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Indian artist Anil Vangad's painting 'Corona when will you go?' shows a sun-like virus shape looming large above people who appear to be praying and making offerings. The painting mediates between humans and the virus, reflecting fear of the unknown and the hope for redemption.

Painting by Anil Chaitya Vangad

Anil Chaitya Vangad is a Warli artist from Dahanu in the state of Maharashtra. He has been painting using the traditional methods and iconography of the Warlis for almost two decades. His works have been exhibited internationally, and he was awarded the WCC Award of Excellence from UNESCO for his paintings.

Nina Sabnani is an artist and storyteller living in Mumbai. Her research includes exploring the dynamics between words and images in storytelling. Her work in film and illustrated books seeks to bring together animation and ethnography.

The painting here by Warli artist Anil Vangad titled “Corona when will you go?” shows a sun-like virus shape looming large above people who appear to be praying and making offerings. Within the core of virus are symbols of the many religions COVID does not differentiate between. The painting mediates between humans and the virus, reflecting both fear of the unknown and the hope for redemption through dialogue and appeasement. In the artist’s words: “Our day always begins with the sun, but these days our mornings begin with thinking about the virus and the number of people it takes away. While we usually offer flowers and food to the sun, here we are offering the mask, the vaccine and sanitizers to the corona, appealing her to go away.”

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The Warli, a community of Indigenous people living in the Maharashtra-Gujarat border areas in western India, are known for their art and stories and nature worship. The sun and moon are often represented in their paintings.

Traditionally Warli paintings were made on auspicious occasions, whether it was the birth of a child or a wedding. Statues of the gods and the many deities the Warli worship are usually kept in a tokri – or basket – on a bed of rice, and are ritually taken out once a year along with offerings. The rest of the year such deities are painted with rice pigment onto the walls, so that they may be worshipped every day.

Mr. Vangad brings a new vitality to this cultural heritage by introducing contemporary imagery into his artwork, something he was inspired to do after his first visit to the United States in 2011.

“Paintings are like a record of history,” says Mr. Vangad, who recently lost his older brother to COVID.

“Our ancestors painted their life in nature. We are painting what we are living through. My next painting is about the pain of separation when we cannot even bid a decent goodbye to our loved ones.”

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