Beetroot, turmeric, and a new philosophy: Some young artists did not let the pandemic disrupt their works in progress

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A work in progress by Nema Ram

With a healthy mix of empathy, innovation, and perseverance, artists emerged with fruitful results in their creative quest even during the lockdown, discovered Gauri Gharpure. These works are a testimony to their resilient spirit. 

Apekha by Debaroti Seth

Once any project gains momentum, the thrill of seeing it through provides ample fuel to the creator. However, it is difficult to find the energy and motivation in challenging times and artists across India, like millions of people around the world, struggled during the pandemic to start or complete their projects. The uncertainty, gloom, and fear had multifarious results on their creative output. Abir Pothi was curious to see, appreciate, and share the works in progress of emerging artists to get an understanding of how they approached their art during the pandemic. It is heartening that even though they started some projects during a glum period, they approached their work with renewed hope and aspiration.

Theme selection

Holy Saver, by Sonali Laha

There were different ways in which the pandemic influenced the works in progress on the thematic level. One saw the artist going inward and introspecting about issues and themes in an unprecedentedly intense manner. The loneliness imposed by the pandemic and the lockdown played a decisive role in the thought process that led to subject selection. This resulted in more nuanced and deeply personal creations. Most artists began to wholeheartedly involve the pandemic within the sphere of their creative outreach and started dealing with it overtly or subtly within the scope of their projects.

Improvisation and innovation

From a deep-dive into creative introspection, to unprecedented innovation to make the most of limited resources, the upsides as experienced by artists have lent a unique depth to the projects undertaken. Take, for example, the work of Asif Imran who captured the architectural forms of under-construction buildings in Kolkata and the effect that the landscape had owing to the lockdown. Due to the circumstances, he improvised out of necessity and used unusual media. He had moved to his hometown Murshidabad during the pandemic and found it very difficult to source materials. Once he began running out of colours, he began working on the painting using colours made from turmeric, ‘Ujala,’ a brand of fabric whitener that consists of indigo, and alta, a red-coloured liquid used by Bengali women to adorn their feet. This experimental curve of the process has greatly fascinated Imran and he is approaching the remainder of the project with positivity.

Transitions and increased empathy

Baisakhi Mehrotra depicting herself during the lockdown through this work

Some works dealt with themes of suffering and sudden changes that one experienced in a poignant way. In internalizing the troubles that they depicted, the artists also built on their individual resilience and empathy. Many chose to make paintings that showed the plight of the migrant workers walking their way to remote corners of India. Others dealt with the upheavals brought about in daily life due to the lockdown. In a painting titled ‘Work from Home,’ Baisakhi Mehatori depicted her life during the period. Being an art teacher, further challenges cropped up when she had to start taking classes online. Baisakhi did not find the process as satisfying as interacting with students in person was and went through a period of transition like most others.

A painting by Baisakhi that depicts the long journeys undertaken by foot by migrant labourers

Introspection about social issues

Gopal Parmar read ‘My Experiments with Truth’ and created works inspired by Gandhi

Gopal Parmar, through introspection and a lot of reading, began working on a series on Mohandas Gandhi. He admired Gandhi’s book, ‘My Experiments with Truth,’ and started ideating. A path strewn with thorns and a backdrop of Gandhi tries to depict Parmar’s thoughts as to how difficult it is to truly follow the Gandhian path. Parmar worked with mixed media and it was difficult to source materials. Moreover, he did not find his creative elements at their optimum while working from his village, Limbdi, where he had relocated during the lockdown. Therefore, Parmar returned to Ahmedabad and began working with renewed vigour.  In a similar vein, making installations from scrap metal, Vinit Barot sought to make a statement on the current sociopolitical scenario. He is trying to create 100 different forms of life-sized guns; each gun reflects the power of violence and political dominance, he says.