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Pandemic Days, Emerging Stars

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

by Aakshat Sinha

"Social distancing with digital connectivity is a new way of living. The works in the exhibition deliberate on the future and respond to the current pandemic, offering unique perspectives and fresh contexts to understanding of our surroundings during this dark, uncertain phase." – Sangeeta Gupta

Visitor at the show

An artist can but respond to the world around. The past year and a half has brought the world to a grinding halt, and while the activities in almost all fields have resumed order, the art world is yet to regain its vitality, rigour and mobility. The initial response to the closing of all cultural spaces and justified restrictions to congregations was to shift - lock, stock and barrel - to the online, virtual space to continue engaging with with the audience and to present the artworks and the artists to the world. But the tactile nature of most of the visual arts has made artists and viewers alike to yearn for a physical interaction. With reducing case numbers of new infections, Delhi is opening up gradually; on 15 July 2021, Prithvi Fine Art and Cultural Centre opened its doors to visitors with Pandemic Days: Emerging Stars, a special show of paintings by five young emerging artists - Chandar Pal Panjre, Daina Mohapatra, Hemant Rao, Pankaj Kumar Sharma, and Satya Dheer Singh. The centre setup and run by Sangeeta Gupta (artist, poet, filmmaker and retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax) is celebrating its third anniversary and she has specially curated this show to commemorate the occasion.

Sangeeta Gupta at Prithvi Fine Art and Cultural Centre

I wondered aloud how young artists would be coping with the pandemic and what could be done to help them in these challenging times. This is what Sangeeta Gupta had to say: "Most of the young artists are struggling for a dignified survival in these dark, pandemic days. They are depressed and some of them are not inspired to work consistently. In such times the senior and established artists who are well off should help them by holding hands of few young ones. Buying some of their works can go a long way to keep them going with grace and joy. Prithvi Fine Art and Cultural Centre has gone out of its way to give them a platform to showcase their works. A small step . . . much more needs to be done. Buying art from them would be tantamount to supporting our own art and culture."

The group show features artists who are not natives from Delhi but barring Hemant Rao, who was born in Raghogarh, Madhya Pradesh and is still living and working in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, and Chandar Pal Panjre, who still works and lives out of his native village in Madhya Pradesh, all the participating artists moved moved to Delhi for better opportunities. The past year and a half has obviously not been too easy for them but they have continued to experiment and create.

Chandar Pal Panjre completed his Bachelors (2016) and Masters (2018) degrees in Fine Arts from Indira Kala Sangit Vishwavidyalaya, Khairagarh; he exhibited his Katha-based art in his solo show at Triveni Gallery, New Delhi in 2020, just before the pandemic struck. Katha is a a folk embroidery form and Chandar had started to collect and incorporate it in his art even before the pandemic struck. With the restrictions in place, it made it extremely difficult for him to source painting material like colours and canvases and he was pushed to look at his Katha series all the more. He hails from Chimoniya Village, near Kanha National Park and is currently working there itself. He appropriates his grandmother's and mother's old Katha fabrics which he cuts and stitches together in a surreal collage of expressions. His work like Dehati Brand emphasizes the rural aesthetics and connect. He has also used charcoal to draw on the stitched works. Chandar has incorporated the presence of the copper and bronze mines in the vicinity of his village, representing them as streaks of the mineral using acrylic metallic colours. The Katha stitch rekindles old memories even as it blends with the ever-changing modern world that we inhabit.

Dehati Brand, Katha fabric, 12 inches x 12 inches

Chandar Pal Panjre, Drama in Village, Katha fabric and mixed media, 30 inches x 24 inches

Daina Mohapatra, born in Balasore, Odisha, completed her BFA from Utkal University, Odisha and MFA from the College of Art, Delhi. Her works embody an autobiographical approach juxtaposed with found objects that lend an attachment to thought and action. She creates from her own experiences and the works act as a host to her engagement as she collects these found objects and processes them while holding and looking at them. Her affinity to her own body and experiences bring the feminist idea to the fore with sexuality and coexistence as the key identifiers. She started by adorning her hair with wild flowers as accessories like the Odisha tribals do or by using natural seeds as bindi; she now creates collage assemblages, using lines and colours along with the found objects. By directly using these objects as completely as possible, she repurposes their meaning in her works, such as using cloth roses as heads or headgears. She finds herself to be a hoarder, unable to easily throw away or let go of even the smallest objects, lest they be of some use in the near or distant future. One can relate to how a human being builds a nest and keeps adding desires and symbols of the self throughout life, incapable of letting go of these symbols of relationships with growing self-awareness.

Daina Mohapatra

Trance, Mixed media on paper, 22 inches x 30 inches

Looking at the Self - II, Mixed media on paper, 12 inches x 18 inches

Hemant Rao is a Bhopal-based self-taught abstract artist. He was born in 1984 in a small village near Raghogarh, Madhya Pradesh, and worked at Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan Graphic Studio from 2005 to 2010. Hemant's sensitive, spiritual works are made with dry pastels on canvas. He has developed a special technique that uses fixing of each layer of the dry pastel powder before laying on another layer. The softness of the powder spread is retained and so is the vibrancy of the pigment without mixing it or muddying it with the previous layer. He utilized the pandemic period with being a part of three remotely held art camps to create many new works. He regularly sketches and has been making some works with charcoal and pencil on rice paper. Hemant has always been obsessive about of hygiene and cleanliness, to the extent that he's often been pointed out about this 'phobia'. And the recent period only made him stop meeting people and avoid all contact altogether. Having said that, he and his wife recently shifted to their own house in Bhopal in January this year. The shifting was very difficult because of the lockdowns and Covid protocols in place, for they could not even get help to pack and even most of the heavy work had to be accomplished by the couple themselves. Hemant's persistence with the medium and style of work was rewarded with the Junior Fellowship by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India (2011-12) and the National Award by Lalit Kala Akademi in 2019, among other accolades. His works remind one of spray works but the use of a medium like dry pastels for similar results is praiseworthy for the artist's technical prowess. The aesthetics of the works have a much needed calming effect on the viewer, especially in today's troubled times.

Hemant Rao

Clockwise from top left:

Untitled, Dry pastel on canvas, 48 inches x 48 inches

Tryst, Dry Pastel on Canvas, 18 inches x 18 inches

Nocturnal Bliss, Dry Pastel on Canvas, 18 inches x 18 inches

The First Light, Dry Pastel on Canvas, 18 inches x 18 inches

Pankaj Kumar Sharma completed his BFA in painting from Allahabad University (2005-2008) and MFA (Painting) from Raja Man Singh Tomar Music and Arts University, Gwalior (2008-10). A recipient of many awards and fellowships like the Junior Fellowship from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India (2018-19), he has held four solo shows as well. A small-town boy from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh, Pankaj got his first understanding of formal art education only after he moved to bigger cities. This, despite him using charcoal, chalk and stick in his village school on the ground, blackboard and the walls of abandoned houses of his neighbourhood. He used many different mediums and surfaces but lacked funds to create works with ink on acrylic sheet, which he liked to do very much. This also restricted him to approach galleries to further his artistic aspirations. He moved to Delhi to bridge the gap and create and exhibit his works for a wider reach. The pandemic unfortunately compelled him to move back to his village and he continues to stay and work from there, as he could not afford the rent of his Mayur Vihar studio in Delhi. The lockdown also impacted his access to art materials, especially since he's now moved to a smaller place. His studio in Delhi was a closed space while his new studio is quite open and in proximity to nature, with the river Ganga flowing close by. His works balance the conscious with the subconscious mind, playing on the cosmic reality where the body, mind and soul reside. His works seem to be an energy flow of human figures with a relation to the cosmic bond.

Pankaj Kumar Sharma

A cosmic State of Trance, Water colour and ink on paper, 22 inches x 22 inches

A World beyond Boundaries: A Cosmic Celebration - II

Water colour and ink on paper, 22 inches x 22 inches

Satya Dheer Singh is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, New York USA (2020-21) and the Lalit Kala Research grant scholarship at Garhi, New Delhi (2008-09) among other notable achievements. He has also held many solo exhibitions over the years. After completing his BFA from Allahabad University in 2006, Satya Dheer shifted to Bhopal and stayed and practiced there. His wife started working as a teacher in the city. At Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal Satya Dheer found his calling and after experimenting with abstracts for six months he returned to stylized human forms that he was most interested in. He found the works of Bhupen Khakkar and Jogen Choudhary very inspiring. He sold off his house in Bhopal and shifted to Delhi for better opportunities with his wife into their own flat but this happened just ten days before the cataclysmic lockdown was announced. He finds that not only has his life been directly impacted since he had moved to Delhi as he felt that he had explored what Bhopal had to offer already; his work has also changed in some ways. The figures and compositions are pretty much the same but the backgrounds have become flatter and with less or no design unlike what he was practising earlier. On my first look itself I found strong resemblance to the style and aesthetics of Tyeb Mehta and his use of the diagonal and spatial partitions in his works. But there is a softness in the forms which reminds me of Manjit Bawa's ouvre. This is my personal reading and perhaps not intentional at all on the part of the artist but I hope that the conscious or subconscious reflection of these masters will inspire Satya Dheer to evolve a visual language that he is able to claim as completely his own.

Satya Dheer Singh

From left to right: An Expression-002, Acrylic on canvas, 40 inches x 24 inches,

The Woman in Gray, Acrylic on canvas, 54 inches x 18 inches,

An Expression-008, Acrylic on canvas, 40 inches x 24 inches

The show Pandemic Days : Emerging Days definitely makes a welcome and bold statement as it brings the works of some these emerging artists created during the pandemic to the viewing public. The impact of the pandemic on the art world has been immense and even more so on upcoming artists who have just started and are still searching for regular channels for their works to be viewed, either through galleries or collectors of their own. The efforts of curator Sangeeta Gupta who has gone out of her way in her capacity as an artist herself to support these young artists is indeed commendable. The show will be on display at the Prithvi Fine Art and Cultural Centre at Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi till 31 July 2021.

Pankaj K Sharma's works displayed at the gallery

Sangeeta Gupta giving a video interview to Praveen Mahto at the exhibition opening in the gallery

Hemant Rao's works displayed at the gallery

Artist Satya Dheer Singh and fellow artists visiting the show on the opening day.

Curator Sangeeta Gupta pointing out the use of a cloth flower (found object) as a head in the work 'Looking at the Self - II' by Daina Mohapatra

(All artwork images are courtesy of Prithvi Fine Art and Cultural Centre and the respective artists. Photographs from the gallery display are courtesy of Aakshat Sinha.)


Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.

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