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By Saadia Peerzada, Undergraduate Batch of 2022
From posters announcing events to the caperture wall in AC 02 to protest art on campus and outside, visual art is a medium of expression that pervades life at Ashoka. We talked to students across the board about ways in which visual art interacts with and affects the culture at Ashoka.
The Visual Arts Minor
We talked to the student representative of the Visual Arts department, Sayonee, who said “The department is still in its nascent stages. Before VA was offered as a minor, Art theory and Art Practise courses were offered individually. Turning this into a minor was a way to make VA a formal endeavour. So now, you have two mandatory requirements to do a minor and both theory and practise courses are offered. I think the Department is coming into its own and going for an interdisciplinary approach within the Department itself, and we’re seeing courses like On Photography this semester, which will be both a theoretical and practical approach to photography.”
On the question of student interest in the minor, Sayonee remarked, “VA is still a very small department, the maximum number of people in a class is around ten. People seem intimidated by both the theory and practise aspects of it, thinking they need some professional expertise to be able to do it which isn’t true at all, these are after all introductory courses which help you understand the visual, something that makes up a huge part of everyday life.”
Sayonee suggested a more well-rounded interdisciplinary approach to cultivate more interest in the minor and bring width and depth to the disciple at the same time. “I’m a history major and would like to see more collaboration between the visual aspect of history and art history as a discipline.”
She also named the field trips and museum visits a memorable part of doing this minor. “They helped corroborate what we did in class and much of my practical knowledge comes from those trips. They also provided an opportunity to interact more with professors and classmates.”
Sayonee closed with a message for people looking to take VA courses in the future, “If you have the least bit of interest in VA, it’d be a great idea to take some courses since you are taught to understand the visual in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t. And I think that is incredibly important since the visual is everywhere.”
Art in other academic settings
Some professors provide the option of taking a creative approach to assignments. This has allowed students to collapse the critical and the creative into one. Assignments taking the form of visual art have ranged from zine making to portraits to canvas paintings. A UG22 student remarks that these assignments go against the grain and allow lateral ways to think about academic texts.
Role of Art in Student Protests
“Art during the CAA/NRC protests came up as a spontaneous show of solidarity,” says a student involved in banner making early last year. “It became a way to participate indirectly for people who couldn’t protest especially Muslim students who wouldn’t be safe. One piece of art that has really stuck with me was a banner portraying India locked up in chains, marked by many hands and a sickle. It wasn’t the boldest piece present but the subtlety set it apart for me.” Another student remarked how the most memorable part of the CAA/NRC protest art on campus was how it washed off almost as soon as it was painted but was repainted by students immediately.
The Art Club
Siyahi has been at the forefront of creating an inclusive and non-competitive environment for making and sharing visual art. This has created a space not only for established people within the craft but for those who have never been exposed to it. The head of the club remarks, “We wish to introduce simple art-making to those who are new to it and also provide a conducive environment for those who wish to better their skills and explore new ideas and mediums.” She also explained how the meetings are low pressure and encourage having fun, trying new forms or styles of art. “We enjoy viewing art as much as creating it and conducting exhibitions of the students’ work as well … We aim to bring art to add a splash of calm and creativity to the busy Ashokan life, regardless of whether you consider yourself an artist or not. Our motto is that anything is art if you want it to be.”
Digital art also comes to the fore in making illustrations for the Edict, designing journals, infographics and posters for various events and for outreach purposes. Some students have carved out niche spaces online to showcase their work while some have also sold paintings, postcards, and upcycled and painted clothes through online stores.
Jasmine, a student of the Undergraduate Batch of 2022, said, “My work started out of something that I had always been passionate about but never worked adequately on. The Ashokan community motivated me a lot. Seeing so many artsy people like me start out and do so well encouraged me to start showcasing my work as well. Moreover, my friends always comment on my work and give me interesting insights that I can use to improve. During my first semester, at the co-curricular showcase, I was able to display my paintings. Displays of the performing arts department and the visual art department side by side made each and every artwork present even more beautiful and meaningful.”Art in residence halls, on the mess walls, adds a lot of character to Ashokan spaces. Some students have encouraged the idea of having more independent visual arts showcases to ensure that upcoming artists don’t remain underrated or limited to the virtual sphere. Visual art makes a significant part of not only academic exercises but the broader experience of being in an image-driven world. The question that remains is how do we create stronger discourses and practices at the crossroads of academic work, politics, history, and art that allow us a greater understanding of the power of the visual and the ways in which it interacts with our daily lives.