by Meghna MehtaJul 17, 2020
The sudden global lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 has been a unique experience for most of us. Nothing in our lives could be compared to the past 12 months as the world slowly gets back on its feet. Wars and epidemics that some of us may have been witness to were local or at best they impacted regions. Creative practitioners have reacted differently to this. There have been those who felt a drain on the emotions by seeing the pain and agony around. On the other hand, I know artists who locked themselves up to take this opportunity to recalibrate their practice without distraction of ‘life in general’. Then there are those who put everything aside and figured ways to contribute to the lesser fortunate people around them.
Visual artist Dia Bhupal managed to merge all of this through her Corona Quilt Project. It was still early days of the lockdown when Bhupal and her friend Neha Modi realised the need for engaging with others to help them manage their mental health and stay positive. They began by accepting contribution of images on a piece of square cloth. There was no directive on what the image should be about. What started with ‘friends and family’ soon expanded and they gathered over 10,000 physical and 5,000 digital entries. Bhupal began conceiving of ‘quilts’ by stitching these squares together. “My own practice uses found printed paper. We did not alter the ingenuity of the works, but just managed to place them in a particular order of colour palette to create overall imagery,” explains Bhupal. The quilts now adorn various locations in Mumbai. It is an ode not only to the contributors but to each of us who managed to see through these trying times.
I speak to the artist on her motivations and fructification of the project Corona Quilt.
Rahul Kumar (RK): Please tell us how did you conceive of the Corona Quilt Project? What triggered the thought and how long have you worked for it?
Dia Bhupal (DB): The Corona Quilt Project presents a diverse array of site-specific installations, scattered throughout the city. The Corona Quilt Project India, spearheaded by Neha Modi, was funded during the initial weeks of the pandemic as a way to connect people, discuss self-expression and mental health, and bring communities together. The year-long public program culminates in five separate installations in March 2021. The project celebrates the strength and the resilience of people. The squares explore themes of home, safety, nature, the environments in which we exist, and the pandemic, each made through unique forms of mixed media and materials. It draws inspiration from the vibrancy of Mumbai and seeks to delight and inspire joy with those who experience it.
RK: Quilt-making is a traditional craft originating in medieval times. How are metaphors of traditions and idea of protection at play in these monumental works?
DB: Quilting is a method of stitching layers of material together. The history of quilting, as you rightly point out, can be traced back at least to medieval times. For this project, we have employed a modern take on quilting…each patch is made up of unique materials ranging from repurposed fabric and gunny bags to tablecloths and paper collages. Neha and I encouraged interactive virtual square making sessions, to be mindful of, and to adapt to the restrictions posed by lockdown. These global submissions, each expressing an individual’s personal journey, are being printed on upcycled fabric and will be a part of the final presentation.
RK: You mentioned that you have used as many as 10,000 actual squares that various people contributed for the project! What according to you does the final work signify?
DB: Bombay (Mumbai) as a city has been an epicentre of the virus. We wanted to capture the spirit, the resilience and fortitude of its people. This is ultimately a national (even international) project, that is inclusive. It is just the beginning, let’s see where the journey takes us!
RK: Each work has an overarching imagery, like a pumping heart or the rising sun. It is intriguing how unique works become a ‘pixel’, a cell, to make up the larger image. Please talk about the process of putting works with similar colour tones to ‘paint’ the final work.
DB: My work incorporates a transformative, uplifting journey symbolically coming together in natural elements such as the sun, the ocean, butterflies, along with portraits of the frontline workforce who have led the fight against the pandemic. My intention is to present the full range of depth, diversity and ingenuity of the squares collected. For the presentation at Jindal Mansion, I created a modern quilt entitled A Rising Sun. It is always darkest before dawn but every day a new sunrise gives us the opportunity to hope, to dream, and to imagine a better tomorrow. A Rising Sun wraps around the facade of the building with 1339 individual stories. It draws a parallel from the landscape of Mumbai with the sun rising along the coastline.
Honouring the frontline workers is Warriors Rise, a montage of portraits presented on the facade of the Haji Ali pumping station. The focus is a pumping heart, a symbol of all the workers have done to keep us safe and healthy. It features individual portraits of doctors, nurses, the police force and members of the MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) who have been our core strength and support during the pandemic. On the Rise, the presentation on Worli Sea Face, wraps around the facade of the building with over 5000 individual narratives coming together. It draws a parallel from the butterfly- a symbol of transformation, evolution and resurrection. This has been a time of monumental and purposeful metamorphosis, that has given birth to new perspectives and visions.
My presentations have been inspired by children’s drawings and their inner innocence. Rise draws continuities and solidarities between human and nature, artificial and natural, then and now. The concepts chosen embody our current reality and consequences of the pandemic. It's truly humbling to have the opportunity to work on the individual stories that connect and collectively empower the community.
RK: In continuation, your own art practice utilises a similar method of placing tubes made with found paper and building your narrative. Do you also draw parallels to this process and how you planned the ‘quilts’?
DB: Coincidentally, the process has been very parallel to my personal practice as I am working with smaller pieces to create a larger visual. It is the layering up of personal experiences into a single frame but also the layering up of several different creative mechanisms that dialogue and converse throughout the stages of the practise. The eventual presentation incorporates resilience and a transformative journey as a community. In my personal practise, I have worked with a wide range of materials that constituted in a constructed image I have indulged in creating a photographic image of sculptural objects created from recycled trash and found magazines, wasted paper, newspapers, old card board boxes.
The process of my work is very repetitive and meditative. Due to the intensity and meticulous nature of the process itself, it takes me to a deeper realm, keeping my mind engaged and alert, yet relaxing it. Each colour is carefully found in the recycled paper and cut into strips and rolled individually, after which roll is meticulously crafted to create a stable structure based on my narrative. The physical process is rigorous due to its intensity, sensitivity and attention to minute detail. Each element comes with its own text to create a myriad of stories from different cultures, time periods and genres creating a unique environment. These intricate installations manifested from paper are fragments of ordinary public spaces, which are photographed. The final image explores the co-existence between technology, commerce, nature, craft and the basic elements of today’s world.