January 23, 2018

Art from a Guyanese heritage

Aman Waseem Ben Ali, known popularly by his book name “Benrali”, is a short-story writer, artist, poet and screenwriter from Guyana, and has recently received accolades for creatively illustrating his Guyanese heritage in his art books.
Ali graduated from Parsons School Of Design in New York and went on to attend and graduate from Hendriks Graphic Design Institute in Long Island, USA. The scope of his artistic training is evident in his gorgeously illustrated books, which weave together many styles, schools of thought, and periods, which Benrali himself has said are “proof that the Caribbean has no limits in regards to style.”
His two art books, “The Turtle’s Dream and Keys” and “Manni From A World Beyond Stars”, have received great reviews internationally.
“I do not label my books as ‘children’s books’ but as ‘artists’ books’. You may feel that it’s splitting hairs but it’s a very important facet. Children’s books are usually carefully watched over from start to finish by editors and art directors and sales reps. Throughout the project editors, art directors and marketing/sales/distribution rep have a lot to say about what goes where and what should be omitted. A children’s book is truly a joint venture. When a traditional book is produced it is a product of many minds. An artist’s book is very different. An artist book, no matter what the art or genre, doesn’t have more than one person involved. It is more like a fine art painting printed in multiples, and is guaranteed to be only artist’s voice which may or may not appeal to the audience. Think about an oil painting you are about to buy, how would you feel if you found out there were 3 or 4 other people picking out the colours and changing things around. My point of view is not that an artist’s book is better or worse than a traditional children’s book or adult picture book; it’s just different,” the artist said in a recent interview with Caribbean Children’s Books Reviews blog.
Ali stated in his book introduction that he was pushed to seek out different influences and attempt to blend them into one coherent form of communication because of his search for roots within his own heritage.
The author added that “Manni from a World beyond Stars” is an artist’s book combining traditional pen and ink drawings over watercolour washes and verse, creating a true fusion of many cultures that goes far beyond the terminology of “East West”, because South America, Central America and the Caribbean are so much more than just two worlds.
The name ‘Manni’, Ali disclosed, can mean many things to different people. The real intention, he said, was that the symbolism in the name connect with the ancient Sanskrit word ‘Manni’ which is still used in India as the word for jewel or money.
“Shell Beach in Guyana is one of the very few places on earth where four species of sea turtles nest. Manni and his rainbow shell are symbolic of all of them. So here we find a blend of naturalism, the metaphysical and fantasy. But probably the most unusual aspect of this book is the narrator. It comes from the rich folklore found in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean; a spirit called ‘a moongazer’ which roams around coconut palms. The name of this particular moongazer is ‘Oonie’ and his name originates from the Japanese name for ‘sea urchin’. Guyana’s folklore has always been of interest to me since it is a unique blend between what the indentured Indian servants and African immigrants brought and what the native Amerindians believed already. But with Manni I felt the folklore just blended well for this project,” Ali said in a review of his book.
‘The Turtle’s Dream and Keys’ is a picture book inspired by the most colourful turtle species, the Eastern Box Turtle of North America. Benrali has been drawing, researching and writing about box turtles for several years and was inspired by a friend who owned a box turtle named ‘Gussy’.
Weaving naturalistic pen and drawings, etchings, dreams, fantasy and poetic prose, children and adults are taken back into time through a box turtle’s dream. This book is beautifully illustrated, designed and crafted which would make an excellent addition to any children’s book collection and library. With its delicate nuances of colour and easy to read poetry, it makes the perfect bedtime book for all ages.
“I never considered myself a children’s book author but I am grateful that the children’s book industry has embraced my work. There will always be children so it’s a market that is there even though it is changing. Whether you are speaking of children’s books, nonfiction, or any other genre, the whole industry is changing. I will still write but I probably will start getting into e-books since they are so inexpensive to produce and readers are reading more and more of them. I would really like to get into film and animation and I have a few books which lend themselves well to the screen. At the moment, though, my third book is due to come out late this year. It is a collection of short stories and poems,” he disclosed in his Caribbean Children’s Books Reviews blog interview.
For Ali, Guyanese means “fusion or blending and creating things that would never have been done otherwise.” He hopes that Guyanese and the Caribbean use their diversity as a source of power rather than a source of confusion.
For more information on his books, visit his Facebook page ‘The Turtle’s Dream and Keys’ or his website www.dreamworldsbeyondtime.com (Cover Photos: Top – A page from ‘The Turtles Dream & Keys’ Bottom – Detail from “Manni A World Beyond Stars’)