At a time when most sectors were impacted by the pandemic – art showed its resilience. The turbulent times saw a coming together of the artistic community in support of each other, in support of art.
Back in the beginning of 2020, Art Basel — one of world’s largest art fairs — was preparing for its golden jubilee celebrations with great fervor in multiple international locations. That is when the tumultuous effect of the pandemic gripped the world. The celebrations and fairs were either cancelled or shifted online. This, perhaps, was the early indication of a change the art market was set to witness throughout the year.
From digital viewing platforms and social media movements to webinars, online shows and dialogues with artists and art connoisseurs across continents, the art market has reinvented itself this year. At a time when most sectors were impacted by the pandemic, art showed its resilience, with a coming together of the artistic community in support of each other, in support of art.
During the early months of lockdown, a few not-for-profit groups were formed to support budding artists, especially students of Fine Arts across the country. One such group is YoungArtSupport started by Vadodara-based artists Ekta Singh and Abhishek Verma along with Mumbai-based Al-Qawi Nanavati. The initiative managed to raise ₹1.50 lakh for over 40 works by artists within initial months of lockdown. Another peer-support movement is ArtChainIndia, a social media initiative by Delhi-based artists Ayesha Singh and Purvai Rai. ArtChainIndia encourages artists to sell their work directly on Instagram, and support fellow artists by buying their works.
“The year brought in a wave of mixed experiences for artists. While many of us worked in isolation through the initial months of lockdown, it also brought about a camaraderie never seen before. The struggle brought the community of artists together,” says Hyderabad-based artist Varunika Saraf.
However, the kind of conversations that physical shows generate, were missing. “It was tough for artists who work with installations and sculptures. The online platform can hardly do justice to such works,” she feels. Varunika feels that the year, though challenging, also gave her time to concentrate more on research and image making. In June and August, she participated in Sangam, an online show by the Heidelberger Kunstverein art centre in Germany, where she and two other artists presented their works in Germany for the first time.
For Chennai-based visual artist Parvathi Nayar, the pandemic found its impressions in her collaborative works merging photography, poetry and art. Parvathi, whose photo poetry is displayed at HELD at Goethe Institut, Chennai, says the pandemic has left its imprints in her works in ways she has never earlier explored. Her initial responses were through the lens-based medium, “focussing on the act of seeing, not just looking.” These took the form of photopoetry — poetry wrapped around photographs. She also created videos on water and our perennial water crisis, called ‘Water Exchanges’, for the international digital media art festival <de>confine, part of the Institut Francais’ November Numerique programme. Curated by Media Art South Asia, it features artists, curators and researchers from France and South Asia.
“I fear, deeply, the havoc caused by this unseen killer that stalks the streets and enters our homes. It is hard, but I search for ways of moving beyond the anxiety to record what this experience means, in small ways. I use time to recalibrate and focus inwards, to rethink what it means to be human and to be an artist, in the interiorities of the home and the world,” says Parvathi.
According to artist and curator Avani Rao, it is important to document these impressions of the pandemic that 2020 brought along. “These extraordinary, unprecedented times are being imprinted in a myriad ways in the works of artists across India,” she says.
The year saw artists express themselves in various mediums about their impressions of the pandemic. In September, Avani managed to bring together works of 36 artists for a show titled ‘COVID Expressions’ at Iconart Gallery in Hyderabad. In addition to her paintings, Avani also displayed an installation of a health worker in a PPE suit and the vestiges of a burnt human body.
Anita Rao, a Visakhapatnam-based student of Andhra University’s Fine Arts Department, spent the lockdown experimenting with styles. One of her impressions of the pandemic included a diptych showcasing two erupting volcanoes — the good and grim sides of the world during lockdown. She is now working on relief work in a clay slab, a medium she has never tried before.
According to self-taught artist Sharmla Karri, the pandemic presented challenges as well as new opportunities. Online viewing platforms opened up new avenues for emerging artists while the isolation of the lockdown brought out creativity in different ways. “There was a time when I was left with very little art supplies; that’s when I took up the project of upcycling daily use objects — something as mundane as a roller pin — and presented my thoughts on it. These would be my most prized possessions from one of the toughest years for any artist,” says Sharmla.
In this series, we look back at the various challenges and victories of life in 2020.