Delhi’s graffiti and its tryst with the Coronavirus

2020 was a transformative year, with a once-in-a-century pandemic ravaging lives and our economy like never before. But as the curtain on the year draws to a close, there is some good news to feel hopeful about. And that is the fact that the vaccine for Covid-19 is here and India will soon witness, what many experts claim will be, one of the largest mass inoculation programmes in its history.

But a transformative year has to make its presence felt also in the popular consciousness. Fortune India's photo team, travelling through every nook and corner of Delhi and the National Capital Region, chronicled how the graffiti art—which is so ubiquitous in parts of the city—began to change as the pandemic took over our lives, becoming, in many ways, a metaphor for our changing worldview.

One of the preeminent images—as depicted in these graffiti images from Delhi—was the emergence of ‘Corona Warriors’, who are mainly health workers, police and security personnel, and the local delivery agent. These were the ones on the forefront of the battle against the disease, and ensured our essential needs were met, as the country came to a grinding halt.

Another image that slowly seeped into our popular consciousness was that of the virus itself—circular with a halo of spike proteins tattooed on its body. If we had to ascribe a mascot for the departing year, this image of the Coronavirus would have to be it.

Another ubiquitous image—and something that might well be around for a while—was the mask. Every pandemic through history has had its own iconography. In the Middle Ages, during the time of the Black Death in Europe, the overwhelming image was that of the plague doctor, draped in an overcoat with a bird-like beak mask on his face.

In 2020, the medieval plague doctor with his famous beak mask is replaced by doctors in PPE suits, and people wearing N95 masks.

Another famous metaphor which gained currency during this pandemic, as depicted in this graffiti, is that of the thermometer.

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Photograph : Sanjay Rawat