In the past few months, Shanghai-born Duyi Han, 25, a designer based in Los Angeles and New York, was extremely worried about his grandparents living in Wuhan, China. The couple lived very close to the seafood market in the city where the coronavirus outbreak began. “I was very worried about them and ended up seeing a lot of news. In turn, I saw a lot of medical workers wearing white suits,” says Han in a telephonic conversation with The Indian Express.
With the well-being of his grandparents on his mind, Han began to paint the medical workers in their white protective suits, gloves and masks, the leading fighters of the global war against the deadly coronavirus, in oil on canvas and digital images. His new body of work, The Saints Wear White, has gone viral on social media and shows medical workers as central protagonists in the frescos and traditional paintings that adorn church walls. They are a far cry from their usual colourful biblical themes.
“It was, aesthetically, very strong visual content. They are working tirelessly, risking their lives to save patients. Health care workers deserve much more respect from the public. In China, doctors have to wear the same suits and are at times so tired that they have to sleep on the floor. Their working conditions need to improve. Here, the patients become so desperate that they attack the doctors and beat them up,” says Han, who hopes to recreate his art in the interiors of a church in Wuhan later this year.
Han, the creative director of the design studio called Doesn’t Come Out, is currently in quarantine in a hotel in Shanghai after he returned from New York to China. Han believes that these medical workers world over deserve more respect and his work celebrates and advocates for them. His initial aim of reaching different people across the people by using his images digitally has been served, especially after grabbing the fan following of doctors in Iran, Italy and Russia.
Mumbai-based artist Dhruvi Acharya, known for her psychological works, has turned to her canvas to address the stress she is undergoing after reading and hearing about the impact of coronavirus. A painting dated March 27 on her Instagram handle shows a mythological figure, handpicked from Amar Chitra Katha, battling it out with the virus, to speak about the “war” humans and the coronavirus have declared on each other now. She says, “When the Janata Curfew was announced, I just painted whatever was on my mind — which I guess for the privileged among us, is the coronavirus, versus hunger, poverty, illness and death for many. And since then I have been going to my studio in my residential building every day as painting helps me come to terms with the state of our world right now.” Another watercolour painting shows a woman lying on her bed, awake with a number of tongues wagging at her in her thoughts, signaling the constant chatter of our minds and resulting insomnia. “Reading about the effect of the lockdown on migrants, daily wage workers, and on lives and livelihoods around the world is extremely disturbing,” she says.
Nazwan Mohamad, 26, in Kuala Lampur is pouring his feelings out during quarantine on his Instagram handle with his black and white sketches. His sketch titled Staring Into The Abyss has a figure looking out of the window while an army of coronavirus is stationed outside, and Netflix and Kill sheds light on the movie sharing platform as a popular pastime today. “Staying indoor, entertainment is a great distraction from reality and Netflix offers exactly that. We didn’t have much time for it before this, and now one of the ways for us to kill time is by indulging in Netflix. It is not necessarily a productive routine, but it sure makes time go by fast,” says Mohamad in an email to The Indian Express. He also highlights how many people – with some even separated from their families because of the lockdown – don’t have enough resources to stay inside houses for weeks, and are worried about how fragile their employment and financial situation is due to the temporary closing of businesses.
Calling the US a horror show at the moment, 55-year-old artist Jessica Hargreaves from New York has been inviting everyone on social media platforms from around the globe (through her handle jhargreaves) to send their “anxiety selfies” and experiences during the pandemic. She then translates them into drawings. It is a therapeutic activity that emerged out of her own anxiety and helps her stay social in these times of social distancing. Carly Hampton Cooper, a nurse, features in her portraits. She dreads how most of those in her profession worry that they might carry the virus home to their spouses, kids and loved ones, and how upon seeing a lot of things as an ICU nurse in this current environment often makes her want to scream. There are portraits of those infected by Covid-19 too. “My stepdaughter is a victim of coronavirus. She is also unemployed because she worked in the restaurant industry. These are scary times,” Hargreaves says.
Graphic designer and photographer Tommy Fung in Hong Kong has amassed a huge fan following by turning his handle on Facebook and Instagram into a virtual gallery of sorts, where he has been posting photographs of a mountain of Chinese people fighting it out for face masks in his city and everyone alarmed by a man walking in the street with an octopus head, among other pandemic themed works. He tells the Express, “Normally, people in Hong Kong, from the beginning, have been wearing masks when venturing out, but they end up looking at those with suspicion who are not wearing face masks.”
With the pandemic as the central subject, Mohamad believes that art is a universal language that crosses borders, which can be used to express pain, suffering and the damage that this pandemic has brought to people all over the world. He says, “Our language may not be the same, but we found our common ground through the grief and losses that all of us are dealing with, and art can bridge that gap non-verbally.”
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