulties we've had on practically every count. But we are here, into our 21st year, and looking forward to the upcoming years.

The Indian context is challenging — we have a range of interested readers, but market conditions continue to be both inflexible, in terms of payments to publishers, as well as amorphous, in the way stores adopt marketing strategies that have less to do with the book in question and more to do with entertainment they seek to build around the book. Further, we have almost very little assistance from the government, unlike in say China and whatever there is is not nearly enough or adequate to diverse and complex publishing needs as these have emerged in the Indian context.

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Inside Tara Books' Book Building: Top - Bhajju Shyams Mural and the Outdoor Gallery and the Yellow Dining Area - Photos by Ganesh Ramachandran | Bottom - The Sit out and Book Building from the outside.

KS: Which is your favourite project in the last year and why?

V. Geetha: Knock! Knock!

KS: Tell us more about Matchbook and Signature.

V. Geetha: Both are great design favourites — Matchbook because of the delightful art and Signature because of the profound links the book establishes between art, the artist's sense of her or his lineage and the relationship between art and life. Matchbook has done very well across the world, and we're proud that we've been able to present the cheeky energy of those match labels in context - of the match industry, the labour and working conditions that are present in it, and the world of commerce and art linked to that industry.

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Ideal for anyone into Phillumeny or vintage designs

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Signature is a rich compendium of Gond patterning.

KS: Any future products we can look forward to get out?

V. Geetha: Plenty, watch out for this space — especially Hic! a delightful picture book for children on how to get rid of hiccups; and a gorgeous wordless book, An Indian Beach: By Day and Night. Also two adult picture books — God of Money, which features text by Karl Marx and art by Maguma, an artist from Spain, and an unusual history of the children's picture book — Another History of the Children's Picture Book: from Soviet Lithuania to India.

Fun Stuff about Tara Books
  • Songs that represent the Studio's vibe: Do! and Captain Coconut
  • Quirky items the Studio collects: Scrolls, dolls, postcards, anything that becomes an art object, should you spend enough time with it, such as a cereal box, an old dupatta, horn-rimmed glasses, plastic teeth...

Find Tara Books on Kulture Shop.

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Find Tara Books on Google Maps.

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