Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Having been locked into and out of different aspects of our lives, with little to no freedom, the lockdown warrants a reconsideration of where we stand and what the future could look like. Art and creative practices are essential to any society. They are often considered a reflection of a stable society as opposed to one in flux. But the opposite may be true in reality, where, even in the most complex situations, art has the ability to communicate effectively and in doing so reflects the diversity of opinions and the complexities of the time. As someone who has always looked at public spaces with a lot of passion and expectation, the increasing ownership of the public space since the anti CAA, NRC and NPR protests began in December 2019, was evidence of a change in how we look at creative practices. People’s expression through art reflected an important change in breaking the norm with artistic practices. Like the political motivation for the gatherings, these views and these practices were brewing across the country, albeit in pockets. All of these artforms and opinions coming together on one issue at such a large scale was an important moment in our recent history. Students and professional artists were painting their opinions on walls, on roads, pillars and placards, and posters. Theatre performances in the streets, art installations imagining and depicting the future, reading rooms on footpaths to encourage informed opinions. This moment signified a political, socio-cultural, and artistic shift that in turn was best captured and disseminated through art. Remaining unengaged became impossible. Artists are responding to our new collective reality through their works like Pallavi Paul’s work Share your Quiet, which stems from a place of political protest, commenting on the call for a ‘Janta curfew’ followed by the act of making noise with utensils as an indication of compliance with the government. The disruption of our daily lives is being documented in the more public domain of social media. The virtual space is witnessing stories of the daily lives of people in an unusual setting - the quarantine- capturing the abnormal, absurd, and comical. Truly ephemeral images and videos circulated on social media with references to pop culture and art history are becoming as important in understanding the creative practice of the time as are the objects that might find their place in museums or galleries. In the past, artists have taken on a cause and led the way with art as activism like with the AIDS epidemic. Arts have also reflected on and documented illnesses as with the bubonic plague and the Spanish flu and disasters like the Bengal famine. Documentation of individual stories and images of people in quarantine and the health workers have begun. Will we see these health workers in hazmat suits like we see the image of the long-beaked plague doctor covered head to toe, as iconic images of this period, with objects specific to the health crisis placed in museums marking a new shared history? For example, Makers Asylum, a creative hub, initiated a program to make and provide face shields, M19 Shields, for health workers. At the same time, people are striving to carry on the protest against CAA, NRC, and NPR online and nurture the solidarities they had created on the streets. The Inquilab collective, for example, has done so through their videos series Gastronomical Essays. Thus, over the course of the last few months, we have seen continuity too. It is reflected in the way creative practices have responded to ongoing changes in our relationship to the state, with each other, and in a way to the truth. One could then say that the diverse narratives that have evolved with our current unique circumstances are demonstrating continuity and not a complete disruption from the recent past, and art is being deployed to reflect and question these narratives. The Covid quarantine has raised a fundamental question: Amid a fight for survival for many, what does the future of creative practice look like? It may entail finding new ways to collectivise and work with new forms of shared experiences that both unite and divide us. It could allow for us to imbibe art as something that exists in our daily lives, and not only in designated spaces as a symbol of leisurely activity and social stability. It could also afford us the identity and anonymity to respond to our ever-changing environments.
Aparajita Bhasin is an arts manager who develops programs for the artistic community and conceives the most thoughtful and elaborate experiences for audiences. She cares deeply for art interventions in public spaces and is interested in their significance for local communities. Word of caution: don't steal her snacks - she's been hopelessly looking for an excuse to put her capoeira training to use!