This work is titled XO! The Winner Takes It All.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Meena Kamal is a prolific international artist and a patron of Bombay Art Society-India. She also sells her work through NFT (she has currently more than ninety artworks in the NFT marketplace) and through her website www.meenakamal.com, where clients buy artworks with different cryptocurrency.
This means, you can buy her works on Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp, from any place in the world. She paints in oil on linen/canvas, mixed media on archival paper and on wooden panels. Her abstract landscapes depict her diverse journeys and experiences absorbed from her life in San Francisco, Dubai, New Delhi and Mumbai, where she has homes.
Full of moods and cultural mosaics, she executes her work in geometric, organic shapes, infused with tactile textures on a meditative colour palette. She has just created a series of thirteen mixed media paintings on archival paper titled Humanitarian Crisis, based on the pandemic and its effect on people, especially the poor.
“Witnessing and hearing the problems faced by people in India in factories and industries and about their long trek home, deeply touched me. “Horrifying images which remain unpublished, were shared with me by friends in bureaucracy and journalism. They left me in a state of shock. I suffered from sleeplessness and became despondent and restless. “Although I create abstract landscapes, I decided to document a scenario depicting the lives of these helpless migrants. “So I created these paintings to express the trauma faced by those who left their closed working places for their native villages and towns by foot, on bicycles, trains and by any other means possible, through my art.”
Meena Kamal speaks to Gulf Today
How did you first become acquainted with the humanitarian crisis that unfolded in India during the pandemic?
In India, most epidemics or pandemics end up as endemics. My worst fears came true when India announced a nationwide lockdown. In a country like India where more than five hundred million people are daily wagers, life for them and their families came to a screeching halt. The poor living in city slums were worst impacted. With cities and towns shut down leaving no way to make a living, with the looming spectre of dying of hunger, they packed their meagre belongings and started their journey back home, through hell. My empathy turned to sorrow and grief, when I witnessed a video, where a toddler was trying to get the attention of his mother lying dead on a road, by pulling at her scarf. The entire nation watched this in horror; it was a reminder of how poor labourers would either die on the roads or get crushed by trains on railway tracks. If they were lucky enough to survive and reach the borders of a district or State, they would be herded into groups and sprayed with toxic chemicals, allegedly to cleanse them.
Is it the first time you have commented with art on a social theme?
Inspiration for my artwork has always been from social changes which I have witnessed through my experiences of living in different parts of the globe.
All my creations are philosophical reflections of changing social, political and economic landscapes.
Did you paint from photographs or from imagination or both?
My artwork takes me far beyond the observation of an event. As a true method actor, I absorb myself into the character of the subject. I then present it in a form that depicts an honest characterisation of the events and the suffering experienced by the subjects of my paintings. My attempt has always been that viewers of my artwork are able to witness and correlate my work to real life events.
Who were your inspirations for this particular social commentary?
Picasso, for example, made a searing comment with “Guernica.” Guernica by Picasso is known to be his depiction of the Spanish civil war. Artists have always beautifully depicted historical events. This is my humble attempt to present through my paintings, the plight of the poor during the pandemic in India.
What is the social function of art?
Art provides a means to express imagination in non-grammatical ways. Art has many social functions; in various cultures, it has been used for ritualistic and symbolic functions. Artists also use it as a form of communication, entertainment, for political change, to depict social causes and also use it as therapy and propaganda.
Do you believe in “art for art’s sake” or in “art for man’s sake”?
The aesthetic movement associated with “Art for Art’s sake” advocated that art should be separated from social, political and economic influences and there should be no connection between morality and art. But artists are the most impactful of historians, and their art has always depicted morality and social political and economic changes in society. Therefore, art cannot be only for its own sake. It transcends its boundaries. Art should be also for life’s sake.
Artists, like others, have been impacted by covid. How has it affected them?
Covid has virtually crippled the art industry. Art gallery sales fell by average of thirty per cent, in the first half of 2020, as per a report published by Art Basel and UBS.
The auction sector was worst hit by sales falling forty nine percent. Online viewing rooms have replaced art fairs. Amateur and small, traditional artists, have been shut out completely from all business opportunities. I would like to place my appreciation on record here for the UAE Government and Rulers who have spent millions on acquiring art from artists and supported the art community through their difficult times.
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