The graphic, disrespectful and political visual artist Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s graphic strip “Meanwhile in Kerala” shows different aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak in Kerala in one picture. Started on his Instagram account @unnikrishna on March 9th, it’s a satirical account of how people are dealing with the problem.
After working as a digital specialist for a multinational payment company in Bahrain for the past 27 years, UMD cheekily takes up the contemporary political and social life in Kerala. As an alumnus of the College of Fine Arts, UMD describes itself as a “designer and visual artist with a different language”. He mixes typography, drawings and jokes in English and Malayalam.
Excerpts from an email interview with the artist …
How long have you been doing “Meanwhile in Kerala” and why did you start?
It all started with social media from 2008. As a visual artist, it is essential to show the work you have created. I started creating a verbal-visual expression of a single word in Malayalam that we often use in our daily life. Some had trouble reading it, others ignored it, but I passed it on. I called it “strange word picture”. And it has evolved over time.
Editorial friends of Malayalanadu The Online Web Journal was interested in sharing my work on their website and I have committed to creating my different graphics almost every week. I got used to seeing the daily news after work, and that motivated me to create a visual image that was very much in line with my graphic and visual skills. But I have retained my strong interest and sense for visual elements and have never compromised. No tracing and no reworking; All of my work is only organic as it comes out. At first there was no reaction to my work. But I kept going. Engaging, ignoring or doing whatever you want has been my policy and I am still there.
I (still) reacted to Kerala’s political-cultural moments in the square boxes of Instagram. There are no out-of-the-Instagram claims here! Visually very typographical and sometimes pun intended, reactions, reactions and rarely repulsive but divergent comments on the eventful everyday life of Malayalis in Kerala and around the world.
This live collection of graphic messages explores the daily life of Malayalis, which has occupied, changed or influenced the key moments created by Malayalis!
Their most recent are concerned with the change in Malayali’s life due to the COVID-19 outbreak. How much time do you spend with it and what motivates you to do it?
As always, we didn’t put much effort into it and waited for it [Coronavirus] To reach Kerala. I was like that too, because I only focused on topics in Kerala and then the news came that there were three people from Italy and their activities in Pathanamthitta. Because COVID-19 is an infectious disease, I kept watching how it spread around the world and how Malayalis took it.
As the news unfolds, I start with the headline and based on that my picture follows very organically. I spend about two to three hours on a post because I do a lot of editing myself before it’s published. So sometimes it can take longer.
Why do you call yourself the “designer of dissent”?
That is still my aspiration. We know how great designs successfully sell big, fat lies, and we also know the whole process of selling, branding, and marketing that each design is usually. The advancing power of political graphic design – especially in these times of disagreement – is a spark of awareness of human life, social justice and the struggle for exercise.
First of all, however, we need to recognize that designers are problem solving professionals, not just people who make things look good and glamorous. It is our responsibility to question, challenge, and communicate, and if necessary contradict, the problem to protect the freedoms and interests that we value so much.
We create visual and verbal cultures that resonate with others and that can only be achieved within a culture that welcomes dissent. However, it is important that “design dissent” is about improving situations, because design should ultimately be about improving things and not spreading hatred. So my aspiration as a designer of dissent is an ongoing process that develops as society changes.
Do you have plans for a book or e-book for “Meanwhile in Kerala”?
Of course I’m waiting for a publisher. Suggestions are welcome.