In these unprecedented times, every industry and its people have been affected differently. While some have thrived, others have floundered. And just like the waves of the pandemic, the human emotional response too has been tumultuous and unpredictable.
The one response that has been universal in the creative community is the use of creativity as a means of release! Artists have created more and more art, using it as their way of expression, their way of making sense of this new world, and the experience of it.
Despite facing multiple challenges, the thirst to create has remained and even thrived. It is fascinating to see how this situation of external lockdown allowed for freedom and growth within.
In my interaction with artists during and after the lockdown periods, I came across some interesting stories that truly reflected the indomitable human spirit of creativity.
Tao opened an exhibition in March 2021 titled ‘Gaze, Reflect & Gather’ that commemorated a year of Covid in India. The exhibition aimed to explore the emotional experience of this year from the artist perspective.
The experience of 2020 was perhaps the closest we have collectively come to the feeling of complete surrender. In many ways, this surrender to our emotions in an increasingly absurdist world is similar to the surrender one experiences when engaging with art. It pulls you into its calm and chaos: pushing you to gaze deeper, to reflect on your interpretations, and to gather the resultant reactions.
The year proved that contrary to what we perceived, abstraction might be the closest we can come to reality. Because with uncertainty comes a different kind of clarity. And in that clarity we can find freedom.
Therefore, the show was truly a tribute to being. Being contemplative, being one’s unpredictable, untamable self, and most importantly, being present.
Each artist showcased their own experience of being present in their creation during this time. We had artists from all over: Santosh Jain from Delhi, Vijit Pillai from Hyderabad, Vipul Prajapati from Ahmedabad, Surabhi Chowdhury from Calcutta, and even international artists like Radhika Hamlai from Oman! This variety of contexts with a common experience of the pandemic was interesting to observe…especially since each artist had an independent journey of exploration in this time!
While some stuck true to their original style of painting like Manish Chavda, who continued his incredibly solace-giving nature inspired art, others like Santosh Jain pushed their boundaries to embrace newer mediums like digital art creation!
Jain also embraced alternate bases to paint on when she ran out of canvas; from leftover bills to card paper and other recycled materials that showed her incredible innovation in a tough time. Vipul experienced a similar predicament but ended up creating twice the body of works he usually would have during this time period, despite having access to only leftover papers in the house!
So what fueled this rise in creation? Was it the abundance of time and the leisure of doing whatever one wanted with no routine external obligations? Artists I spoke to said the lockdown might have been tough for others, but for them it was a boon to be able to stay in their studios day in and day out, with the only goal of creating art.
The world was also consuming content more ferociously than ever before. The online boom was unprecedented and the acceptance of virtual exhibitions swift!
Contrary to the initial perspective that the art world would halt, it instead propelled forwards. So artists had both time and incentive to keep doing what they love! The passion it fueled has been unbelievable.
It also succeeded in giving birth to new artists! Viraj Khanna from Calcutta started painting during Covid and had his first solo exhibition in March 2021, which was entirely sold out. What started out as a way to pass time in lockdown ended up becoming a revelation! The young artist is now scheduled to open Mumbai Gallery Weekend 2022 with a solo show at Tao.
The opportunities and avenues for artists have multiplied in this time. There are more methods in which art can be showcased and often-parallel shows are happening both online and offline. The younger, more digital oriented artists are getting more of the limelight too! Overall, the circumstances have led to some incredibly positive outcomes for artists.
However, there have also been struggles, as is expected. The credit needs to be given to artists for doing their best with the situation… the struggle of running out of painting essentials is a tough one! The idea of not having anything to create with can cause immense anxiety and panic to an artist. Another important aspect to consider is the inspiration an artist tends to derive from the world around him.
For many, the travel, the daily interactions with people and the absorbing of the world’s eclectic sensual experiences is critical in fueling their art. Locked down, many also suffered from mental health issues and the increasingly common feeling of isolation and listlessness.
Many were disappointed because of cancelled or postponed exhibitions because the fact remains that the majority of Indian artists still deal in traditional mediums like acrylic/oil on canvas that is best done justice to in a physical exhibition. Hence, the personal hit to many, financially and emotionally, must not be disregarded.
The times have been tough, but the overall sentiment still remains optimistic. The artists have not only kept their own sanity for the sake of their practice but they have helped us all, the laypeople, remain happy through the enjoyment of art in this period. Therefore we truly owe these creative people a lot! Creativity has been the light that has kept us bright when the world seems to have gone dark.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)