BANGALORE, India — On March 25, India went under lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. The unprecedented pandemic brought with it palpable yet intangible fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. With the new reality came an urgent sense of self-preservation — a need to stay hopeful and inspired through the crisis. Many artists worldwide sought creative outlets to help them understand and express what they witnessed during the lockdown.
As people readjusted their routines, many used the opportunity to slow down, develop new skills, and cultivate their inner creativity. Painters like Nayanaa Kanodia, Deepikah R B, and Dhruvi Acharya started spending more time in front of their canvases; Priya Kuriyan became more familiar with her sketchbook; Tara Anand made FaceTime drawings of her friends’ faces; and Shreya Parastampuria created a set of commemorative stamps for 2020 to honor the heroes fighting the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Neethi and Noopur Kabra made illustrations about living with plants and Himali Patil searched for the perfect lounging position, while Sonaksha Iyengar created a series of drawings on collective care.
Some artists took creative methods with unconventional mediums: Tanya Kar experimented with Cinema 4D while Anushka Tendolkar found solace in Adobe 3D. Anjali Kamat, Gouri Katdare, and Anjali Mehta created GIFs and short videos to depict life during quarantine.
The lockdown has also seen Instagram become a safe space, with people connecting, reaching out for collaborations, and finding solace in new ways of seeing and imagining together.
Dhayarkar says the collaboration gave her the mental stability needed in this isolated time, saying the animation process “felt like writing visual poetry.”
Photography has also been a refuge for many. During the lockdown, photographer Zahra Amiruddin came across various works by women photographers, each exploring the common thread of tenderness.
“It’s the voice of a deep-rooted gentleness and intuition that lingers in the four corners of the frame. It speaks of a multitude of emotions wrapped together, as opposed to solitary thoughts,” Amiruddin shares. “The voices speak of motherhood, single lives, conflict, hope, love, isolation, and resilience, all at once. It’s this diversity of feeling that’s imperative when documenting a crisis- to capture moments of collective uncertainty and still manage to be empathetic.”
Photographer Rema Chaudhary experimented with zines and photobooks during the lockdown. She used materials found at home like colored paper, old boxes, polaroids, and even photographs from her family archive.
“I took a bookbinding workshop before the lockdown,” Chaudhary explains. “When we look at a painting or photograph on the wall, we are not encouraged to touch it, but with a book, there’s a physical interaction.” She continues:
So I started experimenting with different binding techniques and even started making my own paper at home. I felt stuck for months until I was forced to spend time with myself in quarantine and consciously tried making books every day. It’s really rewired how I look at my practice and has become a new way for me to express myself.
Some artists took to self-portraiture as a means of self-reflection during isolation. Katyani Jaswal started a self-portrait series involving sequins, mosquito nets, and face paint. Millniece Pinto recreates album covers to keep her busy and get to know herself better. “The project spiraled into a wide range of thoughts on identity and self,” Pinto says. “It made me look closely at women in music, specifically the evolution and the possible bumps they have faced along the way. It also made me more conscious of the clothes I own and ways that I could upscale them.”
Mental health also became a common theme, with many using art as therapy. Comic makers like Alicia Souza and Pranita Kocharekar have been capturing the mundane in their daily comics. Pranita’s been busy making series after series on Instagram, like #AfterCoronaIWill, #QuarantineCrazies, and Acts Of Daily Compassion.
“In such trying times, being stuck in one place, I often need only one reassurance — that I’m not alone,” she muses. “Creating art and posting it online is fulfilling, but the response from my audience is what heals me most. To know that there are others out there who experience exactly what I am.”
Aravani Art Project, a collective of trans women artists in Bangalore, painted a mural for the city’s Museum of Art and Photography.
“During these especially difficult times of the pandemic, we have witnessed the plight of the marginalised communities like the transgender community, migrant workers, labourers, etc.,” shares Poornima Sukamar, the project’s founder. “We have also witnessed the frontline workers — volunteers, doctors and nurses — work tirelessly and selflessly for the people in need. We have seen citizen groups come together to help and support the disenfranchised in whatever ways they can.”
While Bangalore residents have “come together to tackle it in our own ways,” she says, “We have seldom done anything to show solidarity, inclusivity in a LARGE SCALE and in a public space.”
Sukamar says the mural was intended to “celebrate the spirit of Bangalore” and express solidarity by representing the city’s diverse communities — “from the techies to the health care professionals who have risked their lives being on the frontlines in these times of the pandemic, children and senior citizens, chaiwalas, and Pourakarmikas.”
The poetry community has also been thriving during the lockdown, with people taking to the pen. Thousands participated in the #NaPoWriMo challenge through April, with prompts by poetry platforms like Airplane Poetry Movement, the Alipore Post, and Madras Courier.
Poet Tishani Doshi was stuck in Abu Dhabi during the quarantine and is currently in Italy. She will return to India in November. She has been sharing poems from her new collection, A God At the Door, inspired by current events.
One of her poems, “Survival,” is “partly a challenge to the language of news, which aims to desensitize us,” Doshi explains.
“There’s been a degeneration of language across media, telling us difficult things but sometimes using euphemistic terms,” she shares. “Poetry challenges that, and it’s also a way of holding the incongruous light and dark and moving past helplessness to make something lasting and more considered. It’s poetry as affirmation and reclamation, which is something I’ve always believed in.”
She considers it particularly important that women’s voices bear witness. “If you think of all the great epic poems, they were written by men. But if you think of who holds the unit together, who tries to preserve a sense of normality in a time of crisis, who is actually offering a mode of survival, it’s often women, within the context of families and communities. Many of those voices have been erased and stifled in the past, so it’s time to reclaim those spaces, and to add new voices to the tapestry.”