Published: 23rd June 2021
This artist documented his quarantine during COVID through a series on Instagram. This is why it's hauntingly real
Bala Govind Kumar is a Chennai-based artist and art director who got infected on April 26 and decided to 'draw himself' out of isolation
An art director in the Tamil film industry, Bala Govind Kumar, got infected with COVID-19 on April 26 after he completed an advertisement shoot. On the advice of the Greater Chennai Corporation, Bala had to quarantine himself at his rented apartment in Chennai. Hailing from Tirunelveli, Bala didn't have the option to go back to his family. When body ache, fatigue and isolation hit hard, Bala knew he wanted to do something to take his mind off things. After shaking off the symptoms somewhat, with the help of medication, Bala decided to document his COVID recuperation through his art. "I could only see myself in the room and no one else. So I decided to paint myself and showcase my myriad moods during isolation," says Bala. Inspired by Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali, Bala set on his six-portrait series to document his Quarantine Days.
When we spoke to Bala, he was still undergoing post-COVID symptoms and spoke to us, stifling coughs at intervals. "I decided to return to my hometown after quarantining for about 14 days. I tested negative around May 15," informs Bala. After returning home, he had to quarantine for another seven days. It was during these 21 days that Bala created the entire series. "The first five works were done in Chennai when I was stuck inside my room, all alone. The concluding one, I create after returning home," says Bala, who studied Architecture before venturing into films. Digitally drawn, Bala says he took around two days to complete each art piece.
For his first work, Bala began with recording a video of himself in the room. "I wanted to see what I do throughout the day and make that into an image. Therefore, in the first portrait, there are several versions of me drawn in different colours, which signifies the mood," explains Bala. Indeed, the same person is seen sitting, staring out of the window, lounging, listening to music in the first portrait. Bala's second portrait was greatly inspired by Dali. "I decided to depict a horse and an elephant with long legs. It means that they can't move very fast. In the portrait, my hands are chained with a clock, meaning that time has tied me down for 14 days and I can't move out, do anything or go anywhere," says the 25-year-old.
It was seven days after these two that Bala decided to work on his third artwork. He began feeling a little better and decided to visit his terrace garden which is depicted in the third portrait of the series. "It was one of the good days," recalls Bala. However, things took a turn for the worse as Bala slowly began to lose the sense of taste and smell. "We are asked to eat healthy during COVID but I couldn't taste or smell my food. We have been wearing masks for over a year now but even then I could smell and taste. But now I couldn't and that is what I tried to show in the fourth portrait," says Bala. With every portrait, Bala has also tried to embody a message of hope and it most evident in the fourth one. "I drew a mirror behind me that shows a sunny, clear sky quite contrary to the overcast sky in the portrait. This was me telling myself that things will get better," explains Bala.
Persistence of Memory
Bala began to feel better after this point and his fifth and sixth portraits are testament to the fact. "The purple person in the portrait is the COVID-affected version of me while the pink one is the recovered person. The masks flying away also signify the recovery process in the fifth portrait," says Bala. When he got around to creating the sixth one, though, Bala was already at his home and the last one shows him with a plate of food that his mother has cooked for him. "But COVID is not just my story. It is the story of everyone and that is why I created the last one like an abandoned wall of a cave or temple. It shows people migrating, dying due to lack of oxygen, people being cremated and all the realities of the disease and me being a part of that," concludes Bala.
Other artwork in this series:
Out for the count
The life of Riley is imminent