Aleesha Nandhra’s Local Angrej depicts the 2019 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’ artist’s experiences as she travelled alone in India for the first time. It’s a minicomic that thematically ties into her recent ‘Meet Me at the Market’ exhibition in London with Francesca Tiley; one that explored both artists’ dual cultural heritage. Local Angrej examines questions of identity; not simply of how others perceive us but also of how we perceive ourselves.
The title translates to “local English” and the comic opens with a reflection on that duality as Nandhra talks of India, the birthplace of her mother, as “a place where so many things are familiar. Yet so many unfamiliar to a ‘Westerner’ like me.” Powerful in its understatement, Local Angrej poignantly captures the inherent contradiction of Nandhra’s journey as she immerses herself in a world which she simultaneously feels intimately connected to and yet strangely isolated from at the same time.
There’s something almost scrapbook-like in how her constantly changing presentational style here reflects the motifs of confusion and detachment that are so intrinsic to the story; as does the way in which we never see her face on in any panel. By portraying herself only from the back, or as a fleeting presence moving through panels, Nandhra becomes, paradoxically, almost a supporting character in her own narrative; something which cleverly echoes the comic’s theme. From pure sequential art to travelogue-style illustration; to intuitive use of lettering and speech balloons to enhance her observational points, through to abstract symbolism; Local Angrej is a quietly sophisticated piece of comics storytelling.
In these pages we observe Nandhra’s interactions with local characters, her struggles with language amongst a gracious populace (“So far 4 locals have told me that my Hindi is good. I know it’s not”) and her ongoing quest to explore a part of her identity that is contradictorily both nebulous and tangible. Throughout a sense of family is a constant travelling companion and, indeed, that comes to the forefront in a quite beautiful denouement that will bring a tear to the eye of many readers.
Local Angrej is impressive work and feels like it could be an opening chapter in a much longer-form narrative. With a gorgeously atmospheric use of colour to create a sense of place and time, and an admirable vulnerability to its narration, Local Angrej is one of your absolute must-purchase ELCAF debut books. Undoubtedly the strongest work yet from this 2019 ‘Six to Watch’ artist.