Folk the Talk — Tackling COVID-19 through distinctive folk-art communication

Indian folk art has always held timeless allure and can be traced back to the start of civilization in the continent. From dyeing caves with paintings, walls of mud houses drenched in myriad hues to, at times, the neo age graffiti and doodle, folk art has always focused upon the relationship of an individual’s creativity to the collective order.

While the world battles the pandemic, awareness and safety communication has taken precedence. So much so, that even the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global creative brief to churn out effective and engaging communication, irrespective of cultural and language diversity.

And in testing times like now, there are some Indian folk artists who have created distinctive awareness communication, giving folk art a different paradigm and bringing in the realisation that folk art as a form of communication still possesses the power to penetrate into the most remote locations of rural India.

It would be even fair to say that these folk artists have successfully managed to take awareness about COVID-19, to places where even conventional and non-conventional media has failed.

Intrinsically, Indian folk art has always catered to the needs of a community with a symbolic leitmotif. On one hand, there is the necessity to myth bust misconceptions about the virus and on the other, create social awareness. Interestingly, these artists have also managed to merge it with prevalent moot points like women empowerment or religion to narrate vividly arousing pieces of art.

For instance, in Bhilwara, artist Kalyan Joshi, gave his family tradition of Phad painting a modern twist, through the stories of Devnarayanji, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, by focusing on tales of the Corona virus. Though the subject is grim, the artist has used vibrant hues and bold strokes, to communicate messages on hygiene, social distancing and documenting the present scenario. Apindra Swain an artist from Raghurajpur, has used imagery which captures the new normal post COVID-19, adorned with pastel in his tableau on handmade paper.

Woman washing her hands. Artist: Kalyan Joshi
Services provided in COVID-19 times. Artist: Kalyan Joshi
Pattachitra painting depicting Gods in masks and washing hands. Artist: Apindra Swain
Apindra Swain

We also have Ambika Devi, an artist from Rashidpur village, who has employed the Madhubani art form to depict women-centric scenes of social distancing, washing hands and so on. Through Patua scroll, Swarna Chitrakar, has asked people to trust in doctors, wear masks and maintain physical distance.

Madhubani art displaying people wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in a village market. Artist: Ambika Devi
The COVID-19 virus painted in red on a scroll. Artist: Swarna Chitrakar

Anil Vangad has used the Warli folk art form to depict the virus as a dragon originating from the wet markets of Wuhan and bypassing scientists to spread across the world. It also showcases the new weapons to fight the metaphorical dragon i.e. sanitizers. And there is Dwarika Prasad, from Chittorgarh district who has painted a Kavad panel to show scenes of a hospital treating COVID-19 patients.

Anil Vangad’s Warli art depicts all religions being united in the fight against COVID- 19
Dwarika Prasad’s panel shows scenes from a hospital treating COVID-19 patients
Dwarika Prasad’s panel shows scenes from a hospital treating COVID-19 patients

Tulsidas Nimbark has used Rajasthani miniature tradition which shows the Hindu deity, Krishna dancing in a garden with a venerating saint wearing a face mask, sitting near a bottle of hand wash. Lord Krishna also appears in the works of Sneh Gangal, a mix media artist, who has used a Kangra miniature, the pictorial art from Himachal Pradesh. Here the Lord is battling demons with a mask, sanitizer and a disinfecting machine.

Tulsidas Nimbark’s miniature depicts God, man and sanitizers all in same frame
Through Kangra miniature, Sneh Gangal has made God a part of the battle against COVID 19

Artist Mohan Kumar Verma’s work, in Sanjhi art, showcases devotees praying to Lord Krishna, encircled by scenes of the Lord’s battles with the demons, in this case, the Corona virus.

Artist Mohan Kumar Verma merges Lord Krishna and the present COVID 19 scenario in one frame

Storytelling and communicating to the mass through folk art has an uncanny ability to generate awareness among the rural landscape. Over the years folk art has gone beyond the Ramayan and Mahabharat to more contemporary subjects. The responses towards the virus by using imaginings, metaphors and a dose of religion at times has ensured that some serious messaging gets effectively conveyed.

Perhaps, contrary to popular belief, it is indeed a spirited feeling to witness Indian folk art evolve with the times and yet staying rooted. Besides expressing cultural niches, it reflects global happenings and holds the power to play a key role as an effective communication medium in post COVID India.

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