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In Conversation With Pallavi Datta, An Illustrator And Brand Designer

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Appreciated for her unique style and art, Pallavi Datta is a Creative Strategist and Brand Designer based in London. Pallavi enjoys illustrating, and is one of the illustrators of our title My Big Book Of Kindness. She works with clarity and reason, and has a distinct style of working.  We got a chance to talk to her about her unconventional leadership journey, art, children’s literature, and a lot more. The following are a few excerpts from our conversation.

Katha: Tell us something about the diverse range of experiences you’ve had —from being an illustrator to a Brand Executive. What made you pursue this journey? Are there any highlights that you’d like to share?

Pallavi Datta: While I was doing my undergrad from Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore, I tried my hands on different areas of visual communication — graphic branding design, publication design, illustration, and a bit of motion design. Illustration was something I really enjoyed — a lot of projects gave me a chance to explore styles and concepts, including a semester-long project with Katha, where I came up with a series of children’s books called The First Hellos. It comprised three books that explored the ideas of empathy and friendship. I really enjoyed the process and was thrilled to have one of the poems published in the My Big Book of Kindness.

In the years to follow, working as a graphic brand designer for various studios, my work evolved, but I kept illustrating on the side on cynical digital self-portraits. Illustration became more personal for me and I decided to keep it that way.

Professionally, I realised that I could be a Brand/Creative Strategist because it gave me the chance to collaborate with lots of multidisciplinary designers and dabble in different forms of media while leading projects. I think it has been quite a roller coaster and I’m really excited to see what the future holds!

Katha: What is your idea of a picture book? What do you think makes an illustration powerful for kids?

PD: I think a great picture book doesn’t treat the text and image as two different entities, but combines them in a way to ignite the child’s imagination. Picture books usually have one or two characters that are larger than life, and that takes the child through a journey. It’s more interesting when inanimate objects are brought to life or given a voice; it opens the child’s mind to a non-linear way of thinking and makes the story memorable. This is important, especially at a time and age when the closest relationship we have is to an inanimate object — our phones.

Katha’s My Big Book Of Kindness, co-illustrated by Pallavi Datta.

As kids, books and illustrations are a gateway to an alternate universe, especially in present times as health and safety require children to be within the confines of their homes, without a lot of physical interaction. Books can be an important prompt to learn about things they would have otherwise experienced on playgrounds or in crowded classrooms.

Katha: Unlike the conventional definition of leadership, the poem ‘Me And We’ from our book My Big Book Of Kindness subtly talks about it through the values of empathy, collaboration and equality. What role do you think illustrations play in conveying the message to children? Do you think it’s important for kids to revisit the concept of leadership?

PD: The style of illustration for the particular poem ‘Me And We’ is part digital and part analogue. The combination of a collage and colouring pencils gives it an imperfect touch with a burst of colour that makes it more believable and true to life. The thought and concept of all the illustrations was to bring out playfulness that can be instilled while trying to make children comprehend deeper ethical values. A lot of times, we assume that morals can be “taught” or imposed, but in reality, ethics are way more complex than that.

We need kids to believe in themselves more, and move away from the idea that there can be one central authoritative figure — in friend circles or in politics — we need all kinds of people who can work together because no single person has an answer to fix everything in the world.

Katha: Tell us a little about your artwork. What is your usual style of work? Are there any particular artworks of yours that are your favourites?

PD: I use Adobe Illustrator for most of my artwork. I usually practice a personal style of work, which mostly includes self-portraits that capture moments of reflection, grief, or nostalgia. The pen tool is my tool of choice and I use it to create fluid lines and slightly morphed perspectives with a predominantly pastel palette, covering greens and oranges for the happier ones and neutral tones for the more subdued ones.

This artwork was done by me almost five years ago, but is still impactful for its time. It was inspired by one of Salman Rushdie’s tweets on the ban of cow slaughtering in Maharashtra: “Congratulations Maharashtra: It is now safer to be a cow than a woman, Dalit, Muslim in the state.”

Katha: Let’s talk about inspiration. Are there any artists or designers who have influenced your work?

PD: I have so many favourites and there are lots of talented artists and designers out there! From a publishing perspective, I absolutely love Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian graphic novelist and illustrator — her artwork has such a distinct, powerful style that beautifully combines image and text, almost transporting you to every scene she illustrates.

I think Jacqueline Wilson’s book covers have subconsciously influenced my style — there is always a female character in the centre, with all the elements of her narrative illustrated around her in these morphed shapes and dimensions, which kind of sum up the storyline in a way. Apart from that Wasted Rita, Lisk Feng and Taarika John are some of the illustrators whose works always inspire me. They have very different styles but unique abilities to find joy, humour or melancholy in mundane, everyday situations.

Katha: If you had a piece of advice for budding artists who might be reading this, what would it be?

PD: I would ask every creative person who feels a bit overwhelmed by everything that’s going on right now to keep doing their thing. It’s okay not to know exactly what you want or where you’re headed, but as long as you’re sincere to yourself, it’s all going to be okay!

You can get in touch with Pallavi on her website and Instagram.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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