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Artists respond to the lockdown by creating from home

Shailaja Tripathi | Updated on May 01, 2020 Published on May 01, 2020

Locked in: Manisha Gera Baswani gets undivided time with her art at her home studio   -  IMAGE COURTESY: MANISHA GERA BASWANI

They are short of canvas and brushes, but not ideas. Artists from across the country paint and sculpt their response to the pandemic

 

*In Sameer Kulavoor’s latest works, the crowds have given way to six black-and-white drawings.

* Ever since the lockdown set in, senior artist Manu Parekh has done a few landscapes.

Earth has always been a pet theme for Arpana Caur. Her languid delineations of Dharti (earth) and Prakriti (nature) wear no expression but still manage to convey their agony and people’s troubled relationship with them.

In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic that has invaded people’s lives, it was natural for Caur to return to her pet preoccupation once again, and she sought Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic The Last Supper for inspiration. Only there are no apostles and no God but deer, peacock and a tree falling on the white table, which has bones for legs. The fiery red backdrop shows towering buildings collapsing, hinting at the flux all around.

Extraordinary times beget extraordinary responses, and artists are responding in the way they know best — making art.

The urban milieu with all its complexities interests Mumbai-based artist, illustrator and graphic designer Sameer Kulavoor. In his first solo exhibition, ‘A Man of the crowd’, in 2018, his works capturing city life were teeming with people.

In his latest works, the crowds have given way to six black-and-white drawings.

Puff piece: Sameer Kulavoor is making portraitures of imaginary people on cigarette packs   -  IMAGE COURTESY: SAMEER KULAVOOR

 

Kulavoor has depicted his feelings and encounters during the lockdown. While Lockdown self portrait depicts the artist by the window, looking out longingly, Uncertainty captures the masked face and large expressive eyes of his building society’s watchman, whereas Grocery shows a man looking at the artist suspiciously.

The absence of interaction between humans and spaces has also crept into his new works. “I am working out of a friend’s place. Since my studio is in a different location, I can’t go there. It is right beside a mill, where there is constant movement and noise. I miss that. I miss my cab rides, my interactions with people. I miss seeing smiles on people’s faces because everyone is wearing masks. You only see the eyes that reflect concern, anxiety and, at times, suspicion. I am very sensitive to these expressions and these nuances get amplified for me,” says Kulavoor, who also runs a design studio, Bombay Duck Designs.

Away from his studio for weeks, as Kulavoor’s supply of art materials and sketchbooks was getting exhausted, he started drawing imaginary portraits, of people he hasn’t seen or met, on empty cigarette packs.

“While all these are direct responses to the current situation, I have also done some work that helps me calm down and make sense of what’s happening around me. I have made these flip-books that I do, on post-its, to help me calm down. I find it very meditative,” adds Kulavoor. The works can be viewed on his Instagram handle.

Like Kulavoor, senior artist Anjolie Ela Menon is short on art supplies. As her studio is located in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti, a Covid-19 hotspot that has been sealed by the Delhi government, the artist doesn’t know when she will be able to go there again. “What I have are a few small canvases and, so far, I have done black-and-white drawings — Christ’s head, woman’s face and a crow. I needed a fixative, which I didn’t have, so I asked Paramjeet [artist Paramjeet Singh], who lives close by, if he had any. Unfortunately he didn’t either. So, I am spending time doing household chores, reading and writing my cookery book and travelogue,” Menon says.

Neither art material nor studio access poses any challenge to the Delhi-based senior artist Manu Parekh. Ever since the lockdown set in, he has done a few landscapes and drawings but none of them is a response to the present scenario. “I never respond immediately to anything. Everything takes time to enter my work, but I am very aware and affected by the situation around me like anyone else,” he says.

Biennale behind doors

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale has been documenting what artists are creating during the lockdown. Its Instagram account displays recent works of artists from around the country and the world. Among them are Bapi Das from Kolkata, Alex Seton from Australia, Anupama Alias and Siji Krishnan from Kerala, Kochi-based Zakkir Hussain and Delhi-based Orijit Sen.

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Whether it’s the abhorrent incident of migrant workers sprayed with disinfectant on returning to their homes in Uttar Pradesh or the expression of gratitude to healthcare professionals by the public, Varanasi-based Avinash Karn has been candidly sharing his views on his Instagram handle. Painted in the Mithila style, the imagery with all its fine details becomes a pure visual delight.

One of the works centres on an 85-year-old woman, Khalida Begum, from Jammu and Kashmir. She looks emotional as she watches the news on television harping on the Covid-19 positive cases that were traced to the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi. On a table lies a newspaper flashing the news of her contribution of ₹5 lakh towards the government’s efforts at containing the virus. The donated amount was the money Khalida had saved for her Hajj pilgrimage. “I was disturbed at how the entire Muslim community was viewed suspiciously after the Tablighi event. There are people from the same community who have contributed to the cause but we choose to overlook that. As an artist, I feel it is my responsibility to show both the sides,” remarks Karn. The artist was also commissioned by the Azim Premji Foundation to make illustrations for posters that encourage children in government schools to stay home and follow safe practices during the pandemic.

Senior artist SG Vasudev is unable to go to his studio but feels lucky to be well-stocked on drawing material at home. He is using the lockdown period to finish his drawings. “I am watching good cinema, listening to music and drawing. I find drawings very intimate and something you can finish immediately,” says the Bengaluru-based artist, who is also known for his association with Cholamandal Artists’ Village in Chennai.

Line of vision: SG Vasudev is using his stock of art material at home to make drawings   -  IMAGE COURTESY: SG VASUDEV

 

In these chaotic times, Manisha Gera Baswani has found her studio to be an oasis of peace. Without the diversion of appointments or meetings, Baswani is able to devote more time to her art. Over the past month, she has been painting big canvases, besides doing pin drawings and sculptures. “I have returned to this size of canvas after a gap; and I know these are such unusual times for all of us. I, without all the outside work to manage, have been able to concentrate on my work with so much discipline. The entire family is at home, but there is no disturbance. I am also doing multiple art works at the same time, which is new to me.” The Gurugram-based artist is recording and sharing her process on her Instagram handle.

Artists, as Parekh puts it, work from home, so they are used to working alone. “But what we are not used to is not stepping out. What we are dealing with is not just my problem or your problem, it’s a collective problem which affects me,” says Parekh.

Non-conforming mediums

Artist Jitish Kallat on the lockdown, close encounters with the ‘Doomsday Clock’, and prepping for new works with the material on hand

Pencil in: Jitish Kallat settled for the drawing board while waiting out the lockdown   -  IMAGE COURTESY: JITISH KALLAT

 

I returned from the US on March 14, soon after the opening of my solo exhibition titled ‘Return to Sender’ at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, just a day prior to the announcement of the health emergency in the US.

Reflecting back, the pointers and inquiries within this exhibition seem linked in some interesting ways to some of the questions that face us today. For instance, the only seating within the exhibition space is a solitary bench. On closer observation, visitors would notice that this bench has a slightly altered shape, deriving its form from the parting hands of a clock. On probing further one might learn that the shape of the bench is derived from the hands of the ‘Doomsday Clock’.

For the last few years this clock-shaped bench, a meditation on the exigencies of our time, has recurred in several of my exhibitions. The ‘Doomsday Clock’ has been maintained since 1947 by the Science and Security Board, a congregation that includes several Nobel Laureates. The symbolic clock represents a hypothetical human-made global catastrophe as “midnight”, and the board’sopinion on how close the world is to a global calamity as a number of “minutes to midnight”. Since its original setting in 1947 as ‘seven minutes to midnight’, in 2019, while I was developing my exhibition for the Frist Art Museum, the clock was set at ‘two minutes to midnight’ due to nuclear threats, climate change, bioterrorism, and artificial intelligence. I spent a couple of days reflecting on some of the themes that have emerged in my work in recent times.

For several months now I’ve been developing in my mind a body of photographic works that require a degree of ‘free association’, drawing upon three or four strands of information to combine and inter-braid them into a single composite artwork. Clearly, in the circumstances where I was quarantining myself in my alternative studio across the street from my home in Mumbai, it was impossible to begin work on this project. This work needs both technical and technological assistance. Under these circumstances, I settled on the drawing board with some watercolour, charcoal, pencils and began drawing — a process that interestingly extended from pastels to plaster. In a way there was a small dimension of overreach [in terms of medium] and this allowed for a degree of freedom and non-conformity, which was a productive experience... something that may serve me as I proceed to work on the series of photo-works once the lockdown is lifted. Perhaps if it weren’t for these circumstances, I would not make these drawings; because, in essence, they are not complete autonomous works of art; they are, in fact, images which are drawn, over-laid and repeatedly rearranged.

Shailaja Tripathi is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist

Published on May 01, 2020

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