Through art and poetry, this digital exhibit captures lockdown and its many aspects

Contact Tracing, an image from Anannya Dasgupta’s photo art series

Contact Tracing, an image from Anannya Dasgupta’s photo art series   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The lockdown and its companion, isolation, mean different things to different people.

For creatives, this situation has triggered responses that vary across genres, much like any crisis in history. Artistic language has seen a slow shift to a vocabulary that has never existed before: Held — The Lockdown in Words and Images is one such compendium presented by Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai, that captures the ‘new normal’ through an amalgam of art and poetry.

The digital exhibit, uploaded in four installments, presents an interesting marriage of genres that encapsulate the responses of four artistes: visual artist and poet Aannya Dasgupta, poet Geetanjali Rajan, visual artist and poet Parvathi Nayar and poet K Srilata. Comprising poemages, photopoetry, photo art and words, the ongoing project relies heavily on collaboration.

The first bout of the nation-wide lockdown was a “shock” for the artists.

Though the first few days were spent grappling with the changing situation, Paravathi Nayar says, “Later, I was literally found lingering near windows and looking out; becoming conscious of this position of being on a threshold, a windowsill of time.”

Through the window, she could see the playground, once filled with children’s laughter, was now empty: “The playground seemed like a large sundial, marking the moving time. And, I started taking photographs.” Her photo poem, five windows, took form then; this was also the seed of the collaboration.

Just ahead of the lockdown, Srilata went on a birdwatching trip near Kelambakkam. She recalls the flock of migratory birds that visited the marshes: “Everything seemed so normal. It painted a picture that said, ‘everything’s going to be okay with this world!’. For me, the shift was very dramatic.” Her poem Our Days Would Catch on the Cruellest Thorns encapsulates the response to an unfathomable shift. Her poem reads,

“...we didn’t know it then,

that the birds would find their way home

that seasons would proceed as they were meant to

But our days, our days would catch on the cruellest thorns.”

Shift in perspective

Anannya Dasgupta’s photo art series, Lockdown Vocabulary, has images coupled with words associated with the times. For instance, under the title A to Z of PPE is the image of a mask merged with inscriptions on silver tablet strips. Geetanjali, who writes in the tradition of Japanese haikai, reflects on fleeting moments. Her poems are “reminders of the transience of everything”. The first haiga in the series came from observing a furrow on a mother’s forehead that was not there earlier, she writes.

The medium is what aided the collaboration. “Geetanjali and I are primarily people who work with words, whereas Anannya and Parvathi have worked with both words and images. In the process, I was able to reflect on what happens to a poem when it’s set to an image. Annanya spent days and nights working on each of the poems, reading and understanding them closely and setting them to images,” says the poet. Anannya also helped meld photographs for Geetanjali’s haikai: the format captures the shift in perspective as time goes by.

Parvathi says, “The lockdown has a sense of dilated time, so we are looking to upload the work in four installments. The next set (around mid-August) would be our next set of responses.” Though there are plans to give the collection a physical form, she says, by what means, is still uncertain owing to the times.

Held — The Lockdown in Words and Images can be digitally viewed on

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 9:57:20 AM |

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