Creating during COVID-19: on valuing the arts
By Aishwarya Shah
A freeze frame of 2020 is a most peculiar one as it reveals the first ever plague of the digitalised era. What that has meant is that ‘accessibility’ in the arts has taken on a new meaning even as quarantine limited everyone to their household bubbles. Museums worldover put together virtual tours, magazines released issues digitally for free, bands took to live streaming their performances, and actors, poets and writers collaborated to bring free readings to your screen.
Even as death tolls were rising, the curve refused to flatten and anxieties flared, art continued to be the manna that made life liveable.
'Home' by @anirban_ghosh for DesignFightsCOVID.com, 'Lonely Residents' by @kedar_dk & work from home scenes via @_rahul.dsouza_
Goa creates even in lockdown
The pandemic and the ugly sprawl of consequences that came with it birthed something beautiful when life in lockdown became the theme of several artistic endeavours.
Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts launched an initiative called 'Surviving SQ (self-quarantine)’ showcasing the evolution of four interactive art projects through the gallery's social media channels as testament to the many creative coping strategies artists explored during such unpredictable times. Most notably among these, Kedar Dhondu’s series of illustrations ‘Lonely Residents’ made an art of the homebound, capturing the dance of the mundane with a telling simplicity.
Meanwhile, a group of 3rd year painting students from the Goa College of Art shared their works through a collective Instagram page @typgca_goa and the #thosewhoworkfromhome hashtag to document how lockdown had woven itself into their creative pursuits.
A stunning collection of works spanning from hopeful reflections in the quiet moments of quarantine to the deeply moving portrayals of enforced isolation. Showcasing the heartbreaking realities of our times, TYPgca contributor Prayuj Velip (@pv.studios) confronts such conflicting emotions in the series below as countless individuals are denied access to the funerals & burials of their loved ones.
The group is now working on a new collective series titled 'Era Post-COVID19' in which they both question & reflect upon the many potential realities of what's to come.
Since the early days of lockdown, artists all across India can be found banding together to further articulate and artfully amplify the needs and concerns of those otherwise unheard. The #DesignFightsCOVID campaign led by the team of Art&Found is one such example of said collective camaraderie. Similarly, the recent widespread solidarity of saving Mollem from state sanctioned ecocide created yet another artistic uprising in the digital sphere as artists throughout Goa illustrated their experience and memories of the national park.
The arts, as always, have soldiered on and continued to reflect the struggles of the times. But art doesn’t emerge from nothingness, it needs artists.
And artists need to be valued in a society that treats them as dispensable if they can honour their pledge to create and generate meaning in our lives.
Artworks by @sarah_suzannne, @_pratik.naik_ & @_.shubh.29 via TYPgca Goa
Using creativity to find a sense of meaning
The last few months in lockdown took every conception of normal that we had taken for granted and flipped on its head.
It exposed the monochrome of isolation as a world without social gatherings, sunset swims, beachside football, live music and art jams.
Restricted to the confines of four walls, we were tasked with the act of inventing a sense of personal meaning in a time marked with desolation and despondence. At first, sourdough seemed like the answer. The complex and highly precise process of preparing a starter, the consistent check ins as the delicate phenomenon moved through several stages and then observing mere bubbles give life to a loaf - there was something undeniably powerful about this compact act of creation.
For many people, this was a rare period in which the forced slowdown and lack of social distractions gave them an opportunity to create and to work with their hands.
While the front door remained firmly closed, the oven door opened. As did the backdoor into the garden where the earthly delights of fresh saplings and spring blooms were rediscovered. Several metaphorical doors opened too as people found a release in whatever they could, be it crochet, poetry or meditation.
The continuous sacrifice of the arts
While the lockdown allowed some to get closer to creating, it also forced artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers worldover to look upon the smoking embers of their professions with dismay. We have observed time and time again that the arts inevitably tend to be the first corpus of sacrificial offering whenever society hits a brick wall. By virtue of its abstract nature as well as society’s failure to value spiritual nourishment at a higher level, the arts are constantly forced to demonstrate their usefulness in a society where ‘valuable’ and ‘lucrative’ are often treated as the same.
As a whole, society collectively endured an existential crisis as strict lines were drawn around what makes up essential and nonessential services.
While the expression and enjoyment of art was prohibited publicly as a safety measure, this also meant that the production of art was difficult to sustain. Artists did what they have always done: they adapted, they took to virtual mediums, they connected with their communities in inventive ways and supplied us with a steady stream of creations that made us feel seen, heard and understood.
In an effort to stay connected in times of isolation, Goa Artists Collective members share moments from their home studios. Seen here: Kalidas Mohan Mhamal with video by Manasi Mithaiwala.
Moving from ‘lucrative’ to ‘valuable’
Upon realising that much of what adds colour to our world is classified as nonessential in the throes of a pandemic, it is important to consider the purpose of art when the world is collapsing around us.
Art can serve as a vehicle of change, a tool to engender empathy, a portal into a different reality, a roadmap to a better world and offer depictions that remind us of the common denominators of our shared experiences.
It is difficult to put a price on the value derived from finding a song that resonates with the exact cadence of your heartbreak, or a poem that breathes fresh life into something as ordinary as your morning cup of coffee, or a character in a novel or TV series you identify with, who can usher you in and out of the dreary corners of adulthood. Without art, existence is relegated to the mechanics of mere survival. And as we have seen in the hundred days of lockdown, mere survival is not enough.
Supporting the arts
How can we amend our treatment of the arts so that artists can be more resilient to the inevitable crises of civilisation? The immense pressure on artists to channel their work into something lucrative means two things: one, artists are at the mercy of monied patrons and industries that limit the scope of their creative freedom. And two, when the end product is monetised rather than the process, the accessibility to art is limited to those who have the means to afford this step above survival. There are more and more platforms like Patreon coming up that allow artists to freely share their work and those with the means can support them with the price of a coffee or a pint. However, not all artists can adapt their work to fit such models.
Goa has a distinct lineage of passionate artists, creatives and visionaries finding a home in the state.
Live art by @maakoad & others at @goaopenarts, murals by @solomonsouza for SAF2019
& revolving exhibitions @museumofgoa
Along with Goa’s local artists, they bring to us the melodic soundtrack of coconut country. The museums, art galleries, art and film festivals showcase the local talent with pride, be it Goa Open Arts, the Affordable Art Fest at MOG, Serendipity or the Goa International Film Festival. In a bid to keep the experience of art accessible, it is the artists whose personal economies take a hit. Without offering easy answers, we aim to present a question: in the new order that we are building, how can we support the arts more judiciously?
Is there a way for us to do so while ensuring that the accessibility isn’t hampered?
Goa attempts to return to normal whilst a paradigm shift is underway. While we reckon with our relationship to nature, how we can best safeguard resources for posterity, protect wildlife, rebuild the story of tourism in a sustainable way and so on, it is worthwhile to also bring art into the discussion. It cannot be denied that art in its myriad forms is an antidote to ailments that are not always tangible. The greater valuation of art is closely linked to the building of a society that wishes to provide more nurture for mental health.