Here's how art helped heal a flood-ravaged Kerala
Some people use art to cauterise emotional wounds. Others turn to art during times of distress, to de-stress. Last week all of us witnessed this phenomenon first-hand as an entire state’s face lit up, momentarily, because cartoons, GIFs, and paintings, filled with positive messages, that infiltrated their Instagram feeds, Snapchat stories, Twitter timelines, and WhatsApp statuses. This wasn’t a planned socio-cultural movement, just a natural response to the stimulus.
Artists across the state (and beyond) just wanted to do what they could—after mobilising volunteers, donating funds, collecting relief materials, and helping during the clean-up. Many of them took up their light pens, paint brushes, and even used their fingertips, to create visually evocative pieces with a concrete message attached to them.
Return of the King
One of the strongest storylines that resonated with Malayalis the world over was showcased in a work of sequential art by Studio Kokaachi. Pratheek and Tina Thomas—creators of the title sequence behind Netflix’s uber-popular show, Lust Stories—penned the storyboard for a GIF where the mythological king Mahabali is seen returning to Kerala on Onam to personally help with rehabilitation efforts.
“We wanted to do something besides help monetarily, and storytelling is what we do best,” states Kochi-based Tina, adding that they are working on six more such multi-lingual animated clips/comics with tales that may rope in more funds for the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund.
This call for compassion is also reflected in live painter Pavi Sankar’s latest Instagram posts. Unlike the illustrator’s usual weighty-yet-witty art—filled with pop-culture elements that tie in with indigenous subjects; like his twist on Childish Gambino’s This is America—his new works try to depict the sharing and caring mindset Malayalis displayed during the floods.
Currently based in Thiruvananthapuram, Pavi, whose pieces often feature in films like Iyobinte Pusthakam, states, “The visual impact that a striking image can have on a viewer is insurmountable. Virality is never my intention, yet, if at least one person is prompted into action via my art, I consider it a success.”
Taking a stand
By all accounts, most Malayalis didn’t just stand on the sidelines. During and after the floods, almost everyone with a decent following on social media turned their mobile devices into mini ‘control rooms’ dispatching a veritable blitzkrieg of verified information to aid those involved in rescue efforts.
This transformation inspired Kannur-based visual designer, Vishnu Madhav, popularly known by his moniker @pencilashan, to create a series of digital drawings that spread like wildfire titled ‘We are so Kidu (awesome)’. “I even started doing free caricatures of anyone who donates over `1,500 to the CM’s relief fund and sends me a screenshot. I still have over 40 caricature pieces to do,” laughs Vishnu, who also aided Studio Kokaachi with their illustrations.
The artists also paid homage to India’s armed forces who rushed to Kerala, in its time of need. The drawing featuring a pregnant woman being rescued by a helicopter by Arosh Thevadathil, went so viral that it eventually reached the subject portrayed in it. “The helicopter pilot, CDR Vijay Varma, ended up seeing the drawing and thanked me for it,” shares the artist from Kozhikode, who works at a digital agency called Funchershop.
He adds that he was also thrilled to hear that the woman, Sajita Jabil, safely delivered the baby too. Arosh, who goes by @doodle.muni, concludes, “Such news provides a sliver of hope during these dark times, and I really wanted to draw something that captured this feeling of hope, during what seems like a hopeless time.”
Besides these hope-evoking efforts, cartoons that were deemed insensitive by many were also doing the rounds. Some were fuelled by political bearings, while certain others just left a bad taste in our mouths. Nevertheless, amidst all this muck, several gems also emerged.
One such work, brimming with positivity, which went viral on Facebook was created by cartoonist V R Ragesh. “During the floods, besides the authorities, thousands of fishermen and about 600 of their boats were the first to arrive on the scene,” shares the artist, who works at Madhyamam Daily. He adds, “Somewhere between risking their livelihoods and saving complete strangers, they won our hearts.”