I know I have been off the radar for a long time but I have a valid reason for that! The last few months have been extremely busy and exhilarating ones for me and I am super excited to share with you all that I recently had the pleasure of holding my very first solo art exhibition!
It was an incredibly challenging yet invigorating experience for me and nothing I have ever done before can match the thrill of seeing a gallery full of my work. Seeing my pieces on display in a radiant, well-lit space gave me a feeling of elation like none other. I never imagined it would feel so out of the world!
My artworks were on display at Dys Art Gallery, Siripuram Junction in Visakhapatnam from 15 April to 21 April 2022. The exhibit titled “Dragons and Beyond” was launched on the 15th of April 2022 and showcased a collection of 26 original works in all, which have been inspired by various muses, including my all-time favorite, the dragon.
Many of the artworks on display are works from earlier years while others are more recent as I wanted to put up a good mix from the past as well as the present. Most of my works belong to the genre of conceptual art and constitute my way of expressing not just what I feel and believe in, but also sharing the joy and pleasure I get from painting.
As mentioned earlier, the exhibit featured 26 original works for display as well as sale, ranging from small-scale paintings to medium sized ones. I had showcased three different series, namely the Dragon Series, the Navrasas series and the Lockdown Saga series.
Each piece in the collection has its own story to tell and a message to convey. It is my sincere endeavor and attempt not only to emote through my work, but also to send out a social message through my art. I hope my viewers can feel through my paintings what I feel and comprehend the deeper meaning behind each and every piece every time they look at one.
I also had the honor and privilege of being featured in the newspaper, The Hindu, along with my work. Sharing an image of the article and a few snapshots of the collection as well as the show.
The last few months leading up to this solo show have been a roller coaster ride, one full of mixed emotions and ups and downs, but in all, it has been a fabulous learning experience in terms of fine-tuning my creative process and growing as an artist. This was a life-time opportunity for me, a golden one at that and has been a long time coming. In fact, it’s been a life-long dream, and to see my dream becoming a reality is absolutely thrilling! I am grateful to the gallerists, Ms. Gladys Rathi and Mr. Krishna Rathi for providing me with this opportunity and special thanks to my dear husband for discovering this place..couldn’t have done it without you!
Hey folks! After a hiatus of two weeks, I am resurfacing with a new post! Finally got a chance to get back to the drawing board after a long long time, so the artwork I am sharing in today’s post not only serves as a comeback to my blog but also to my art!
I call this one “et ressurectionis”, which is Latin for resurrection. This artwork is once again inspired by the present Covid-ridden scenario that our world is relentlessly fighting day and night. It has been almost a year since we have been in the clutches of this dreaded virus. While we continue our attempts at understanding this miniscule yet powerful entity, it in turn has taught us a lot of valuable lessons, not just physical ones, but also on a spiritual level.
Thanks to the corona virus, mankind has been restrained to the confines of his four-walled dwellings like never before. This alone time, or “Me time” as I like to call it, has given him the opportunity to contemplate and retrospect on what he was, what he has become and what he should actually be. It has given him a chance to delve into the depths of his psyche and confront the real pandemic that has been plaguing mankind for centuries – his own vices, namely anger, violence, greed and his lust for power as well as wealth. Not only is he fighting a deadly biological contagion, but also an intangible one, that is far bigger a threat to the existence of the human race that the organic pathogen itself.
This artwork is a representation of man working towards his long impending goal – to break free from the shackles of his own vices and emerge renewed and victorious not just from the pandemic, but also himself. The blue phoenix in this painting is a personification of mankind reborn after it succeeds in purging the pathosis that’s decomposing his humanity along with the physiological affliction that’s wearing him out physically, for a blue phoenix is a symbol of rebirth, a return to being, and a new spiritual path.
The phoenix teaches us not just to let go of our old self and our limiting self concepts, but also inspires us to embrace and accept the new us that is abound with all the goodness in the form of virtues that have been listed on the feathers of the phoenix in this artwork.
In times of doubt and confusion, the blue phoenix symbolizes strength, transformation and renewal. For only from the ashes of who we were, can we rise up to become who we are to be. That is how we are rediscovering ourselves as we get past COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the pause button for humanity and stopped the world in its tracks. It has brought all of us down on our knees, but as we struggle to cope with it, we are also slowly learning to live with it. Even though all over the world lockdowns and restrictions are being eased out progressively, it doesn’t mean that the virus is gone. Our respective governments may have granted us some relaxations, but COVID-19 hasn’t. This is a long-drawn battle and we should continue to be on the vigil and fight on till we defeat the enemy and emerge victorious.
Today I present to you “Labyrinth,” the last artwork of my Corona Series, as we embrace the “new world order” of a dangerous world in the midst of a perilous virus. This one is inspired by the most brilliant yet dangerous military formation in Indian mythology, the mythical “Chakravyuha.”
To give a brief account of the Chakravyuha, it is a multi-tiered defensive formation chronicled in the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. It is believed that it was a seven-layered circular maze where each of the layers is rotating in the same or opposite direction, with strategically placed weak and strong soldiers. The warriors at each interleaving position would be in an increasingly tough position to fight. Each of the layers are presented with possible openings which are closely guarded by one of the main highly ranked warriors and his personal troops.
It is this brutal form of assault that I have adapted in my artwork as an attempt to depict all the strategies and tactics that are being implemented by us in order to keep the virus at bay. The Chakravyuha was not just an allegory or a physical labyrinthine disc, but a representation of a ferocious form of defense. This ring formation could hover across the battlefield and consume opponent soldiers from within, like a tornado or typhoon moving unhindered and destroying everything in its path.
Just like the Chakravyuha rotates on its axis as well as revolves in its trajectory, thus making it a great defensive as well as offensive mechanism, we too have devised a labyrinth of preventive and counter attacking measures that can be as impenetrable as the deadly Chakravyuha itself if implemented effectively. Each layer of this maze is our defense against the virus and their potency keeps becoming stronger as you move inwards. The innermost layer represents our ultimate defense against the virus – a vaccine. Even though we are still working on this aspect, I am sure the day is not far away when we will succeed in completing this layer of defense.
I have depicted the other six layers as our current lines of defense, namely, personal hygiene measures like washing hands, sanitization, etc., personal protective gear like gloves and masks, healthy eating to build up immunity, social distancing, quarantine/isolation and medical treatment for the infected. Together all these layers need to be set into motion, in unison, moving continuously across the COVID-19 warzone.
This spinning spiral of death can also be put into action as an offensive tactic to attack the seemingly invincible Corona virus from all sides. If we manage to enforce and carry out this plan incessantly, we stand a chance at defeating the fatal virus and ending the pandemic. All it requires is a collective effort from one and all so let us all stand together, for all of us are soldiers in this global war.
“Sometimes life seems a dark tunnel with no light at the end, but if you just keep moving forward, you will end up in a better place.”
In the current COVID-ridden times, we seem to be stuck in an endless tunnel of lockdowns and curfews. Just when we think the exit is around the corner, it seems to stretch on further at the very next turn. That’s exactly what’s happening presently, what with lockdowns being extended incessantly across the world.
The worldwide lockdown has changed our lives drastically, engulfing us in the darkness of uncertainty as we remain restricted within our four walled fortresses. People all over the world are experiencing this darkness in varying forms, be it curfew, lockdown, isolation or quarantine.
This Global Lockdown is what I bring to you as an artwork in today’s blog entry, which is inspired by and named after the very phrase – “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” Another rendering in watercolor, it is a symbolic representation of the multiple lockdowns that our world is being subjected to in order to slow down the pandemic. I have used the contour of a keyhole to depict the dark cavernous tunnel of confinement. Each keyhole silhouette represents a lockdown phase and together all the contours collectively form the tunnel that we seem to be traversing through.
I have used the technique of perspective to illustrate the three dimensional view of a tunnel onto the two dimensional surface of a paper with an attempt to make it as natural and realistic as possible, at the same time creating an illusion of space and depth. The innermost keyhole signifies what lies beyond the tunnel – the light of hope. It’s this light that we need to see beyond the darkness of the seemingly never ending lockdowns, but to do so we have to travel all the way through the dark abyss with the faith that what lies at the end of the tunnel is the much needed relief of the confinements being eased. This light gives us hope that the end is just around the corner.
The tunnel in my artwork symbolizes our journey through these dark times, which seems as gloomy as the path itself. We find ourselves entrapped in the darkness of this murky cavern unable to navigate our way ahead through the sufferings we encounter on the way. The only way to beat this darkness and get through to the other side is to divert our thoughts towards the light of positivity, thereby asserting our faith in the fact that respite in close at hand. We need to channelize and transform the gloom into our strength and illuminate our resilience to go through with the sojourn. To find the light at the end of the tunnel, advance through the darkness knowing that nothing lasts forever and this too shall pass.
The light in my artwork also represents the hope-filled signs that this crisis will end soon. These signs include efforts of the likes of social-distancing, testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine which at least for now are helping us in controlling the spread, until effective treatments and vaccines can help us put the virus back in it’s box. I opted for a monochromatic grayscale color palette to render the contours of the tunnel as it represents how we view the world during the lockdown – in black and white.
In this global crisis of uncertainty and unpredictability, everything depends on the effectiveness of containment measures which can only attain their full potential when followed stringently. So let us all kindle the spark of positivity and help it guide us through to the end of the tunnel where the light awaits us. For –
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the way out is through.” — David Allen
As COVID-19 continues to march across the globe making every man, woman and child it comes across its prisoner, our gallant soldiers in white fight on relentlessly. Doctors, paramedics, nurses and health care workers all over the world stand their ground like a shield between us and the deadly virus. They form our front line defense in the battle against this silent and invisible enemy.
Here’s another watercolor tribute to the tireless service being rendered by these courageous warriors, who have been selflessly caring for others day and night without giving a thought to their own safety and well-being. This artwork, like an earlier one of mine titled “Gods in White Capes”, is once again a salute to their grit and determination. Their dedication towards their duty and their conviction to save each and every life they are entrusted with are not just praise worthy but also inspiring.
Words cannot do justice to the rigorous toil and sweat of our medics but it becomes evidently visible when they step out of their protective armor which conceals tales of their valor. Their undiluted courage can be seen in the impressions on their faces that have been left behind by the masks they are forced to wear round the clock. It is these marks of courage that I have highlighted in my rendition of our real life superheroes.These tell-tale marks are also witness to their noble service and are a constant reminder of the hardships they are willingly putting themselves through to safeguard the ailing and heal them back to health.
These men and women knowingly choose to put their own lives in jeopardy to save lives that are on the line.At times like these, when your own survival is at risk, it is difficult to think about others but these are the people who make it look easy. We are all indebted to these soldiers who choose to serve humanity over being with their near and dear ones. Let us all remember their “Battle Scars” even after they fade away. Let them remind us to forever be grateful to these saviors for rising up to the challenge in these unprecedented times.
In today’s Covid-19 ridden world, the phrase “flattening the curve” is not just a figure of speech used to represent statistical data, but also one of the strategies we have adopted with the hope of containing the pandemic until a vaccine or effective treatment comes into existence. It is our desperate attempt to delay the spread of the infection and keep our health care services within their operational capacity. That’s why countries all over the world are tirelessly working to flatten the curve.
I don’t think I need to go into the mathematical aspect of the phrase as I am sure most of us are well versed with it by now. So in a nutshell, flattening the curve implies reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases with time. This can take the load off our healthcare system to some extent and prevent it from becoming overwhelmed. When a country has lesser new COVID-19 cases appearing with every passing day, it’s a sign that the country is flattening the curve.
It is this metaphor and its pictorial representation that inspired me to create this week’s artwork once again through my new found love for watercolors. I know it’s an extremely abstract depiction so bear with me if it doesn’t come across to you at first glance!
I have attempted to illustrate the COVID-19 trajectory on a conventional graph with its two slopes, the steeper one signifying the exponential rise in cases against time and a flatter one which represents what we are aiming at in order to sustain our health care systems. The face within the steeper curve symbolizes the suffering humanity has to endure if we do not contain the spread of the contagion. The mask within the flatter slope embodies all the measures we need to take to counter the infection and ensure that we limit its spread within the confines that can be handled by our health care systemsand also succeed in flattening the curve.
The background of the artwork is also an abstract representation of a graph sheet that is used to plot a graph. I have used the technique of pattern doodling to create this backdrop. Now you all must be itching to know what’s the role of the sun that I have depicted here? Well this symbolizes the hope that we will beat this darkness and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Once again, I have rendered the sun using watercolors and further enhanced it through doodling.
This artwork is my personal expression of our need to do everything in our power to check the escalation of this deadly sickness. This modern day plague is like a wild predator that has been unleashed on us and is devouring our health and well being. The only way we can ensure our survival is if we can restrain this beast, terminate it and send it to its grave, before it does the same to the entire human species. It’s almost as if we need to “tame” this monster, hence the title of my artwork – Tame the Curve. So let’s all flatten the curve and save lives.
A deadly contagion has declared war on our world, afflicting us with illness and fatality. Every corner of the planet feels like a warzone as we make desperate attempts to combat the Corona virus with lockdowns, quarantine and isolation. As social distancing and staying home become the norm, we are slowly learning to acknowledge the importance of these actions in keeping us alive and kicking.
In the face of this global health crisis we are seeing endless human suffering which is changing people’s lives for the worse. Mankind is traumatized and our social fabric is torn. People are worried and scared. We need to counter this atmosphere of fear and panic by recognizing and accepting the fact that we have only each other to ensure our survival. This is not the time to indulge in skin-deep, color based prejudices and fanaticism but to unite against our common faceless enemy. This human crisis calls for global solidarity and unification.
It is this thought that has inspired me to create a watercolor rendition that I call “One World.” Through this artwork I wish to convey that we are all in the same troubled waters so all the nations of the world need to come together and unify their forces as well as resources in order to successfully tackle COVID-19. I have attempted to express this by depicting all the nations as one single cityscape under the same skyline.
Even though each country is trying its level best to address this worldwide epidemic in its own way, it is too complex a predicament to be handled individually. This demands combined action from the world leaders not just to help their own country but also look out for the less developed and more vulnerable ones. Universal coordination and cooperation are the need of the hour.
COVID-19 is the Trojan horse that has insidiously infiltrated the human operating system and is slowly shutting it down. The only antidotes we have against it come in the form of lockdown, quarantine, isolation and precautionary measures of the likes of social distancing, washing hands and wearing of masks. These countermeasures are being adopted globally hence I have highlighted some of them in my artwork. As of now this is the only “antivirus” we have against the infection.
If our nations become more integrated in this battle full of uncertainties, the human race stands a chance of pulling through this dark time. So let us all come together in our fight against Corona virus even though we are miles apart. In these difficult times, Bob Marley’s legendary lyrics from “One Love” sound just right so signing off for now with a few lines from the song –
One love One heart Let’s get together and feel alright
One love One heart Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel alright Let’s get together and feel alright
Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (one love) So when the Man come, there will be no no doom (one song) Have pity on those whose chances grows thinner There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of creation (sayin’)
The world has been invaded by a minute yet potent entity that has ravaged the human race and brought it down to its knees. This unyielding adversary is the killer COVID-19 that has dramatically altered our lives in just a few months. Since the day this deadly pathogen declared war on humanity, we have been living in terror and what makes it worse is the fact that no-one knows when this war will end or who will be the victor or what our world will look like after it does.
The onslaught of this virulent microbe has radically changed the existing status of human civilization universally. Our hustling bustling world now looks empty and desolate. The streets are deserted, restaurants and cafes are closed for business, malls and department stores are shut and the once thriving tourist destinations are out of bounds for humanity.Countries have closed their national as well as international borders, modes of long distance travel like air and rail have been suspended indefinitely and mandatory curfews or lock-downs have been imposed on any non-essential movement.
As the menacing corona virus infiltrates every street and alley, spreading its reach far and wide, it has turned our world upside down.Countless have succumbed to it and umpteen more continue to fall prey every day. People are dying in masses, health resources are stretched beyond their limits and the very foundation of our existence is under threat. The essence of our freedom is diminishing as we are forced to go into an unnatural hibernation, for this virus seems to know no barriers.
Even so, humanity has not lost completely for thousands recover and beat the virus every day, so not all hope is lost.In this time of crisis, confinement and isolation are paramount for our wellbeing and eventual survival.‘Stay Home’, is not just the current mantra, but also the need of the hour and a new way of life in the present day scenario. For how long you ask? For as long as it takes I say.
It is this mantra that inspired me to create this watercolor artwork titled “Home Safe Home”. In the present circumstances it becomes absolutely imperative for each and every one of us to stay indoors and follow all the lock-down rules. In order to defeat this deadly virus, we need to unite not just as a community or a race but as a species and limit ourselves within the protective boundaries of our homes, for these are like impregnable fortresses that the virus cannot penetrate unless we step out and bring it in ourselves.
Our planet has provided us with so much more that her capacity that she almost has nothing more left to give. She has protected us from floods, famines, disaster and disease just like a selfless mother protects her child from all harm. She has always put us first and all we have done is drained her dry. We have used and abused her time and again for our own selfish gains without giving any thought to her well being. Maybe this is her way of mending herself or teaching us a lesson and making us mend our ways. Who knows?
Through this artwork I wish to convey that now it’s our turn to return her favors. The earth is our home, in fact the only home we have. By staying within the confines of our individual dwelling places, not only do we protect ourselves from the deadly COVID-19, but also protect our planet from us. Right now, we need to be patient and resilient and wait for the day we attain victory over this virus. Once we are liberated from its stronghold, we must remember to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start. We need to heal our planet and make her a safe haven not just for us but for all the other beautiful living beings that reside on it. Only then will it become “Home Safe Home.”
Let’s hope that this period of confinement and self constraint takes us into the depths of our thoughts and makes us introspect on how we can make ourselves worthy of living in this safe haven.
The Corona virus is like a malignant tumor that is spreading uncontrollably across the world, slowly putting it into shutdown mode. This is an extremely distressing time in the history of mankind, especially for those who revel being out in the open.But the current situation makes it absolutely imperative for everyone to stay indoors.
Being a loner and a recluse, I have always enjoyed being with myself the most and love my solitary strolls with just nature’s sights and sounds to keep me company. Not only do these secluded reveries relieve me of my worries, but also provide me inspiration for my most beloved activity – making art. Creating something aesthetically appealing is like therapy to me. It heals my thoughts as well as my spirit and soul.
As I sit isolated from civilization, my own retrospective reflections have found a release through my art. The solitude of lockdown has intensified my artistic energy. My introspections have brought forth glimpses of other’s lives and helped me put their role into perspective. At a time when the framework and confines of daily life have shriveled to the bare necessities, I am filled with gratitude for all the people who are helping the human race endure and sustain this perilous episode.
The artwork I share with you all in today’s post is an expression of my gratefulness to the warriors who are at the forefront of the combat zone of the COVID-19 invasion – our health workers, paramedics, nurses and doctors. This is my tribute to our medical healers who are working tirelessly day and night to pull us out of the clutches of the macabre corona virus.
When man is overwhelmed by turbulent storms, he turns to faith and hope. Faith comes in the form of the trust he puts in his savior to rescue him from the storm and hope is what makes him hold on to his faith. In the present day situation, our faith has taken the form of our medics who are no less than reincarnations of God. They hold the divine power to heal us and revive us back to health.
This dauntless service to humanity is not for mere mortals like you and me. Not only is it equivalent to a divine power, but also an act of heroism in its own right and deservant of a place next to none other than the Almighty. Hence, I have represented the entire medical community through an image of God. I have rendered my illustration of this image of divinity with my beloved prismacolor pencils. I have used chalk pastels to represent the form of the virus and colored gel pens for doodling the dos and don’ts that are being recommended by our doctors and medical experts.
These are not Gods we have read about in mythological books and epics. They are real life Gods with the power to heal disease. These are not the superheroes we read about in comic books or see in movies. They are real life heroes who are combating this pandemic fearlessly, putting their own lives at risk in the process. So let’s all salute them for their unwavering resolve and support, for we owe our lives to them.
As the deadly Novel Corona Virus or COVID-19 grips the world in its vicious claws and spreads its wings far and wide, it made me wonder how artists during similar epidemic-ridden periods in the past would have been affected and how they would have rendered these afflictions in their own work. I did some research and was surprised to come across several works of art depicting the same. So get ready for a trip down memory lane to reminisce about how various pandemics in history have been depicted by artists.
Tournai Citizens Burying the Dead During the Black Death, 14th century
During the Black Death (1347 to 1351) skeletons and death were very common in culture and art. This miniature shows the mass burial of the dead by the citizens of Tournai, Belgium. There are fifteen mourners and nine coffins all crammed into the small space, with the face of each mourner given individual attention, each conveying genuine sorrow and fear.
Painting by French artist Josse Lieferinxe at the end of the 15th century
In this painting from the 1490s, St. Sebastian, one of the saints whom people prayed to for protection against the plague, kneels before God while a grave attendant is stricken with the plague as he is burying someone who died of the disease. He has a single bubo on his bent neck. You have to look closely to notice the swollen red lump (the bubo) on the neck of the man on the ground in green sleeves.
Giacomo Borlone de Burchis, The Triumph of Death with The Dance of Death, 15th century
The Dance of Death (Danse Macabre), whichisa part of The Triumph of Death scene, shows Death as a crowned skeleton queen swinging scrolls in both hands. Two skeletons at her sides are killing people with a bow and an ancient arquebus. Beneath her feet is a marble coffin where the corpses of an emperor and a pope lie surrounded by poisonous animals, symbolic of a quick and merciless end. Powerful yet desperate people from diverse social classes are offering valuables and begging for mercy.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Triumph of Death, c. 1562
The Triumph of Death by Flemish Renaissance master Pieter Bruegel the Elder also shows the Black Death. An army of skeletons wreaks havoc across a blackened, desolate landscape. Fires are burning in the distance, the sea is full of shipwrecks. Everything is dead, even the trees and the fish in a pond. This painting depicts people of all social backgrounds, from peasants and soldiers to nobles as well as a king and a cardinal. Death takes them all indiscriminately.
Pieta, 1576 by Titian
When Venice was struck by plague,Titian painted the Pietà as a prayer for the survival of himself and his son, Orazio. In the bottom right-hand, propped under the stone lion, is a tablet on which Titian and Orazio are seen praying to the Virgin for delivery from the plague, but in vain. Titian died “of fever” and Orazio also died during the plague. Glimmers of silvery torch and moonlight on the mosaic canopy above Christ, on the statues of Moses and the Sybil and the pale glowing body of Christ accentuate the terrible gloom.While the painting pleads for salvation, the emotional texture is of fear and horror at the closeness of death.
Van Dyck’s Saint Rosalie Interceding for thePlague-Stricken of Palermo, 1624.
This was painted by Van Dyck on top of a self-portrait he had sketched on a canvas. Van Dyck was in Palermo, Sicily, when a plague broke out. On July 15, 1624, the remains of Saint Rosalie—the city’s patroness, who died about 1160—were discovered on Mount Pellegrino, seen here above the harbor of Palermo. The canvas was cut on all sides, which trimmed the paint surface slightly on the left and right. Matching canvas has been added and repainted to complete the putto at the top left to the saint’s left hand. The landscape is quite worn and the upper sky is restored.
Paulus Furst of Nuremberg, Doctor Schnabel von Rom, 1656
This etching displays a protective costume used in France and Italy in the 17th century consisting of an ankle-length overcoat, a mask, gloves, boots, a wide-brimmed hat, and another outer garment. The mask had glass openings for eyes, a curved bird-like beaked shaped face with straps to hold the beak in front of the doctor’s nose and two small nose holes serving as a respirator which held sweet or strong smelling substances (usually lavender). The beak could also hold dried flowers, herbs, spices, camphor or a vinegar sponge to keep away bad smells, known as miasma. This costume terrified people because it was a sign of imminent death.
Bonaparte Visiting the Plague House at Jaffa, 1804.
The painter Antoine-Jean Gros depicts the courage of General Bonaparte visiting plague-stricken French troops in the courtyard of a Jaffa mosque in Syria, being used as a military hospital, in 1799. Bonaparte is seen touching a sore on one of the plague victims with his bare hand. One of the officers has a handkerchief over his mouth. On the left, two Arabs are handing out bread to the sick. On the right, a blind soldier is trying to approach the general-in-chief. In the foreground, in the shadows, the dying men are too weak to turn towards their leader. The painter implies that Bonaparte’s virtue and courage justify the horrors of war and gave him the luminous aura and gestures of Christ healing the lepers in religious paintings.
Arnold Böcklin, Plague, 1898
Plague illustrated Arnold Böcklin’s obsession with war, pestilence, and death. Böcklin, a Symbolist has personified Death here as a winged creature, flying through the street of a medieval town. According to art historians he took inspiration from news about the plague appearing in Bombay in 1898, though there is no straightforward, visible evidence of Indian inspiration (Symbolists always used as ambiguous and universal symbols as possible).
Egon Schiele, The Family, 1918
The 20th century brought the Spanish Flu, the horrific scale of which is hard to fathom. Egon Schiele was one of the great artists who died from it. The Family was unfinished at the time of Schiele’s death and initially was titled Squatting Couple. It was one of his last paintings. It shows Schiele himself with his wife Edith and their unborn child. Edith died of Spanish flu in the 6th month of her pregnancy. Three days after she died Egon did too.
Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait after Spanish Influenza, 1919
Among other famous artists who died of the Spanish flu were Gustav Klimt, Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, and Niko Pirosmani. Edvard Munch caught it but he survived. Munch painted this work in 1919. He created a series of studies, sketches, and paintings, where in a very detailed way he depicted his closeness to death. As seen here, Munch’s hair is thin, his complexion is jaundiced, and he is wrapped in a dressing gown and blanket.
David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Falling Buffalos), 1988-1989
In this photo-montage a herd of buffalos is seen falling off a cliff to their deaths. Made in the wake of the artist’s HIV-positive diagnosis, Wojnarowicz’s image draws a parallel between the AIDS crisis and the mass slaughter of buffalos in America in the 19th century. It reminds viewers of the neglect and marginalization that characterized the politics of HIV/AIDS at the time. Wojnarowicz died of HIV/AIDS in 1992.
Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear, 1989
Keith Haring designed and executed this poster in 1989 after he was diagnosed with AIDS the previous year. The poster depicts three figures gesturing “see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing”. This implied the struggles faced by those living with AIDS and the challenges posed by individuals or groups that fail to properly acknowledge and respect the epidemic. Keith Haring died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of 31.
Untreatable plagues have been a regular feature of human existence for centuries. The medieval Black Death from 1347 to the late 17th century and the Spanish flu were some of the most devastating pandemics in human history. The paintings in this post remind us that “the plague” is not just a thing of the past but a global phenomenon that keeps recurring every few decades.
Not only did art survive the trials and tribulations of disease, it flourished. Even though art history is brimming with images of death, it is also full of learning. It’s almost as if all that pestilence served as a driving force for artists to create incredulous masterpieces aimed at affirming the importance of life. As a global community, we need to take a lesson from this, stop focusing on our differences and fight these outbreaks together. All we need is a positive outlook, the will to fight and a universal messenger like art to transmit the message everywhere.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we fear epidemics like never before. We don’t know yet what would be the final numbers of this global contagion, but looking back into art history, we realize that the past holds optimistic messages for modern day man. If people could endure incomprehensible contagions in those days, then so can we.
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