How folk artists respond to a pandemic

How folk artists respond to a pandemic

Work by Tulsidas Ambika Devi

Sarika Sharma

For generations, craftspersons have been creating traditional folk art to mimic the daily scenario. It was but natural that they responded to the coronavirus pandemic too, and in their own way. From Ambika Devi’s Madhubani paintings to Prakash Joshi’s phad artwork, works by some of country’s finest folk artists have been inspired by it.

Work by Tulsidas Nimbark

The times have been particularly testing for the artisans. Miniature artist Tuslidas Nimbark says the last two months have been tough for two reasons. Firstly, they were scared of the virus and, secondly, worried about subsistence. “The world had come to a standstill, but we knew we had to work. So, we thought of expressing ourselves,” says the Jaipur-based artist. His work shows Lord Krishna dancing and a saint seated nearby. Between them is kept a bottle of handwash.

Delhi-based Dastkar, a society that works to support traditional Indian craftspeople, first received a phad painting from Kalyan Joshi wherein men and women were seen wearing masks. “We then took to this and began motivating those artisans who felt discouraged during these uncertain times,” says Rhea Gupta, spokesperson for the organisation headed by Padma Shri awardee Laila Tyabji. She says the works have been carried out by artisans within their capacity to help give a clearer view to their own community of the pandemic that has taken over our lives.

This is exactly what multiple-award winning folk artist Ambika Devi, who hails from Rashidpur in Bihar, had in mind when she got down to reflecting on the pandemic in her paintings. She says no one in the world seems to have an option but to take coronavirus in its stride. She says the last two months have been one of utmost fear for her. The unseen enemy has kept her on her toes.

Work by Kalyan Joshi

“I have been telling family, friends and community members what the government has told us — wear masks, maintain social distancing, et al. So when I was asked by Dastkar to create something on coronavirus, I thought my work should portray what I have been feeling, doing...” One of her works shows a family — all with face masks on — drawing water at what seems like a community tap. Another shows men and women buying vegetables while keeping a safe distance.

Ambika Devi hopes people will like her work. She also wonders how the pandemic will change things, where will her works sell... If physical exhibitions are a thing of the past, she wishes their works sell online so that artisans like her continue to earn their living with dignity.

Works of kaawad artist Dwarika Prasad from Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, are a tribute to frontline warriors. A melange of various small paintings made on mango or ardu wood panels, kaawad art is a centuries-old tradition of storytelling. The pandemic-inspired work has four panels highlighting the contributions of medical staff, police and sanitation workers, who have been at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus for the last two months.

Dastkar plans to connect the artisans with the appropriate audience of craft lovers who would appreciate the work, and would, perhaps, want to adorn their homes with the same.

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