The Covid-19 pandemic has been cruel to the whole world and India is no exception. It first arrived at the brink of India in January 2020, with the country going into a sudden, unplanned, and draconian lockdown on 25 March of the same year. On 10 June, India’s recovery rates exceeded active cases. The country grew boastful and fell for the facade that it had entirely recovered from the clutches of the virus. Leaders started organizing mass religious congregations and shifted their focus from battling the pandemic to winning the elections.
Their folly paid a massive price as the black night of the second wave descended in the spring of 2021. It caused huge losses—migration of people, loss of livelihood, and countless deaths. The virus showed no mercy and struck the old and young, alike. During such hard times, there were those that provided succor to the suffering—medical facilities, places of worship, citadels of education, civic buildings, and citizens. Everyone struggled and rose to the occasion to help India heal. The exhibition/artistic movement Living a Dark Night was born in the wake of the deadly second wave of the pandemic.
A call was sent out to students, fellow educators, and artists to rise and raise their voices, influenced by the original role of printmaking, the most democratic of all art-making processes. Since the 18th century, European artists such as William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, and others have used the medium of printmaking to portray human anguish. The remarkable Indian artist quartet Zainul Abedin, Qamrul Hasan, Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, and Somnath Hore, realizing the potential of printmaking as a medium for the masses, fiercely used the burin and the bully to depict the wounds of Hungry Bengal and arouse the patriotic fervor of an enslaved nation.
The exhibition is a tribute to the art of printmaking and reflects the dark nights of post-covid India. The creators of Living a Dark Night invited artists to come together to hear the anguished voice of a post-pandemic India and register it for posterity, should history forget. The works in this initiative encapsulate a time of despair and anxiety when artists withdrew into the studio as the only place of a recluse. Executed in a space of isolation, these prints delve deep into the human psyche and also bring out the journey from darkness to light.
Artists responded in large numbers, and some even expressed solidarity from overseas. Submission deadlines were extended many times, with artists facing a shortage of materials, lack of mobility, and erratic courier schedules, all brought on by interminable lockdowns. The initiative was initially launched virtually. But now the exhibition is in-person at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations(ICCR), Kolkata. It started on 3rd December and will continue till the 28th of December,2022. The prints are on display on the fourth floor of ICCR and the timings of the center are from 11 am to 6 pm. The viewing rooms will be categorized accordingly—The Onslaught, Death & Succor, Locked & Down, The Exodus, The Domestic Space, Anguish & Anxiety, and The Healer. The exhibition is being curated by Dr. Paula Sengupta, a renowned artist, academic, curator, and art writer.
Living a Dark Night is about the power of the print, the bare visceral black against white referenced again and again by artists since time immemorial, about standing together as only printmakers can. Even as we in India await a possible third wave, Living a Dark Night stands as a stark reminder of our folly and its consequences.
You can find out more about the exhibition here.