• Phad in the times of Corona - In conversation with a Phad artist

    Isha Bhattacharya

    What is art but a reflection of the times we live in? No matter what comes our way, we can always turn to art and storytelling to help us make sense of our emotions. And let’s not forget that art also serves as a means for spreading awareness during adversity, in a way that no other medium can. 

    The on-going covid-19 pandemic has reinforced these truths. And Indian folk artists have established that if there is one thing the coronavirus can’t kill, it is art! 

    Recently, we spoke to acclaimed traditional phad artist Vijay Joshi, who has taken upon himself the task of preserving his 700-year-old family legacy. Joshi learned phad art under the guidance of his father and National Award winner, Shri. Shanti Lal Joshi. He has kept himself busy creating awareness about the novel coronavirus, helping his fellow artists and teaching the younger generation about phad paintings, which in turn has helped him sustain himself and his art through these uncertain times. 

    In the early days of the pandemic, when the lockdown had just been imposed, Vijay Joshi along with his brother Vivek Joshi created one of the first coronavirus-inspired folk art paintings to help spread awareness about the disease. From the importance of wearing masks and washing hands properly to social distancing and keeping elders and children safe, his life-size painting incorporated all the guidelines necessary to avoid catching the disease. 

    On how the idea of creating a phad painting based on this topic came to him, he said, “It is easier for people living in big cities to stay aware of these issues. But for people and artisans who live in districts and villages like ours, who don’t have access to the media or internet, it is difficult to make sense of what is happening and what is to be done. I made this painting keeping them in mind.” 

    Joshi then shared the painting on his social media platforms, which garnered him immediate recognition and praise. He also created some exquisite face masks with vibrant phad motifs on them. 

    Phad inspired face masks

    Joshi has been using the art form of phad to create awareness about social issues throughout his career, covering topics ranging from the importance of education to maintaining hygiene for a healthy life. 

    He also told us about the challenges he faced in sustaining his art and livelihood during the lockdown. “There have been many struggles. The most important one being the lack of transportation. For an artist, it is essential to travel, not just to sell or exhibit his art but also to get supplies to create that art. And since most of the materials we use for our paintings are plant-based, it became nearly impossible to source them.” 

    But soon enough Joshi realised that the only way to keep his art alive during these times and in the near future was through the Internet. He shifted his focus to online platforms, invested in better connectivity, tried to sell his art through e-commerce platforms and even undertook online workshops to teach the art of phad painting. 

    He believes that no matter how traditional an art form is, it can and must change with time and adapt in order to survive. He, however, is also aware that most folk artists don’t have access to technology. The Bhopas and Bhopis of Rajasthan, for instance, who perform and narrate the phad-vachan have no means to travel and earn as they are stranded in their villages. They have been forced to take up farming or manual labour instead. 

    “I believe the best way to overcome this hurdle is to educate ourselves about the schemes and resources the government has provided or to approach NGOs who are working to help traditional artists. And most importantly to connect with fellow artists or community members who are well-versed with technology and learn from them, to keep moving forward,” he says. He also mentioned how it is essential that art lovers and enthusiasts also come forward on an individual level to support folk artists by educating them, promoting their art and connecting them to potential buyers during these difficult times. 

    On how he sees the future of phad paintings as the times have drastically changed and the future of traditional art-forms seems uncertain, Joshi shares, “For now, the most we can do is teach the younger generation about the legacy of our art with the hope that they will carry it forward. And it doesn’t matter if the means or the media change, as long as they remain true to their roots.” 

    Since its inception, Folk Log has been helping artists preserve their art by archiving, promoting and hosting online events to help create a far-reaching network of audiences. We also encourage you to help us spread the word, stand by and support the artists of our country during these times.