Dear departed: Viral visualisation of loss and confinement in time of global pandemic 

Firstenberg’s flags formed a Covid obituary by the artist who related numbers to victims.

Published: 17th July 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2022 01:59 PM   |  A+A-

White flags installation; (below) Anatomy of a Flame by Anju Dodiya

White flags installation; (below) Anatomy of a Flame by Anju Dodiya

If you were in downtown Washington DC between September 17 to October 3, 2021, you could not have missed the huge white prairie near National Mall—700,000 small white flags fluttering in grassy grounds of the building. Each flag represented a Covid death in the US. For two weeks, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg invited people to plant a white flag in memory of a loved one who had died during the pandemic that still ravages parts of the country.

Firstenberg’s flags formed a Covid obituary by the artist who related numbers to victims. United by a common tragedy, the exhibit brought strangers together in an act of remembrance. A child in a purple skirt looks like a wandering angel amidst white waves. A family sitting on a bench watches a mourner meandering through the fluttering white meadow.

And where the effort of one artist ends, another picks up the thread. Firstenberg asked Jamie Meltzer, an award-winning movie and documentary film director, to record the installation’s effect on citizens. Meltzer obliged by extending the narrative with a new 15-minute documentary Not Even For a Moment Do Things Stand Still which has just premiered at the SXSW Film Festival 2022. Inspiration came from a 9/11 memorial film Footprint made by filmmaker and friend Sara Newens.

The shadow of the pandemic is lifting in the Indian art world, though echoes remain. Last week, artist and sculptor Saba Hasan received the 2022 individual art grant from the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York, meant to globally promote the work of artists in contemporary art. Stuck in her studio during the lockdown, Saba created 14 miniatures and an installation made with pieces of terracotta. Covid is an ongoing artistic experience worldwide.

The Indian artist conceptualised it in gleaming steel instead of white fabric to express the metaphor. The installation by Sudipta Das at the India Art Fair in Delhi had 1,000 human figurines inside a stainless steel building. London saw Anju Dodiya’s solo exhibition Anatomy of a Flame held at Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery in June. It was as if she had foreseen the pandemic; the imprisoned self was the theme of her show named Walled City in 2010.

After the pandemic made self-imposed loneliness a reality, Dodiya extended that torturous reality in ‘Tower of Slowness’ during her first artistic return to Europe after the contagion—“sharing a common wound, a painful recognition of the precariousness of our lives”. The exhibition consisted of seven padded canvases cut in various geometric shapes.

In her words, “Slowness, loneliness, and a heightened awareness of our body and mind set our emotional antenna shivering. The pandemic has left a living impact on mankind which artists are interpreting as their creative vocabulary to translate human suffering into reminiscence on record.”


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