They say art imitates life. And when everyday life is overturned for a greater cause that unites us but, at the same time, makes us question everything, art ends up accompanying us on the jittery journey.
For more than a week now, all anyone in India can talk about is the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Whether they’re calling it unconstitutional by pointing out how it blatantly leaves out the Muslim minority, or sharing bite-sized bigotry-smashing explainers that break down what’s happening, or laughing at dank memes that help them cope with the current shitshow—there’s been a surge of CAA-related content circulating on social media. Not only is Instagram bombarded with witty albeit heart-wrenching illustrations that leave behind their emotional imprint with every share, but also thanks to accounts like @creativesagainstcaa, all those planning to protest have an entire ecosystem of statement-making posters that they can print out and carry along.
Since art has the distinct ability to express what everyone’s feeling in a way that renders words redundant, it becomes instantly relatable for all those viewing it. But what’s even better about this ‘Add to story’ Instagram culture is that it has emerged as a powerful part of the protest movement, educating all those who may not be able to show up, but still want to stand up. Ironically, this type of online activism is erupting all over on every platform despite the internet shutdowns, signifying the strength of social media call for action.
VICE put together a list of artwork, illustrated explainers and meme-worthy material that have been doing the rounds on social media, and asked their creators what drove them to protest using art, despite the fact that expressing personal and political views is under threat in today’s environment.
'Some people in power don't want us to have critical conversations'
"The idea for the piece came while watching several videos of police violence during recent protests. It reminded me of some of the horror movies that I watch because, like zombies, the average policeman probably doesn’t really know what they’re doing, or why, or the consequences. They’re just told what to do and they have to obey. Not just the police, even protesters who use violence senselessly are portrayed in the poster as zombies. Section 144 was imposed in Bengaluru (among other cities), and there have been internet shutdowns everywhere. It's clear that some people in power don’t want the public to communicate or have critical conversations. Hence, The 'Be Quiet' Place!"—Manek D'silva
'Students have led the way'
"The protests against CAA-NRC have brought together a spectrum of people standing against an unconstitutional act. It’s inspiring that the students have led the way and raised the nation. The posters are a way to show my support for the ongoing protests."—Appupen
'Students are the hope in this gloomy situation'
"With the deadly combination of CAA and NRC, Muslims can be systematically kept in fear, threatened or displaced. We have seen, in the past, that the opposition parties have failed to confront this government on any issue. So, students coming to the streets to protest is a kind of hope in this gloomy situation."—Satish Acharya
'You just don’t mess with the Constitution'
"You just don’t mess with the Constitution. You might be the ruling party, but you don’t have the authority to tear into shreds the very intrinsic values of our nation. It’s an unbecoming state of affairs, and the least we can do is put up a fight. Therefore, the best I could do was to put my thoughts in a way it was easier to convey."—Anushka Sachan
'Art is the purest non-violent method of communication'
"During times of unrest in our country, I take it upon myself to create awareness, produce art that is self-explanatory and such that masses find it easy and resonate with. We need people to come together for a cause and stay united. After all, a picture speaks a thousand words. Art is the purest non-violent method of communication that exists. I intend to branch out to various mediums and stick to the cause of a non-violent approach as always!"—Tyler
'Art can shake people out of their comfort zones'
"Historically, art has either been a catalyst for protest or has supplemented it. I believe that art has the capacity to unite people and to shake them out of their comfort zones. This is a time for us to come together as people and my art is a call for action. It is quite easy to get blown away during these hypersensitive times; protests and youth marches aid in a very politically charged environment. It is because of this that most of us look for ways to contribute positively to the movement. My series was to address this void. I believe the best and the most effective way to protest would be to start with one's own family, and to read a lot."—Sangeetha Alwar
'The 'protectors of our country' are shredding apart our Constitution'
"This artwork represents the irony that “protectors of our country” are shredding apart the basic founding principles of our nation: The Constitution. Law-after-law and city-after-city."—Dhruv Mehta
'I wanted to make artwork that people could print out for protests'
"I wanted to support the protests that were happening in the country and globally by making artwork that could be a template of what people print out for protests. I wanted to be at the protests myself and use whatever reach I had to maximise the awareness around the movement."—Sanitary Panels
'My work is a call for people to wake up and stand against it wherever they are'
"As a student studying abroad with no other way to protest the brutality of this government, it is important to do what little can be done from wherever one is. This image is a show of my support for those standing up against NRC and CAA, and a call for people to wake up and stand against it wherever they are."—Nandita Ratan
'I wanted to make something to express what I was going through'
"I made the first piece a while ago, but given everything that has been going on in the country, I am truly moved by how much people connected with this particular piece. I never expected this kind of reception and I’m glad this piece could be a form of expression for many people. I was really affected by the idea of CAA and NRC and how dehumanising it is for minorities in the country, so I wanted to make something to express what I was going through."—Smish Designs
'In a tense situation like this, it’s important to use humour'
"In a tense situation like this, it’s important to use humour to inform your audience. So I chose to take up a style similar to cartooning, by which I could reflect the situation with my own sense of humour."—Somesh Kumar
'We want to challenge the misrepresentations that 'other' migrant communities'
"My work with Fearless Collective focuses on undoing border imperialism through building relationships, (re)imagining our maps, and visioning affirmative (boundless) futures. Along with the physical borders and walls that keep us apart, we want to challenge the misrepresentations that 'other' migrant communities, creating fear-based border systems, by reclaiming self-representation and creating public monuments to the stories of migrant communities, for all to see."—Shilo Shiv Suleman
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.