Lahore-based independent photographer and filmmaker Asma Tanvir’s latest project, titled April Anecdotes, features 30 people picked randomly from as many places around the world, photographed in lockdown
Being stuck at home is now a global phenomenon; an experience not unlike breathing, eating, sleeping and thinking. Whether it’s South Africa or South Korea, Brazil or Bahrain, Italy or Israel, Austria or Australia, India or Iran, in every country of the world cities were locked down for months and citizens were shut indoors.
One immediate question that faced them, after the most pressing issues of supplies, safety and cash, was what to do during that period of isolation, which felt like solitary confinement to many. A few used this time to venture into connecting with the world at large — through the web.
In a sense, the screen of our mobile phones has become a kind of a mirror for us. The selfie option aside, when we operate our cell phones, we are unearthing ourselves, our psyche, history and relationships. Quite naturally we don’t see our face, so we need a surface, a device, a human being, or the society to reflect our identity. The period of being at home has opened up such possibilities for the creative among us. Consider Asma Tanvir, for instance, a young independent photographer and film maker from Lahore who saw this as an opportunity to produce a project, titled April Anecdotes, which involved 30 people, 30 stories and 30 places around the world during the lockdown.
For her project, Tanvir captured a series of shoots between April 1 and July 15, mostly through iPhone’s Facetime Live photo option. According to her, “Each shot is based on the thoughts, feelings or experiences by the individuals featured thus.”
In this unique body of work, participants from China, England, Poland, Spain, Slovenia, Dubai and parts of Pakistan show a range of postures, poses, positions and props. The variety in their representation is a reflection not only of their diverse “ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, but also their fields of work” which include art, film, sports, economics, medicine, law, architecture, fashion and neuroscience.
Many of these characters are young. As such, the entire project becomes a portrait of the present-day youth who, unfortunately, encountered inactivity while trying “to survive the boredom in quarantine.”
In a sense, the screen of our mobile phones has become a kind of a mirror for us. The selfie option aside, when we operate our cell phones, we are unearthing ourselves, our psyche, history and relationships.
The dominant theme of the images is survival. The activities shown include reading books, carrying pets, covering parts of face, painting one’s features, playing music, and being in the company of others while at the same time in contact with Tanvir, who documented them. Interestingly, only one participant named Vivian Wu (from China) wore a facemask.
Even though the photos are centred on a period of isolation, confinement and quarantine, if one removes the Covid-19 tag, the collection may represent a chronicle of a general atmosphere of discontent, or symbols of solitude. For instance, the black and white images of Lahore’s Junaid Farooq Awan are layered with expressive qualities. The division of tones decided by Tanvir converts these photos into abstract visuals, thus they can be enjoyed on multiple levels, like any work of art.
The sensibility of art is evident in other participants’ snapshots too. Particularly in the story titled Waiting for the Good Days, by Perina Slapnick, from Slovenia. Since social distancing, Slapnick “had to fight the urge to go out for a morning walk. Instead, she spent her mornings sitting by the windows.” What emerged out of it are sensitive variations of colours and shades which, along with a poetic expression, convey her sense of confinement as well as her “waiting for good days to come back.”
Apart from its formal aspects, an important feature of art is that it presents something unusual, unexpected and uncanny. Dubai-based participant Miratula Sivakumar’s photographs, in A Whole Other World, depict joy while being alone in her house. Sivakumar has been on her own, but never appears lonely because she “took refuge in the world of literature.” a world that is populated by characters from this and other worlds, from present and past, and even from future. Similar to what Asma Tanvir has managed through her images of individuals who are “away but never apart” (her own words).
The writer is an art columnist at TNS