By Nirali Lal
In the end of January 2020, a live rooster on the premises of Goethe Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, drew attention. A coop had been set up, containing the rooster (who goes by the name Mookoo) and a canvas that the artist (and long-time caregiver of the pet) used to paints him. By setting up this processual performance over 10 days, Actant Nirali Lal intended to recreate in public her artistic experience at home, where her routine accommodates interruptions generated by Mookoo and his need for essentials and affection. During the nationwide lockdown enforced during the Covid-19 scare, however, she noticed a shift in her artistic inclinations. Below are her ruminations in words and illustrations:
“My aesthetics is largely shaped by experiments around subjects which surround me. I impulsively pick up ideas and then work on them. The works done during the present period have acquired a recognizable aesthetic in bold strokes of red and executed in soft media like water-colour that resonate with the most visible part of my pet rooster’s anatomy- his comb.
“After my return from Delhi (following my occupation at the Five Million Incidents project where I painted Mookoo over a week and encountered so many eager visitors in the process), I was unprepared for the sudden interruption and break with people around me. The drastic intervention in pace in the form of the lockdown aggravated the situation and isolated my pet and me as a unit; that is when I took to painting people. I actually want to shift from including Mookoo in all my present work, and the human portraits were first done actively keeping this intention in mind. But as withdrawal symptoms work, the red hair and the orange eyes (symptomatic of my pet) remained. Creating human portraits in times such as these allows for a semblance of tactility through paint, which becomes my way of forging connections when touch is absent. In a playful way, by taking virtual liberties, I attempt to touch base with people by recording peculiar exchanges of expressions, all of which are drawn from as well as documented on social media. The gaze of my subjects is direct, like a one-to-one communication. Thanks to technology for granting this space where an interaction with people (otherwise at a geographical distance) has been enabled by the experience of painting them; almost as if I’m touching them.
“My colour palette matches Mookoo’s comb and eyes, in effect, fashioning people with what I call the ‘Mookoo effect,’ where subjects don red tops and orange-hued eyes- quite suggestive of the texture of our times. I have been painting these water-colour works every day during the nationwide lockdown. The portraits look at me directly as I create and navigate their gaze; perhaps it’s a conversation. A perception of a touch; a negotiation between the virtual and the tangible.
“‘Maskuerading Cuckoos’ has developed from happenings and exchanges in my surroundings. My interactions with the world outside are now mostly virtual through the means of news and social media, as cases of Covid 19 keep increasing. The necessity to wear a mask whenever I go out makes me think of new fashions they’ll acquire in their pervasive use. In this process, and by allowing the liberties sanctioned through art, I am masquerading the faces I paint and continue my conversations with them.”
Nirali Lal is a practicing artist presently based in Baroda. She enjoys painting in water colours and oils. Her interests are shaped by what attracts her attention at the moment, impulsively picking up ideas, while consistently seeking to reinterpret them on the surface.