20 Minutes With: Contemporary Artist Dia Mehta Bhupal -

20 Minutes With: Contemporary Artist Dia Mehta Bhupal

“From a young age, I have been inspired by architecture, not simply the environment we inhabit, but the spaces beyond, the environments both natural and man made that become a part of the daily landscape,” Bhupal says.

This interest in the spaces we occupy and how they affect — and define — our day-to-day lives has been a driving fascination throughout her career.

Originally from Mumbai, India, Bhupal, 37, graduated in 2006 from The Parsons School of Design in New York with a degree in photography before embarking on a celebrated career that has seen her work exhibited in galleries and art fairs globally.

Recently, her focus has been on how art and the act of creative expression itself can offer a space for humanity to reckon with and heal from the traumas of global crises.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bhupal and Neha Modi, co-founder of “conscious clothing brand” Pause, came up with “The Corona Quilt Project,” a community engagement initiative that called for everyday people across India to design their own quilted squares that were pieced together in public art collage installations.

The Corona Quilt Project is presented by New York-based creative consultancy The Art Lab Studio, which was founded by Jaipur and New York-based entrepreneur Sana Rezwan, in collaboration with Healing Arts India.

Right now, The Art Lab Studio is featuring the next iteration of Bhupal’s quilting project in the form of a public textile art installation called “Stories of Healing in Cloth,” which is currently being shown at Nila House in Jaipur through June 30.

Bhupal says this project presents “a unique textile art piece that embodies the spirit of healing through gestures of creative expression.”

PENTA: You seem to be particularly fascinated by images of the mundane, of common objects, locations, features of daily life and presenting them in an unexpected, arresting way. What in particular draws you to that kind of subject?

Dia Mehta Bhupal: A waiting room, a supermarket, a public toilet, or a cinema theater — these are all landscapes to which we are accustomed, and their presentation is at once uncanny as it is insightful. As an artist I am interested in presenting to us what we already know to be real, albeit with a particular tension: spaces that we know to be brimming with bodies, here, are intentionally left entirely empty.

I often question what it means to be presented with a topography of absence.

Given that social media — especially Instagram — is so integrated in our lives today, how has that changed the way we consume and interpret imagery?

The rapid consumption of images is something I respond to and also stay away from. There are a multitude of complexities between what we see and how we perceive what we see.

“The Corona Quilt Project” called for everyday people across India to design their own quilted squares that were pieced together in public art collage installations.

Courtesy of The Art Lab Studio

What was the inspiration behind the Corona Quilt Project?

The Corona Quilt Project was founded during the initial weeks of the pandemic for individuals to take a pause and reflect on the current time; it was a way to connect people, discuss self expression and mental health, and bring communities together. The project draws inspiration from the AIDS Memorial Quilt quilt (the national quilt project honoring those lost to the AIDS crisis in the United States, now located in San Francisco) and started with a simple conversation between two childhood friends, Neha Modi and myself.

What has it been like to see people express themselves creatively and connect through art during the difficulties and trauma of a global pandemic?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received over 40,000 squares. The pandemic has been a period of difficulty, reflection, perseverance, and trauma. People appreciated that all they were being asked to do was just pause and reflect. The project grew organically because in India it’s the first of its kind; a people’s project, amplifying people’s voices and community experiences, above all else.

The Corona Quilt Project presents a diversity of experiences, celebrating the strength and resilience of people. The squares explore themes of home, safety, nature, the environments in which we exist, and the pandemic, each made through unique forms of mixed media and materials. The Project draws inspiration from the everyday and seeks to delight and inspire joy with those who experience it.

How did ‘Stories of Healing in Cloth’ grow out of the Corona Quilt Project?

As a part of the growing, pan-India Corona Quilt Project, the installation will carry a multitude of 15-inch textile squares representing the range of textile craft traditions across Rajasthan. The artwork, made up of individual squares from artisans across India, also celebrates the vast and historically deep textile-based craft ecosystems that were made particularly vulnerable during the 2020 global pandemic, yet remained resilient and sustained through community-focused initiatives. The artwork developed through this project emphasizes the abundant capacity for community healing through creative expression and ancient knowledge systems that remain at the core of traditional crafts.

What have you learned most from the wide range of artists — from experts to students to the average person who might not be an experienced artist — who’ve been a part of this larger project?

It has been a truly humbling experience to work with diverse submissions, ranging from children’s drawings to first-hand representations from health workers and medical professionals that connect and collectively empower the community. As an artist, this project has been an extension of my larger practice starting with a small component to tell a much larger story. These expressions signify an intersection between past, present and future, between disciplines and between ideas.

How do you think art — and connecting through it — will continue to help in healing as we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic?

Hope is re-imagination in probably the most difficult and challenging times we’ve seen as a society. I believe as we use the expressive arts to think about hope we will discover perspective and healing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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