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Friday, June 18, 2021

Covid canvas: Chennai artist uses self-portraits to describe illness, isolation

Bala Govind Kumar, a visual artist, recorded himself in home isolation, and used the videos for his portraits.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: June 8, 2021 11:59:48 pm
chennai covid news, chennai covid updates, chennai artist self portrait, pandemic art, chennai news, indian expressBala works as an assistant art director to a production designer.

When Bala Govind Kumar, a 25-year-old visual artist, contracted Covid-19 and had to be quarantined, he decided to use his skills for self-portraits, conveying what he was going through.

Bala, who works as an assistant art director to a production designer, tested positive for Covid-19 in April and was in home isolation. This was when he began recording himself, and used the videos for his portraits. One image, he says, took a minimum of two hours to complete.

Bala hails from Tirunelveli. After finishing his architecture course in Ooty, he moved to Chennai for work. “From childhood, I was interested in art. I started painting from Class II. I have always believed there should be something in the work that is more than just colours and figures. Through my brother, I started to learn about other contemporary artists and tried to incorporate them into my works,” he says.

Bala says he wanted to unburden himself of his pain and hence channeled his negative emotions into art. The pictures he produced during this period — Rooted Termite; Persistence of Memory; Exigency; Out for the Count; The life of Riley is Imminent; and The Abandoned Story — describe his experience of isolation and illness.

chennai covid news, chennai covid updates, chennai artist self portrait, pandemic art, Bala Govind Kumar, chennai news, indian express ‘Persistence of Memory Exigency’, is an inspiration from Salvador Dali’s work. Bala says the elephant and the horse in the image have long legs that restrict them from running or walking, similar to his current condition. (Photo: Instagram/artist_be_ba_)

His first first image is called ‘Rooted Termite’ because “he is stuck in a room like a termite”. The image shows different moods of a person, like looking out of the window to get some light and fresh air, starring at a mobile phone, etc. “It’s time for me to fly, but here I am stuck in a room with the disease,” Bala says about the picture.

The second image, titled ‘Persistence of Memory Exigency’, is an inspiration from Salvador Dali’s work. Bala says the elephant and the horse in the image have long legs that restrict them from running or walking, similar to his current condition.

In ‘Life of Riley is Imminent’, there are two persons, one holding the other. “The person in purple is telling the other one that everything will be alright, the situation will go back to normal. As you can see, masks are flying away in the image, denoting that the struggle will be over soon,” he adds.

The series ends with the image titled ‘Abandoned Story’, where Bala’s portrait is placed before a series of other paintings of those suffering in the pandemic. There are paintings of people crying, in a hospital with oxygen masks, people stuck in a room, consoling each other, people carrying bodies to the crematoriums, etc. “I have recovered, I can get back to my work soon. But there are thousands of others who have lost their lives in the pandemic, there are so many abandoned stories, I wanted my series to end with this,” he adds.

chennai covid news, chennai covid updates, chennai artist self portrait, pandemic art, Bala Govind Kumar, chennai news, indian express “As you can see, masks are flying away in the image, denoting that the struggle will be over soon,” Bala says. (Photo: Instagram/artist_be_ba_)

Bala’s inspiration list contains artists from as early as the 1900s to contemporaries. He says he is a fan of Trotsky Marudhu’s works and drew huge inspiration from Mexican artist Frida Kahlo for the self-portrait series. “I love Kahlo’s work, she was able to exhibit her pain through her art. When I was infected by the virus and was made to isolate myself from the outside world, I thought about Kahlo. I wanted to document my struggle so I started this self-portrait series,” he says.

Bala says people are critical about digital art as they think it is not a pure art form. “People think painting using brushes is the real art form, but it is not like that. Yes, traditional painting is a great art form but there is nothing wrong with evolving with technology. According to me, more than medium, it is the content that matters.”

Bala’s aim is to become a production designer, and produce more public art. His upcoming series is titled ‘Misplaced Goats’, in which he imagines himself as a goat that goes back to its hometown in search of its roots.

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