City Life – Divya Babu’s WhatsApp Art Fest, Gurgaon
Art amid corona.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Anxious messages from worried parents and friends. Forwarded recommendations for a better body immunity. Links to so-called experts’ pieces of advice. Morbid jokes and e-mojies. And lots and lots of real news and fake news — all about the virus.
This is what our phones are flooded with, on these days of self-isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this isn’t true for Divya Babu’s phone.
This photographer lives with her family on the 30th floor of a Gurgaon apartment tower in the Greater Delhi Region, and her mobile seems as remote from the concerns of the world as her high-altitude balcony’s stunning view of the so-called Millennium City. Her phone is filled up with beautiful sketches of horses, rainbows and park benches.
This wasn’t always the case. “It all started on the first day of the lockdown,” she says. In her early 40s, Ms Babu is talking on WhatsApp — the photos are taken through the phone screen that connects her to The Delhi Walla.
These days, confined to her flat, she is the busy administrator of #CreativeQuaranTime, a WhatsApp group of about 60 folks who are playing a “drawing challenge” every day. “Every morning at 11, I text a prompt to members and they have to submit any artwork inspired from that prompt by 10 am the next morning.”
The group mainly comprises young women living in Ms Babu’s apartment complex, along with their kids. But the whole idea was born out of her bonding with two childhood friends—Sneha in Atlanta, the US, and Ambreen in Dubai. “We simply wanted to find some little distraction, away from all the chatter about the COVID,” explains Ms Babu. “Everyone everywhere is only talking about the pandemic… we wanted to have a break from it at least for some hours in the day.”
And so it happened. In her apartment, every day by noon, Ms Babu and her daughter, Samairaa, sit down together on the dining table with drawing sheets and colour pencils, paint brushes “and whatever stuff we have at home”, and so do many other women in the complex with their daughters and sons. In far away Atlanta, good friend Sneha does the same on her desk. In far away Dubai, Ambreen does the same with her cat Humphrey.
“My daughter is super-motivated by the fact that it’s “our” time together,” says Ms Babu. “She doesn’t let it pass, even when I happen to be little less inspired by a particular prompt… I’m sure it’s the same for many of the other mothers and kids.”
Every day dozens of entries cram up the group’s WhatsApp inbox but no Oscar is announced to the best art work.
Ms Divya’s laughter rings through the phone. She says this is no contest.
Then what’s the point of it all?
“I think the motivation for us to do it day after day comes from the fact that there is no competition. Participants just want to spend some creative time happily while holed up at their homes,” she explains.
Ms Babu has been into sketching since childhood, plus she has a degree in Fine Arts, but she is shy of sharing her lockdown works with us because “everyone’s oeuvre in the group is interesting in its own way, so it doesn’t feel right to focus on one person alone.” (Nevertheless I’m sharing some of the sketches made by others in the group).
Not long after this chat, Ms Babu forwarded some of the “prompts” sent to the group during the previous days. The mere reading of these words might soothe any coronavirus-stressed set of brains. Here’s a sample: park bench, eyes, favorite planet, flower and bee, and what must be the most evocative so far—under the sea.
Prompted by the word ‘picnic’, a child, Ms Babu recalls, drew a garden, complete with the sandwich hamper but with no person in sight — “because everyone is stuck at home, the child explained.”
Today as well, dear reader, you might be worrying over the corona news updates. But for Ms Babu and forty other parents of the WhatsApp group (along with kids!), there is also the preoccupation of completing their drawing of the day. And this is how life scores an extra point against that virus, and against all the other nasty things infecting the world.
From quarantine to #CreativeQuaranTime
2. (by Ayumi Sakaguchi)
3. (by Ambreen Ansari)
4. (by Aadya)