By Orijit Sen:
When I was approached for a collaboration with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), I was happy to accept, as I was already aware of the work the organisation has been doing in disaster and conflict areas for over four decades. I believe MSF is a rare example of an international humanitarian organisation that is committed to its principles, and is genuinely impartial, and sensitive to people in need of healthcare anywhere in the world.
I researched MSF in more detail, and it only deepened my appreciation of the work done in so many countries under the most difficult conditions. I was also impressed by how MSF remains neutral in politically fraught situations, keeping the interests of the needy foremost at all times, regardless of which side of the divides they may be on. I understand now that the borders that MSF attempts to reach across are not only geo-political ones, but those of race, creed, gender and privilege as well.
Besides myself, a group of other artists also created works, and together these illustrations resulted in a series that constitute MSF India’s #WithoutBorders campaign. We were asked to respond to the broad idea of “bringing healthcare professionals in touch with those who need healthcare the most”. While the other artists – which included Sumit Kumar and Anupam Arunachalam – created beautiful illustrations in their own distinctive styles – based on actual MSF project situations in different regions of India, I worked on an illustration depicting MSF’s work in a global context.
I decided therefore to approach the theme through a visual metaphor rather than through the depiction of specific situations. In my own personal experience of disease, pain and care-giving, I have always sought comfort, or attempted to provide comfort, through the medium of touch. So I was naturally drawn to the idea of depicting hands and the healing power of touch. This also tied up well with the concept of bringing caregivers ‘in touch’ with those in need of care.
My illustration, like the others in the series, consists of two images that work as a pair. The first landing page image shows the caregiver and receiver on the left and right halves of the screen, reaching out towards each other but separated by a symbolic border – represented by a dashed line – down the centre. However, when the viewer clicks on this border, it dissolves and the next image opens up, revealing the previously separated halves merging to form a single unified image.
In my concept, I chose to do this by losing the figures in the second image and focusing instead on just their two hands coming together in a manner reminiscent of the yin-yang symbol. The hands are encapsulated within a spherical frame, which is also indicative of our globe. Thus I suggest that MSF’s work is, in a larger sense, also playing a vital role in strengthening humanistic bonds and bringing the global community together in peace and goodwill. I balanced this universalist narrative with a montage of photographs of MSF teams at work in all the different continents of the world – bringing multiple particularities into the picture and reinforcing the organisation’s core vision.
Although we had initially decided to work with grey scale illustrations that would graphically work well with MSF’s house colour of red, I decided to introduce blue and green tones that nevertheless maintained the monochromatic feel as well as the contrast with the red. I feel the blue-green is also more evocative of the caregiver’s medical wear and gloves on the one hand, and adds richness to globe image on the other.
Projects like this one are close to my heart. As an artist, I don’t like to be slotted into categories such as ‘art activist’ or ‘leftist’. My work addresses whatever I am inspired or excited by. The political or social commentaries in my work are those that are innate to my way of looking at life, nature, human relationships and so on. Yes, I am moved and angered by the terribly unjust and destructive aspects of our society, and feel compelled to creatively engage with these problems. So I strive to create art that I hope will be powerful and beautiful, that will inspire people and touch the core of their humanity.
I also have no patience with people who say that art cannot make a difference in today’s consumer-capitalist world. I believe that art does have the power to bring about a long-term change in the way we think about things. The relationship between art and social change isn’t a direct cause-and-effect one. It isn’t a short-term thing. Art speaks to the heart as well as the mind, and the way it impacts us as individuals and societies can be very powerful and lasting, but is not necessarily measurable in specific quantities.
So, we may have to wait for the day when we can live in a world without borders – but till then, I’m glad we have Doctors Without Borders!