A set of nine works on paper by Dhruvi Acharya form a part of Nature Morte’s online show, ‘Evaporating Voices’. These new works were created by the artist in her living room during the covid-19 induced lockdown, when both her home and studio floors of the building were sealed due to the pandemic. In an interview with Mint, the artist sheds light on the ideas that have informed her new works, and the continuing presence of the female figure in her practice. Edited excerpts:
Your practice in recent times has revolved around the ideas of presence and absence, and of ageing and mortality. One saw this in 'Permeated Absence' as well. How have you explored these ideas further in 'Evaporating Voices'?
From my temporary work desk, I could see the hundreds of trucks dumping rocks in the sea for the upcoming coastal road, destroying Mumbai’s natural coastline, and setting the stage for even more flooding in the future.
This is the environment in which I made the works thinking not only of human life and death, and how all our lives are affected by the virus, but also the damage we continue to wreak on the environment. My work addresses the fact that luck—where we are born, where we live and whether we are privileged—affects our lives and our deaths. I have painted about the crisis our planet is in, from sinking cities, fires and destruction to extinction and disregard for other life forms. My work also reflects the social isolation that we are all suffering, as well as the silencing of individual thoughts and acts of dissent during this time.
You have always been interested in the female body and its politics. And through the female figure, you have drawn attention to misogyny, sexuality, and also how one negotiates the spaces around. In 'Evaporating Voices', how do you approach ideas of isolation, anxiety and neurosis through the female figure?
Women, their bodies and minds, have almost always been a site of a war, of sorts. The objectification of women, counting them as property, treating them incapable and dumb, as vessels for reproduction, as sex slaves, as free domestic help, considering them to be worthless, beating and killing them, not educating them, marrying off the girl child, raping and murdering females, using them as spoils of war—all of this is so appalling and yet so common that it is not something that I can ever put out of my mind. And it pervades my work.
Statically, we know the cases of domestic violence have increased during lockdown. And the isolation from their support system leaves women more vulnerable to all kinds of abuse. We also know that women are bearing the brunt of the lockdowns—from caring for the elders and children, doing most of the domestic chores along with their own paid jobs and educating their children. This has led many to great physical and mental stress, which is something I have addressed in these works.
The past few months have been a period of reflection for many. Some have simply absorbed all that is changing around us and others are already steering their lives into new directions. What has this period meant to you, and how is that reflecting in the way you approach your practice?
Living during the pandemic has been difficult for me, as it has been for everyone. But the fact is that so many have had it so much worse. So many have suffered, died or lost their loved ones, that I only feel gratitude for all that I still have, and hope my luck won’t change. I am trying to help in whatever way I can —donating to the less fortunate and making sure my domestic help and their families are safe.
My work has always reflected my thoughts and experiences, be it homesickness, motherhood, the environment, the deaths of my husband and father, inequalities faced by women, and more. Currently, my works highlight my feelings about us humans, the planet, the cause of the virus, and the effects of it. During the nationwide lockdown I began painting in response to the stress of the isolation, while the news of daily wage workers suffering, health care workers dying flooded my mind. I began sharing them on Instagram, and people seemed to relate to them and wanted to buy them. In this way, we were able to raise a significant sum to donate to those in need.
Now, at a time that the virus is spreading even further but we are expected get on with our lives, while the environmental laws being passed in the name of progress are actually leading out our planets destruction, women are being raped and killed due to their “caste”—a ridiculous human construct—what I feel and think is too difficult to put into words. I think the only way I can express what I think and feel will be through my work.
It's a very interesting choice of title. Could you talk about the significance of the same?
I have to give the credit for the title to Peter Nagy of Nature Morte gallery. I think 'Evaporating Voices' aptly describes the thoughts and feelings I have painted about in this body of work. Additionally, humanity’s ridiculous focus on discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, caste and colour is as intelligent as us trying to change the curtains of our home while it is on fire. And so our voices, although temporary, must address the real issues before they evaporate and leave the collective consciousness.
Evaporating Voices can be viewed at viewingroom.naturemorte.com/evaporatingvoices till 25 October. You can also download a colouring book to experience Dhruvi Acharya’s visual diary
To see more of Dhruvi Acharya's new work, also read: