Demystifying social science through creative storytelling
Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics Abhijit Banerjee hosts Visiting Artist Sarnath Banerjee (no relation) to create a novel medium that bridges the gap between the social science discourse of academia and the loud, inchoate, but intuitive expressions of everyday life. They both share a conviction that story-telling is essential to social science as a method to reexamine the key ideas—such as poverty and efficiency—used to justify policies that can have disastrous and far-reaching effects.
Sarnath Banerjee’s residency at MIT consists of a series of workshops with the MIT community to explore themes of water and the environment through storytelling. “When the Floods Recede: Water Wars of Delhi” aims to create a multi-character micro soap opera around water-related intrigues played out in South Asian cities. Set against the backdrop of the fictitious Water Wars of Delhi, the dystopian tale of urban warfare explores the universality of environmental crises relevant to urban settings in the developing world.
Through these workshops, they aim to examine the social and economic impacts of water crises and showcase the synergistic and creative outcomes of collaboration between social scientists and artists.
Sarnath Banerjee is a visual artist, an author of graphic fiction, and a publisher. He is from Kolkata and has lived in Berlin since 2011.
Banerjee’s work makes use of a surreal style, combining humor and realistic drawings with subtle caricaturing elements. He aims to tell the everyday stories of Indians in a way that emphasizes the tone rather than the factual reality of events. Though he draws upon Western modernism, his work is saturated with contemporary Indian culture, including untranslated phrases in Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, as well as inside jokes about ethnic rivalries. He incorporates black-and-white ink sketches and photographic images drawn from Indian magazines, advertisements, and film posters for a collage-like effect.
All Quiet in Vikaspuri (2015), Banerjee’s most recent graphic novel, connects the issue of water shortage to the lives of everyday people. It depicts an apocalyptic battle for water in the drought-plagued city of Delhi and a man’s journey to the center of the Earth in search of the mythological river Saraswati.
Banerjee is the author of three other graphic novels—Corridor (2004), The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers (2007), and The Harappa Files (2011)—as well as a 17-episode comic series, The Hindu, which takes place in Berlin. His books have been published by Penguin and HarperCollins India, and have provided the momentum for a new wave of Indian graphic novelists.
Banerjee’s illustrations and films are exhibited internationally, including Gallery of Losers commissioned by the Frieze Foundation in 2012 for the London Summer Olympics and displayed on billboards around the city.
September 15–25, 2019
“Whether he’s observing the transformation of Delhi’s historic Hauz Khas village, studded with ancient tombs and mosques, into a wealthy residential area or the ‘global Brooklynification’ felt from Bombay to Berlin, [Banerjee is] always telling the story of his country’s abortive coming of age.”
– Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, The New Yorker: A Graphic Novelist Captures the Paradoxes of Living in the “New India”
ArtMag: Sarnath Banerjee: Forays Through Berlin, 2013
The Times of India: A Loser’s Spirit is not as Vulgar as the Killer Instinct, July 2012
Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics