By Nivi Shrivastava

As the planet suffers from the COVID-19 outbreak, the eternal hope to save humankind rests on art. With a palette of cheerful shades fused with momentary joys, artist Michelle Poonawalla combined her two interests – art and technology – to reach out to a broader global audience and send an arty reminder of peace and love. An artist, philanthropist, and certified fashionista, Michelle is married to Pune-based businessman Yohan Poonawalla and is a mother of two.

Like most artists in the lockdown, she turned her creative calls to action to create some avant-garde works in fields of fashion, interior, and interactive digital art. “The pandemic has given everyone time to stop and think. I think it is important for people to introspect on where we are taking our world. Be it violence, bloodshed, terrorism, climate change, or pollution,” remarks Michelle as she adds, “I’ve certainly explored new practices like the digital stop motion work. I think it’s important to do things you enjoy. I enjoy being with my children, painting, landscaping, yoga etc. I’ve tried to keep busy, stayed working, doing creative things. I hope some of the positive messages in my artwork can rub off on people who see them.”

Michelle Poonawalla’s digital artwork ‘From dust to dust’ on

She recently launched two digital stop motion videos – ‘Mother Teresa, the eternal symbol of love and peace’ and ‘From dust to dust’ – on as limited editions. These videos can be viewed on any screen almost like the modern-day version of a woodblock or an etching. The artist elaborates, “The pandemic has taught all industries that going digital is the only route for the moment. My work ‘From Dust to Dust’ is titled after the phrase ‘from ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ and is a reflection on nature’s ability to humble humanity – an important message from the Covid-19. The work depicts the slow and precise disintegration of a single rose before the petals metamorphosize into butterflies. Whilst the second work ‘Mother Teresa, the eternal symbol of Love and Peace’ reflects a sign of universal peace and looks out to so many of the nurses, doctors and care workers who are helping today. I hope the two works remind us that every aspect of the world is controlled by nature including destruction and regeneration but if we respect everyone and everything around us there is always hope and regeneration. It is a reminder that whatever one’s wealth, status, or what you have in your life, one must always remember that we are born with nothing and we will return to nothing, so one must always be humble.”

It is amazing what can be done in the digital space but the physical presence is still hugely important in the art world, believes Michelle, who inherits her creative interests from her grandfather Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned artist and architect. She feels that a combination of digital and traditional art practices would be “ideal” for this situation and highlights, “It is amazing to see what some museums are doing and how well they are integrating, finding ways to show their incredible collections in innovative online ways and keep people engaged. The Tate or the Met, for example, have such great kids sections on their website with activities and things to engage children and get them interested in art and culture. I think there are certainly some benefits to people exploring digital work, it allows you to reach new audiences but of course, it is also expensive. I think young artists need to get more support with this, I have had a great opportunity to show work with Sedition but it would be nice to see more platforms like this in India.”

Inkiostro Bianco’s limited edition wallpaper series for the Goldenwall edition by Michelle Poonawalla

During the lockdown, she also released her collaborative project on wallpapers with international design agency Inkiostro Bianco. She created a limited edition series for the Goldenwall edition using her signature motif – the butterflies. Speaking of which, she mentions, “Of course, I had to incorporate my butterfly motif which is synonymous with me and my style from my very first show. To me, the butterfly can be used to depict multiple meanings. It reminds us of the fragility of life, it shows freedom, it allows and gives people a feeling of hope and love, it also can mean a metamorphosis, and each spectator takes with them a similar meaning.”

Masks d’Art facemasks painted by Michelle for her charity

One of her initial philanthropic art projects in the lockdown was to raise money for the poor, and she chose ‘Art for Concern’ to encourage her social circle for charity. Michelle got an amazing response on social media for spearheading the drive, and so far she has donated 200 masks to help the cause. “With my project Masks d’Art, I painted a series of masks to raise money for helping out the needy. The collected funds were used to support healthcare teams across the country and distribute food grain across communities. Masks as we know are the new normal and now become an unavoidable accessory for our protection. Therefore this drab mask, with a rendition of art can be made artistically desirable,” she remarks.

With new projects in the pipeline, Michelle’s knee to depict the plight of the planet through her art and informs, “I’ve just finished another video work called ‘Reflect’ which explores ongoing climatic changes as both a local and intensely global problem. The work aims to highlight both rural and urban South Asian societies, drawing reference to their interconnectedness and the damage they can cause to each other. As Mumbai commuters climb the steps at a local station they further push farmers into food insecurity, as a factory belches out smoke both urban and rural communities have to wade across swollen rivers and flooded city streets alike.” She also hopes to complete her new installations addressing the current climate crisis, and hints the new line of work would be large scale installations bringing together sound, touch, feel senses in an immersive space. XX

Artist Michelle Poonawalla and her signature butterfly motifs (left)

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