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Healing through art during covid-19

Artists are responding to the pandemic in different ways, using their work as a means of catharsis

Sunil Padwal’s work ‘Here’
Sunil Padwal’s work ‘Here’ (Photo courtesy: GallerySke)

If you were to watch the video Virus Is In The Air: Notes From Spring In Curfew, Sounds In Spring, you would see a different side to Tanya Goel. While her studio practice features layered reiterations of grids and notations made with pigments sourced from demolition sites, the Gurugram-based artist has been creating short videos as diary entries, documenting sights, smells and sounds in a time of lockdown. But she continues her engagement with abstraction, poetry and cartography in these videos, which feature close-ups of her garden, overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. As beetles and moths make the space their own, the scenes are accompanied by the sounds of the neighbourhood—of neighbours going about their day or Basanti, who cooks for the family, speaking to her husband on the phone about not being able to visit their village in the hills.

“My work (visit the Instagram handle @sunaparanta_goa) has always been about abstraction. And everything about this virus—fears, emotions, form—is abstract," says Goel.

Artists are responding in different ways to the lockdown, taking cues from the long walk of migrant workers to their homes, and personal experiences. Now, artists such as Aditi Singh, Sunil Padwal, Desmond Lazaro and Varunika Saraf are showing their latest works in a virtual exhibition, In Touch, which brings 10 galleries, including Experimenter, GallerySke, Grey Noise and the Vadehra Art Gallery, from India and Dubai on a single platform. The artists speak of, and to, this time.

Padwal has stayed true to his style of layering textures, images, words and material to create an interplay between nature and urbanity. In his work, best described as “abstract fiction", one can see worlds both real and imagined, expressed through a collage of drawings, photographs and sketches. The artist has always been preoccupied with documenting objects and images we might miss on a daily basis—and this has only been amplified by the emptiness etched by the lockdown.

This phase has lent a different rhythm to the artists’ time in the studio. Saraf feels like retreating into a cocoon on some days; on other days, it seems difficult to escape the conflicting emotions associated with this crisis. “I used to start my day in the studio very early. Now it doesn’t happen before 1pm as there are so many chores. Thankfully my studio is in the same building," says the Hyderabad-based artist. To her, the pandemic is just one part of the crisis—there are many more facets, such as the hate messages on WhatsApp or the plight of migrant workers.

Varunika Saraf’s ‘The Miasma Of Violence, 2020’
Varunika Saraf’s ‘The Miasma Of Violence, 2020’ (Photo courtesy: Chemould Prescott Road)

Art helps her deal with this. At In Touch, she is showing works from her series Miasma Of Violence, which she began in January. The first part of the Miasma series started in 2019 and featured a set of 75 embroideries. Since then, the series has looked at the exponential rise of violence, tracing its historical roots. “Whether it is lynchings or sexual harassment, it has become part of the everyday," says Saraf. She points to the real danger of societies sliding towards authoritarianism, especially in the wake of the present crisis.

Goel finds the creative process cathartic. This was supposed to be an intense year, with her first international museum show to be held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The preview was called off on the very afternoon that it was to be held (the show is still open for viewing). At about the same time, her grandmother had to be admitted to the ICU. Goel took the last flight out from the US, reached home and quarantined herself. “When Basanti was talking to her husband, it hit me hard that it was the same ache of wanting to be home, which I had felt in the US. I was allowed to come back. But the migrant labour can’t make it back home just yet," she says.

In Touch can be viewed at till 24 July.

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