There is no shortage of downers in the world today. The evening news is essentially a digest of political, social and health crises, along with a handful of weird and disturbing stories (“Tooth Found in Deli Sandwich” and the like). Even our fantasies of having a romance with a celebrity, long shielded from the dreary stresses of pandemic-fueled life, seem particularly unlikely right now: Brad Pitt has announced that he just doesn’t like dating for the moment.
Pitt is just an old man to today’s high schoolers, but they too are in desperate need of a mental escape. Anoushka Dasgupta, a high school student from Scarsdale, anxiously asked for relief last year as she struggled with distance learning. “It was in the middle of the pandemic, and it was also during my first year of high school, which was very stressful for me, as I think it was for most people,” the Heathcote resident recalls , 17 years old. “I’m a very social and outgoing person, and being alone in my room – I didn’t like that.”
It was this restless discontent that would drive Disgupta to form a worldwide network of art lovers. Eventually, it also inspired her to create A breath of fresh air, a website and a new zine (a short-run self-published print work) showcasing uplifting creative works. The story of how it all happened is as colorful as Pollock’s canvas.
It all started in January 2020, when Dasgupta, tired of isolation and virtual learning, had an idea to bring more light into her life: “I wanted to reconnect with my art,” she says. As a child, she had taken private lessons while living in Hong Kong, but stopped after her family moved to Scarsdale when she was in seventh grade. Yet she had regularly taken elective art classes at SHS and failed to commune with her creative side.
“I wanted to make my art a bigger priority in my life again, and I also wanted to meet new people in a COVID-friendly way. I can draw by myself in my room and I really liked that, but I thought to myself, “I want to be able to not only make art [on my own], but being able to connect with people through my art,” Dasgupta said. “And then I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve always wanted to talk to more artists. Why am I not starting something online, since a lot of people are online during the pandemic? »
She turned to TikTok, a short-form video-sharing app, and made a video announcing she wanted to meet more artists. “I wanted to push the idea and see if people would even respond,” she recalled. “And then I fell asleep. The next day I woke up and it had taken off – there were at least thirty or forty comments saying, “Yeah, I want to join.”
Eager to make her idea a reality, Dasgupta sought the advice of another SHS senior, Ava Thomas. “She really loves video games and she’s very in tune with social media and pop culture,” she explains. Thomas immediately suggested creating a community of artists on Discord, an online group discussion platform, and helped Dasgupta create one called “An Art Collective”.
Last summer, Dasgupta’s TikTok ad attracted some 1,500 artists to An Art Collective. Participants came from all over the world, including Panama and the Netherlands. As the Collective grew, one participant, Michael Tareski, suggested that Dasgupta start an art magazine. Despite the great distance between them — Tareski, a freshman, lives in Spokane, Wash. — the two embarked on the project as co-editors. Together, they recruited several other members of the collective to help with tasks such as graphic design and animation.
The challenge remained how to solicit consistent material. Almost immediately, it was decided that in addition to a call for submissions, Dasgupta would pose a question to the members of the collective and ask them to create their work in response. “We wanted it to be about positivity and gratitude,” Dasgupta said. “We [asked]”What makes you feel peaceful, alive, or grateful to be alive?”
Some 16 entries matching the submission requirements came from all over the world – from El Salvador to the UK, Italy to New Zealand. “We were happy to feature them all, because all of the full entries we received were so beautiful and very personal,” Dasgupta said.
On the website’s homepage, abfazine.com, visitors can see these works (which include poetry and handwritten letters) exactly as they appear in the aptly named print publication. A breath of fresh air ($12; additional shipping for international orders; available on website).
However, there is more to the site and zine than moving images and clever wording. “For most of them, I interviewed the artists behind the artwork,” Dasgupta said. “You can see a conversation between me and the artist who created the entry, where I ask them how they are as artists, their inspiration, [and] their artistic journey.
The images shown are varied – a youngster gazing up at the starry sky, for example, or a rendering of a pet seen through the artist’s adoring gaze. One pair of paintings in particular particularly moved Dasgupta: “Two artists are in a relationship…and both of their works were a representation of them and their partner,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Did you plan this? … and they were like, ‘What? No, what happened? … It really surprised all of us in the most heartwarming way.
It is Dasgupta’s wish that A breath of fresh air, in its online and print versions, will also touch the hearts of others. “All the meaning of the magazine [and website] is just to make people happy and give them some kind of relief and a renewed sense of positivity,” she shared. “My hope is that people who see the project can look through all the reasons for these different strangers [for feeling positive] and these strangers’ reminders of the beauty of life. We can appreciate its beauty while acknowledging that it can be very difficult.