Published: 03rd June 2020
This Kovai artist is creating masked self-portraits to spread the word about safety
What does a self-portrait in the time of Corona mean? A life-like portrait with a face mask, of course. We speak S Nagaraj who is spreading awareness about the importance of masks
If you stay put for 10 minutes, S Nagaraj can create a spitting image of you in just 10 minutes. An artist since he can remember, oil paintings and sketches are second nature to this Kovai born and bred 26-year-old. But of late, the Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been kind to many, including those who paint in close proximity. So, Nagaraj and many like him have been forced to stay cooped up at home with nothing to do. But an article in the newspaper a few weeks after the Coronavirus lockdown was declared changed Nagaraj’s perspective. Police in Chennai were setting up giant posters to create awareness about face masks and their importance. And to an artist like him, hoardings are often empty canvases that they can’t wait to get their hands on.
Nagaraj started with a simple self-portrait, but with a significant difference. Instead of etching all his features to complete his life-like sketch, he covered it up with a giant colourful mask. Realising the possible effect it could have on people and the artist community, he began encouraging other artists and non-artists to do the same. More than 35 professional artists from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, and even Finland, responded with their work. With more than 60 entries so far, including people contributing from their houses, Nagaraj’s message has reached far and wide in just the past one month.
MASKED TASK: Artists from all over the world have contributed to the initiative
A student of Fine Arts at Lalit Kalakshetra, Raviraj Institute of Art and Culture in Coimbatore, Nagaraj believes that his art education started much earlier in life, when he was just six years old. “College is merely a formality so that I can have a certificate to show for it. I believe that I have learnt everything I need to in order to keep practising my art in the way I do.” he says, revealing that he has been practising portraits and sketches of people since he learnt to draw. Speaking about the current situation, he says, “In a situation like this, you can't go outside. So, the idea I am encouraging through these self-portraits is to get back to what you do best and also use it to spread awareness among the general public. It’s not just artists that I am speaking to. Anyone can contribute with a self-portrait. And who knows? It could help someone learn the importance of a face mask.”
Nagaraj has been promoting his art initiative through WhatsApp and Facebook since the beginning of May. Recently, he even set up an Instagram page to reach out to people. People from various professions and walks of life have been contributing to Nagaraj's initiative. He hopes to get more ordinary people involved in the project and spread the word about safety during the existing crisis.
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