Allen Shaw is a Berlin based Indian artist. He has been a long term mentor and collaborator with Kaagazi. He recently completed 25 years of sketching and even after years of experience behind him, Allen believes in practicing like a "first year student". His watercolours often capturing nuances of daily life, found expression in the varied occupations and lives of small business run on bicycles in India. While the West is just waking up to bicycle culture, India has always had one yet we never look at our own country for inspiration. Its time we started respecting and celebrating our own culture...Bicycle Stories from India aims to do just that by giving common people and sustainable practices a space in art, design and culture.
It was December 2012 while I was on a bicycle trip (The JOSH project) from Delhi to Udaipur with a German friend that this idea of looking at the Indian bicycle culture germinated. All my previous bicycle trips were in Europe but this one was different, I got a chance to see my own country very differently at a nice slow pace, I met some amazing people and had some unforgettable experiences which has left a deep impact on me. I used to indulge in a lot of talk about the “European Bicycle Culture” before, but this trip brought a whole new perspective, the not so talked about bicycle culture in India surfaced and I thought of doing something about it. Recently a friend from India who was visiting me in Berlin told me, “It’s pretty cool how even the postman in Germany comes on a bicycle”, my reaction was “Hamare yahan haathi pe aata hai kya!”. This was the moment when I realized it’s about time I brought the “ bicycle stories from India” to both the Indian and the European audience through illustrating these stories, publishing books, postcards, posters and hold exhibitions. I started off with sharing some of these stories on social media platforms, then managed to convinve the Indian Embassy to host an exhibition of 30 of these stories which is currently going on.
How is cycling culture in India and Germany different and what you love about both places?
I have been interested in bicycles since my childhood and after coming to Europe I was fascinated to see the number of people using bicycles here, I was pleasantly surprised that this had nothing to do with their financial or social status. Apart from the health and sports aspect, there is also a lot of thought given to the contribution towards the environment, people are “Thinking green“ in the real sense of the phrase. I often wondered why can‘t people think and behave the same way in India. But then that bicycle trip in India which I have mentioned earlier while answering the first question, was an eye opener, I saw many businesses that are run on bicycles, of course it’s a need based action, the bicycle if the most affordable mode of transporting goods and also oneself. Many have argued with me that “ since these people use bicycles because of sheer need you can not call it a culture!” I do not understand that argument.
If you can talk about any one of the illustration stories in detail...
On the bicycle trip in India I spotted this vegetable vendor carrying his enitire shop on a bicycle, and one of the the bundles almost appeared to be like a big heart, the sharp contrast between my (fun & adventure) trip and his necessity was something that has remained in my head.
Future of cycles and your personal attachment to cycling
Well to be honest I think “bicycle is the future!”, the actual “smart cities” have been making space for this two wheeled wonder, not just bicycle lanes but certain areas in the cities are cornered off and no motorized vehicles are allowed. It’s a personal choice for people but I feel at some point it will become a necessity to use bicycles. I live in a big city which gets extremely cold during certain times of the year but then when the sun’s out it’s just perfect to hop on to one and go for a ride.