If the Covid pandemic affected each part of our lives, can art be far behind? Two young Indian painters Aditi Purwar and Shivangi Kalra take us through the ups and downs of their artistic journeys through the pandemic and how it has shaped their personal and creative vision.
Aditi Purwar’s journey is as much about personal revolution as a professional metamorphosis. Raised in the historic city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, the 28-year-old qualified engineer creates surreal expressionist paintings that capture the essence of Indian households. During the pandemic, she further introspected and dwelt on her true emotions and perspective of her surroundings through her art.
“Painting is the physical manifestation of my intangible expressions, what I am beneath the physical body and what I perceive when I look towards the world. Through my artworks, I represent my problems and sometimes provide solutions or otherwise keep it open-ended, allowing it to stir emotions in the viewer,” says the 28-year-old.
Born to a lower middle-class family, Aditi shares that her mother married early and had to give up her study of music. Perhaps that was one reason why Aditi was drawn to the creative fields.
She says, “The property disputes within my family kept me detached from materialistic extremities. As a child, I was quiet, observant and self-contained. I began expressing myself through drawings and poetry very early.”
Always open to experimentation, Aditi says she “adores the medium”, irrespective of what it is. “The type of material we use channelises the expressions we hold within ourselves,” she believes.
Her paintings represent the world as she sees it. In her work One Third of the Haveli (2020), she depicts the very common problem of property division in Indian joint families.
She explains: “My grandfather bought a big haveli (large bungalow). His next generation comprises four families of his four sons. One-third of the haveli is now further divided into four parts. This small city, Allahabad, is made up of similar buildings – all divided to accommodate siblings and their families. In their lifetime, they fight for inches, they even keep waste items in order to seize space. These spaces aren’t only made up of bricks; they have a history of anger, love, joy, struggle and many other emotions embedded within. It is a collective representation of their complex minds.”
Being at home for 10 months in pandemic, Aditi could not help but paint the situation she found herself in. “I was separated from them though we still mingled.”
When asked what the journey has been for her as a woman artist, she says, “I consider myself human first. I often forget that I am female; however, society keeps on reminding me of this fact.”
After observing the state of women of the previous generation, including her mother, Aditi felt rebellious enough to speak up against the restrictions that Indian society imposes on women.
“It made me cautious and courageous at the same time so that I was able to take important life decisions on my own. Choosing a career in art after completing engineering successfully was not an easy option. My father was devastated when I told him. Whether you are male or female, choosing a life partner on your own, too, is still a major issue in India. I too had to fight for it. Society creates many such hurdles backed by rituals, beliefs and superstitions. People do not look at the world in a wider perspective.”
She opines that many women forget their self-worth in the name of sacrifice and living up to the expectations of other people. “If a woman is an artist, I am certain she will find a way,” avers Aditi.
“I always thought that the definition of honesty is being morally upright, or not lying, or not cheating others. I rarely gave importance to being honest with myself until recently. It has been a revelation and has cured all the problems in my mind.”
Delhi girl Shivangi Kalra held her first paintbrush at the age of six and was encouraged by her family and teachers to pursue art ever since. As her personal style developed, she began to tilt towards surreal elements and dream-like compositions.
She has been part of many virtual exhibitions such as Nippon Gallery, Kolkata Centre for Creativity, and Art 9 Hong Kong. She was also awarded The Best Painting in an online exhibition by Eastern Foundation of Art and Culture in April 2020 during the lockdown.
Shivangi creates self-portraits through allegorical features and visual metaphors in her artworks. “I like recreating things as I remember them, I don’t like to imitate their reality. If I have half-forgotten the form, I create the forgotten part afresh from imagination. Sometimes, I draw inspiration from images, if I revisit pictures that stir up nostalgic feelings,” says the 22-year-old, who completed her BFA from Delhi College of Art this year.
She is intrigued by the way the patterns of life interact with lifeless ones in a very silent manner. “My practice revolves around the intricacies of life, impermanent shadows, subtle gestures of the living and slight movements of the nonliving, flowing patterns and fluid forms. I believe that every moment leaves a mark on us and deserves to be expressed in its own share of time and space, including every element that makes that moment exotic,” says Shivangi, who works with oils, watercolours and mixed media. She has recently begun incorporating digital elements into her practice.
Affected by the pandemic, her art too began to reflect life around her. She explains, “Confinement to a space for a long time was uncomfortable in the beginning, but later on, it streamlined my visual language. It helped me introspect deeper and work on subjects closer to anything and everything I call ‘home’. Reduced exposure to the outside world helped me realise the beauty of freedom in limitation. At the same time, the strange times that we are living in have left bruising impacts on the way I think and feel.”
Shivangi gives an example of a painting in which she has depicted herself seated in a wave of red, with a haunted look on her face. “The second wave of Covid in India was much more painful than the first. Every day was longer than the previous. This self-portrait captures how it affected me,” she says.
At the same time, she feels there are still many who are oblivious of the devastation around them and at their doorstep. Her painting Indulgence (2021) depicts two women talking to one another, while the rest of the world appears unstable. A tiger walking toward them represents danger.
“Nothing is in order and yet they seem to be unaffected by everything happening around them. This is how the pandemic has been for some people in India,” says Shivangi, who works on sizes that range from small six-inch surfaces to a substantial three feet for her oil paintings.
Is there something Shivangi wished she knew earlier? “I wish I knew the difference between failure and struggle. They are not the same thing. These are difficult times but let’s not forget to keep creating. I am trying to build my life around something that I love, and I think we all need more love in the world – for our work and for each other,” concludes Shivangi.
First published in eShe’s July-August 2021 issue