by Shaunak MahbubaniJul 27, 2021
On March 23, 2020, on the eve of the Indian government announcing a nationwide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Creative Image Magazine announced on its Instagram page a series of workshops titled Creative Quarantine, proclaiming that “in a time of social distancing it is necessary to not feel isolated and therefore have a space to express ourselves collectively”. The weeks that followed saw the page featuring a great many artworks created by professionals, hobbyists and greenhorns alike, responding to prompts designed by artist Purvai Rai, who is the platform’s co-founder and creative director, and art therapist Roshni Bhatia.
Rai remembers Creative Quarantine’s inception as such, “it was very spontaneous. We started talking about doing these visual workshops, something very simple where you don’t have to be an artist, you don’t have to be in the arts, you don’t have to have any art material. Basically, we started looking at the most basic things you have at home to make art”. The on-going crisis was an important catalyst as Bhatia points out, “no one has ever gone through an experience like this. I think this factor of ‘not knowing’ is what makes us uncomfortable and different people cope with this very differently. It’s quite challenging to express these anxieties verbally because we may not even be consciously aware of how we feel about these things”.
Though there is a general trend among creative professionals to emphasise the importance of creative practices during these times, this does not appear to be Creative Quarantine’s intention. As Bhatia tells us, “I wouldn’t say it is therapeutic for everybody, for some making a certain kind of art can be very frustrating, so our intention is not to force this upon anyone but to provide a non-judgmental space. One thing I feel is necessary for us is to process our thoughts and also make space for a kind of release. As adults we often forget that a very natural thing to do is the ability to play, and when we are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, or going through a crisis most often than not the biggest revelations come when we are doing something a bit more alternative than our usual routine”.
While Bhatia spoke about the importance of art for catharsis, it was their more meditative qualities that Rai was keen to talk about. “I think another thing about art is it is like meditation. Art has a similar feel good factor and more people can do it because by the end of it you get something tangible which you can touch, feel and see and there is a sense of fulfilment. I think, with times like now when you don’t know what is going to happen, short-term goals and short-term achievements and things that give you happiness is what will keep you going till you can get back to whatever normalcy looks like". This being said, for both individuals it is the process and the joy of creating that takes precedence over what is created.
Both Rai and Bhatia have been engaged in creative spaces outside the aegis of Creative Image during the lockdown period. While Rai co-founded Art Chain India with Ayesha Singh, as a peer-support movement that assists artists to sell work at this uncertain juncture and beyond, Bhatia is the co-founder of the collective FoundSpace whose open exhibition In Search of Self is an accumulating collection of self-portraits that are being made during this on-going period of isolation.
“Even if the world is at a complete stand still, the fact is that new technology like FaceTime, Hangout, Instagram etc. give us amazing possibilities to share and communicate with each other. If we can’t travel personally to meet people or visit situation for experience and understanding – this technology is giving us privilege of sharing and caring. The mind’s eye has to be enriched through such experiences to stimulate, charge, and explore the possibility of multiplication of such creative expressions through these workshops,” says the veteran photographer Raghu Rai, who is Purvai Rai’s father. As editor-in-chief of Creative Image Magazine, he intends to bring the artworks made through the course of the workshops together as a book and is also considering the possibility of curating an exhibition of the same.