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Staying Creative Through Pandemic

Covid-19 has definitely given a hard time to all, but the flip side remains that there have been many people taking refuge in art, be it creating or collecting it

Art is an integral part of the social, civic, and economic wellbeing of any nation and to imagine a life devoid of the pleasures of art is unthinkable till the time Covid-19 hit the world and the world literally stood still for a while. The pandemic unfolded a global health crisis, which brought about a drastic change in the global business model. The arts sector across the globe had to stop exhibitions, events and other visual performances for an indefinite period. As a result, arts, institutions and museums drastically lost their revenue.

Surprisingly, however, the art market sales graph kept climbing and the financial year 2020-21 witnessed the strongest sales year in the history of Indian art auctions, according to Art Market Report 2021, produced by art research and advisory firm Artery India. According to the annual report created by one of India’s leading art markets watchers, the year 2020-21 has been the strongest (Roughly tabulated since 1987 when the first Indian art auction was conducted). In terms of market performance and turnover, it achieved sales figures to the tune of Rs 880.9 crore from April 20 to March 21, despite depressed market sentiments and ample volatility. The numbers for FY 2019-20 were around Rs 560 crore; hence the pandemic year sales recorded a jump of almost 57 per cent.

The Indian art market, maturing with years, has faced several ups and downs in the last few years but the lockdown brought an unexpected and unprecedented challenge to the art world. Institutions and galleries around the world moved to online exhibitions, webinars, talks and view rooms and started using social media to even offer online therapy using paintings. The professional artists, institutions and allied organisations followed suit to reach out to their target audience through the internet.

Vikash Joshi, who teaches art at Nagpur University, points out, “Even as Covid- 19 engulfed a major chunk of economic, social, scientific growth globally, the educational and cultural sectors embraced this radical change of shifting online in a short span of one-and-a-half years. It was all about existence and relevance. Work from home changed all the prevalent concepts. The need for basic necessities remained the same but for an artist to resolve daily issues was like solving an economic puzzle. Then the concept of online exhibitions came into existence. And during the epidemic, ‘art according to time’ started taking shape.” Covid-19 has definitely given a hard time to all but the flip side remains that there have been many people taking refuge in art, be it creating art or collecting it. Talking about creating, the most unexpected faces have emerged as new artists. To name a few like Archana Sinha, Tannu Jain, Ruchi Jain and Sonia Kapoor are all homemakers who practised art to be away from depression. Several art enthusiasts dived headlong into artistic pursuits to seek solace in the trying times.

Pune-based Milind Deshpande, who has been mentoring art students since 2005 under the banner of Chitrangan, says, “Initially, everyone enjoyed the compulsory holiday. They engaged in getting them homes in shape, discovered the joy of cooking and experienced several other things. But gradually as the pandemic soared, people began seeking ways to relax in meaningful ways and a lot of people selected art as the medium to experience solace. They rediscovered their hobbies. This was and still is a period were people could disengage from the rough and tumble of a fast-moving world and enjoy art. Now, they do not have to carve out time for such things the way they had to do in earlier days. People could endure these depressing times by indulging in painting, craft, cooking, singing and writing. They came closer to art and that is when online classes started.”

On a new path to learning art with deeper insight into their works and new series of works, artists held their brushes tight and unbridled the horses of imagination to overcome the melancholy that spread around. “I think after Covid-19 there will be more people taking to arts and it will become more competitive. The quality of art is about to rise, and the bar will be set higher. It is more of a discovery of the artist in one’s personality than an invention,” says Anamika, a promising young artist, who shifted from Greater Noida to her hometown Muzaffarpur during the pandemic. Anamika is upbeat about the cultural sector as artists turned to online activities—from social media to virtual reality —as a way to continue fulfilling their organisational mission and obtain or retain an audience. Anamika, herself participated in a couple of global online art shows including one organised by a New York-based gallery.

The pandemic forced people to seek refuge in the internet but learning art over the internet threw up a lot of challenges. People tried to overcome them obstacles in innovative ways and continued learning. Several artists in different fields began offering online coaching. Since the markets were closed, people tried to paint with whatever material was available in their homes. As Deshpande says, “We have realised online teaching has its own limitations. Yet, despite the challenges, people have been trying to adapt to this new mode and seem to be surprisingly very successful at it.” According to Suhani Jain, another young abstract artist hailing from Gwalior, who now lives in Nagpur, says, “After Covid-19, my work changed a lot. I developed a deep insight for my art practice. I saw interviews and read art books and enhanced knowledge of the art world. I applied new ideas in my works. Covid was indeed a difficult time but art helped me sail through and helped me keep a positive attitude.”

She says, “The impact of Covid-19 has been bad on every field, including art and culture. Many families were destroyed, many children were orphaned. But where there is a will, there is a way. People found new ways. The times have been bad. But I continued on my own quest. Over the years, many works were not being done due to lack of time. This was the time I utilised to the hilt.” Meanwhile, sculptor Vernika Singh from Delhi accepts that the market for her improved. “Since people have been home and finally had ample time to think about redecorating and about putting up art, the affordable art scene has improved for artists like me,” she says. “One thing which helped us stay in the market and actually do well is ‘online sales. It was both exciting and challenging. I got the time and stillness which I require to create. I started working on a new series of sculptures – Sun salutation in Yoga and have been working on it on and off since last year. This is something that I picked up during Covid as I got to spend time with my mother who has been practicing Yoga for almost 17 years.” Ravinder Chauhan, is another amateur artist who was born and brought up in Delhi-NCR and is living near the bank of river Yamuna in Noida. “The Covid-19 pandemic brought an unexpected change in the global business model. The arts sector had to stop exhibitions, events and other visual performances indefinitely across the world. As a result, the arts, institutions and museums drastically lost their revenue but we survived by being innovative”.

It is a collective opinion that the ride in the art world remained enjoyable and challenging. As Vikas Joshi stresses, “There were many challenges in this long period. Some artists took a break. Some enjoyed the creation with new surfaces, new mediums and experimented with new ways. But the artist maintained his identity. Continuity, in search of something new, artists find the seeds of innovation. Full-time professional artists, for example, painted smaller canvases rather than large ones. The joy of expression for daily life was maintained during the pandemic. Instead of painting with the available tools, I drew with charcoal, pen and black ink and searched for another dimension. We are all aware that the true identity of the artist is to be expressed through art. That is his religion.”

New challenges throw up new opportunities and that is what happened with the artists and their creative instinct. Due to lockdown and restricted movement of non-essential goods, artists explored new mediums. “Under the lockdown there was material and movement limitation which made it challenging to fulfil the orders. I became much more dependent on myself and it gave rise to a lot of new ways of doing things,” says Vernika.

Ravinder Chauhan also agrees and adds, “Like others, I was struggling too. The pandemic hit the global supply chain sector also. The lack of arts material forced me to try the homemade materials. Being a computer-savvy person, I used online social media services. Since I teach visual arts with an online educational portal for school students at national and international level, Covid -19 taught me to learn every minute concept to help me enhance my career.” In the face of the challenges, arts organizations and artists adapted and innovated in an effort to survive until conditions more conducive to in-person engagement returns. Some of those changes have included reconfiguring seating and performance spaces to align with social distancing requirements, hand sanitizer stations, Covid-19 testing protocols for artists and securing outdoor spaces for events. As all the artists would agree, art, will survive every calamity and so will people along with it. The energy of creation will never run out, and this is what helps balance the ball at times of destruction.

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