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Lavanya Bahuguna


Illustrator Debasmita Tells JWB Why “My Father illustrations” Is For Every Papa & Beti

  • JWB Post
  •  May 5, 2016


Debasmita Dasgupta is an Indian Illustrator based in Singapore. She is the founder of one beautiful initiative called “” in which she promotes girl child rights through engaging fathers and daughters in artistic exchanges. 

She began in April 2013 and has shared nearly 155 stories from 38 countries. What an achievement!

What more? Debasmita has one more project called “Doodle with Dad” under this initiative that has partnered with two community-based organizations in Mumbai to support father and daughter duos from underprivileged communities.

With this doodly-love, Debasmita wants to strengthen the bonds between these fathers and daughters.

In an e-mail interview, she told JWB all about her passion and mission:

JWB: Who is Debasmita?

Debasmita: I am a self-educated artist, an arts-for-change advocate, and a published children’s book illustrator. Inspired by the nature and people around me, I love doodling characters with “shiny eyes” and “innocent smiles”. Doing illustrations to me is like meditation. When I concentrate on the lines and colors, I am at peace with myself.

JWB: Tell us a little about your family and of course, about the relationship that you share with your father.

Debasmita: I grew up in a middle-class family in South Kolkata. Being the only child, I have a very close bond with my parents, especially my father who always inspires me to swim against the current. My dad is a theater actor/director. As a child, I used to accompany him to rehearsals. I remember being completely bowled over seeing him orchestrate the actors to create something that was artistic and had a high social pertinence. Somehow, that became the cornerstone of my creative existence and helped me to discover my purpose as an artist. This gave me an urge do something meaningful with my education, my art, my resources, and surroundings.

JWB: One lesson he taught you that you always keep in your mind.

Debasmita: He always says, “If it is for the truth, never give up!”

JWB: One thing you’ve noticed about the father-daughter relationship that most of us don’t realize/value.

Debasmita: I always say that fathers and daughters are equal owners of “My Father illustrations.” I say this because I have seen that they both can inspire each other. This relationship is not just about how a father wants his daughter to learn and grow. It is also about how a girl sees her father, what she expects from him. During one of the #DoodleWithDad sessions, a 16-year old mentioned how she felt proud of her father when he let her participate in sports despite all odds. I won’t ever forget the sparkle I saw in the father’s eyes when he heard his daughter sharing this with a group of other fathers and daughters for the first time.

JWB: Why do you think the bond between father and daughter is considered special?

Debasmita: A father has a profound impact on a daughter’s existence. Being the first man in her life, his influence starts shaping her self-esteem, self-image, confidence and opinions of men from a very tender age that stays with her in the long run.

JWB: How have you been able to touch the lives of your admirers?

Debasmita: “My Father illustrations” is all about inspiring true tales of fathers and daughters. There are countless occasions when my supporters shared their experiences of having lived the very moments I had illustrated. Many were humbled to see their stories shown. Many admitted walking down the memory road reliving the good moments spent with their fathers and daughters. I think this visceral connection with the audience makes “My Father illustrations” a unique experience.

JWB: How do you handle social projects in India from Singapore?

Debasmita: Singapore is not very far from India – with only 2.5 hours time difference and many strong ties amongst people at both ends. I visit India often, especially Mumbai and Kolkata, where most of my family and friends live. Keeping a physical distance from India also has an effect of a fresh vision and excitement on every return journey. Due to increased online presence of the people, I feel connected to my projects and people at all times.

JWB: Do you have any emotional story (of a father-daughter) that touched you.

Debasmita: Even though they are all special to me I would still like to mention one illustration, which was based on the story of Reshma (name withheld). Reshma is a girl from a village in West Bengal who was trafficked and sold to a brothel in Mumbai. She was rescued by her father, Rezwan Kazi (name withheld), who tried all his means to find her out and bring her back. I have worked on anti-trafficking campaigns, so I know most of the families don’t want to take back the survivors because of societal taboos. When the Kolkata-based organization, Sanjog, approached me and shared this story, I was touched. The colleagues from Sanjog told me that Rezwan was fighting the case for Reshma, and he always says, “Reshma had a beautiful smile, and I will stand by her until she regains her smiling.”

JWB: You’ve mentioned how it all began with Activist Shabana Basij-Rasikh’s story. You illustrated her relationship with her father that went viral. Did you ever get a chance to meet her and talk about your work?

Debasmita: After I illustrated and shared Shabana’s story, I contacted her immediately, and she responded (within hours!). The illustration touched her. That was certainly one of the best moments of my life as I felt a strong connection with a person who I had admired so much. Later we collaborated on a special series of “My Father illustrations” to celebrate Fathers’ Day. Shabana runs SOLA – a school for Afghan girls in Kabul. A bunch of SOLA girls shared their stories that I illustrated and published on “My Father illustrations” Facebook page.

JWB: What is the future of #DoodleWithDad? Will it turn into a full-fledged campaign in near future?

Debasmita: “My Father illustrations” is an illustrated series to promote girl child rights by engaging fathers and daughters through artistic exchanges. These fathers and daughters are not just those who are internet/Facebook savvy. They also include fathers and daughters living in remote corners of the world and who come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. #DoodleWithDad is the way to reach out to those unheard grassroots stories. Therefore, one of the primary objectives of “My Father illustrations” will be defeated if I cannot scale-up #DoodleWithDad.

Eventually, I would like to turn it into a long-term campaign, but currently, I don’t have enough funds for that. However, I am hopeful to receive sufficient funds and resources to realize this campaign in the future.

JWB: As a female artist, do you think women have less opportunity as compared to men? Are there any stereotypes? Have you ever faced any stereotype?

Debasmita: I don’t think so. The stereotype is the same for male and female artists, and that is – you are no artist (or art is only your hobby) if you aren’t famous or not earning enough money. Unfortunately, art and artists are still not valued as much as they deserve. I don’t think all artists create art keeping a market in mind. For many, creating art in itself is a rewarding experience, and they deserve to be recognized for that.

JWB: Can a career of an Illustrator fetch one enough livelihood?

Debasmita: Yes, but it depends on how you define your livelihood. Physical needs are finite, but artistic needs grow. We must strive to learn incessantly. That is the only way we can grow as an artist. After a point, you realize that inspiration is no longer an excuse to not work. As an independent artist, the growth itself has two key facets – artistic and professional. The challenges lay in using one facet as an advantage to other and not cancel each other out.

JWB: What else do you love apart from exploring the beautiful relationship between father-daughter duos?

Debasmita: I enjoy drawing for children. KATHA and Pratham Books have published two of my books for kids. I also take up freelance illustration assignments with some non-profits including Educate Girls (Mumbai), Voice4Girls (Hyderabad) and Magic Bus (New Delhi). Besides illustrations, I am into photography. I love documenting my travelogues through photos and doodles.

JWB: Which cities do you want to travel to spread the goodness of your art?

Debasmita: Last year, I visited Mumbai (India) and Leiden (Netherlands) to collect My Father stories from the field. Before that the first “My Father illustrations” exhibition took place in Rome (in 2014) organized by the University of Milan and Roma Foundation and supported by UNESCO. These are just small beginnings. There are many moving father-daughters in every city and village waiting to be told. I would love to reach out to as many as possible. And, I would like to make Jaipur my next stop!!!!

JWB: Welcome to Jaipur!… Five things that are always in your handbag (other than your paint brush and colors)?

Debasmita: A sketchbook, a bottle of water, a soft cotton hat, a book (that I am currently reading) and my smartphone (which is my camera on the go).

JWB: Lastly, are you coming up with a book with all your illustrations?

Debasmita: Who knows? Maybe one day!

JWB thinks that there is no better career than letting your passion contribute towards the betterment of the society.

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