Art as a Medium of Expression During Crises
Cultures, festivals and ceremonial events are fueled by art. In Japanese culture, for instance, refined floral arrangements that incorporate blossoms, branches, leaves and stems — or Ikebana — were once used as religious offerings. Now, they are primarily home decorations that add subtle transcendent beauty to everyday life.
In Indian culture, people create rangoli for many religious festivals. For Ganesh Chaturthi, idols are made with clay and destroyed once the festival is complete. For Krishna Jayanti, people paint Krishna’s feet using wet rice flour, and for Devi Pooja, they decorate the mantel using coconut, turmeric and kumkum, with natural yellow and red colors and flowers. During festival of colors, everyone plays with colored powder while at weddings, they make floral arrangements and garlands, decorate the mantel with flowers, and dance.
Worldwide, holidays integrate specific music, food, and visual arts, including decorative lights, to celebrate and foster community. But art — which identifies and observes true reality, painful or not — can also be used to help people cope during times of crises, such as pandemics.
In the late Middle Ages during Black Plague, the Dance of Death genre represented skeletons dancing with people of all social stations as a reminder of the universal fragility of human life. Now, people are similarly turning to art to process the isolation, anxiety and emotional trauma caused by coronavirus. Musicians and other performers, for instance, have used social media to share their performances to soothe and cheer family and friends who are distant or in quarantine.
The immaterial pain of loss has also been made tangible in painting. One example is Spanish artist Juan Lucena, who created a painting in memory of all grandparents who passed away from coronavirus during the pandemic without the opportunity to say goodbye. This painting effectively shows not only grandparents and grandchildren lacking healthy closure, but also the emotional trauma the entire society is undergoing.
Another example is the “Pandemic Poster” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo debuted during a news briefing in Manhattan. This work successfully illustrates the problems, foreseeable issues and steps to adapt. The image represents the infection curve of coronavirus, the number of people hospitalized, testing and a crumbling economy. Yet, it also celebrates essential workers, encourages team spirit, motivates people to take on leadership roles in overcoming the pandemic and inspires confidence and hope.
Globally, we have turned to art for celebration, mourning, or times of stress, because it has the power to cheer during good times, and provide comfort, strength and resilience during bad spells.
Brinda Pamulapati, owner/managing director, of Venvi Art Gallery in Tallahassee, can be reached at (850) 322-0965 or visit www.VenviArtGallery.com