Bombay Showcase

Instagram, a hidden treasure trove of art

Karanjeet Kaur  

Until earlier this year, I’d routinely scoff at Instagram as the resort of duck-faced narcissists whose knowledge of geometry was limited to top angles. Naturally, I wasn’t actually on Instagram. As a proud Information Age-Luddite and human to a slow (but adored) three-year-old Nokia Lumia 710, I had no choice but to steer clear of the social media platform.

But acquiring a smarter phone — and peer pressure therapy — helped me get off my high horse. Over the last few months, I’ve discovered art, artists, and fine-art photographers on Instagram that I was poorer not knowing.

My first port of call was the celebrated Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (@aiww), who shot to international recognition in 2010, when his country’s government kick-started a terrifying harassment campaign that began with his house arrest. No matter what your views on the dissident artist’s work — and his detractors are many — Ai’s prolific use of Instagram is instructive.

His posts range from selfies with fellow subversives such as Julian Assange to, most recently, portraits of political detainees and free-speech activists from across the world, rendered in Lego (a reaction to the toy company’s refusal to ship him a bulk order of the plastic bricks, citing its inability to get involved in “political agenda”.)

The pictures offer insight into Ai’s political beliefs and personal existence, coming together as a tapestry of a life fully lived.

Closer home, Indian artists still seem to shy away from sharing their work on the platform, but I’ve been following Princess Pea (@princesspeaindia) and Harshvardhan Kadam (@inkbrushnme).

The latter is one of the four young artists selected for Kochi Biennale Foundation’s third post-graduate residency programme, and his feed is full of incredibly detailed illustrations inspired by Indian mythology — no doubt a subtle, powerful call for commissions.

A visual diary

Princess Pea, the girl with a kawaii anime head who wishes to be identified only by her alter ego, believes her “visual diary” furthers the theme she already engages with, the avatars we create for social media. “Besides, I did not want to wait for a gallery to develop a concept,” she told me over a brief phone interview.

Princess Pea’s explanation goes to the heart of a crucial advantage of scrolling through Instagram, which has reminded me of the art world’s oldest debate — what constitutes art? Of course, it’s gratifying to declare and hear, “art isn’t just in the galleries,” which is often a tired precursor to a celebration of, say, street art. How frequently though, do we extend that definition to what we see on our capacitive touchscreens?

Maybe we’ll find the answer in Magnum photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov’s feed (@pinkhassov). His gorgeous posts are model experiments with light; everyday scenes that demolish the distinction between the reporter-ly and the artistic.

My favourites are his slow-motion videos, where sunlight is dissected by a fence, or skates off a puddle of water, or filters through a woman’s fluttering skirt.

And if Instagram means that I can dip into these dewy-focus moving images anytime I want, hug them and fall asleep to their silent rhythms, I’d pick it over walking into a gallery any day.

(The writer is the former deputy editor of National Geographic, India)

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 8:33:12 PM |

Next Story