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Art For India

Written by: Ananya Jain

An ariel image capturing multiple funeral pyres in a parking lot on the outskirts of Delhi, is plastered on the cover of every leading international news outlet. Most times, there is no trigger warning, but is that because the image has been circulated so widely that it seems to have lost its shock value and become normalised? Or is the reproduction in large numbers what makes it effective, impactful and an image to remember? That is arguable, reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s theories of photojournalism and the ‘pain of others’.

Regardless of ethical considerations however, the image and accompanying journalism, both voices from the subcontinent but also outside, reaffirm one reality; it seems that the world has woken up to the disaster that unfolds in India, the world’s second most populous country which is currently battling what was been deemed the deadliest strain and wave of the COVID 19 virus pandemic.

Death, pain, mourning and grief have engulfed the nation entirely, with people struggling to find beds, oxygen, medical supplies, and even spaces to cremate their loved ones who has passed. On the other side, political battles have never seemed dirtier as selfish, vote-bank hungry politicians sponsor religious festivals, and lead political rallies, both of which exacerbated the chaos and the death tolls. Amidst this, ‘India struggles to breathe’, and citizens abandoned by administration and many of their beloved public figures, are left to fend for themselves and their loved ones in what is not less than a war zone.

Despite the grim circumstances, in times where the administration is more concerned with heroic shows of power, the citizens of the nation as well as from across the world unite to support those in need. From free drives for oxygen cylinders, to langar seva (free community kitchens), tiffin services, caretaking services, to fundraisers, immense support pours in from Southasians in every corner of the world.

In this time of crisis, or a beyond-crisis ‘apocalypse’. as it has been termed, I cannot help but think of the links between art and social crisis, drawing perhaps the most recent and obvious comparisons with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In part, because this semester I took a module on the Visual Cultures of HIV/AIDS but also due to the response (or lack there off), of the government I am compelled to think about how art responds to comfort, support but also serve as an avenue of expression in distress.

A recent initiative seems striking, ArtForIndia is a UK based fundraiser launch by 3 London-based Indians to raise money for Oxygen Support for India’s COVID crisis. Southasian artists from across the spectrum have contributed with photographic prints, and throughout the period extended from the 3rd – 9th of May 2021, all profits are being donated to Mission Oxygen, an initiative dedicated to procuring and providing oxygen cylinders and concentrators to Indians in need. At where it stands, Mission Oxygen has managed to procure about 3900 Oxygen concentrators and have started shipping them to India from China, amidst the massive shortage in the Indian markets. Fundraising for charity is not new for the art world or the art market, however in a time where creating itself seems inaccessible to most of the Indian population, in times of unparalleled loss, disease and suffering, an initiative such as this explores the potential of an art market, which whilst remaining exclusive, does contribute to raising funds where they are most needed. Each print it priced at a 100 pounds and can be purchased via the website. Some of the contributing artists include Bharat Sikka, Avani Rai, Rema Chaudhury, and Prarthna Singh amongst others, and on its opening day the project has already raised £8000 for the cause, and its network continues to grow further.

They are however by no means the only ones. Multiple other organisations and both small and large businesses in the art, culture, fashion and design spheres have also pledged to donate part of their proceeds to verified charities directly in India. Despite struggling over the past year, themselves, they continue to support charities and people actively and constantly even in the chaos around them. Whether it a women-led fashion label NorBlackNorWhite who raised $ 34000 in just three days, a modern jewelry label The Olio Stories who raised Rs. 1,240,974 in just about 10 hours, or Misho Designs, who are donating 100 percent proceeds on selected products for the entire month of May, the list is endless. Some of these fundraisers were short term and others continue on, but each label, business and individual are going above and beyond to contribute to mitigating the crisis.

While, it has previously been argued that raising money seems like the most passive response through art in times of crises, at a time like this especially when the community affected seems geographically and culturally far away, donating and raising funds for verified platforms can support more than one might think. Whether it’s the £3 you spend on your daily cup of coffee, the £5 that go into your Thursday night takeout, or the £10 that you spend on a night out, every little amount can go into saving a life.

The historical trope of art emerging in a time of crisis as a mode of self-expression and an emotional or political outlet, remains as valid as ever. This pandemic, being a worldwide phenomenon has made that association amply clear whether in the form of traditionally creative output, or modes of protest. Yet, whilst that is essential even in this case, fundraising remains one of the single most important ways of supporting and mitigating this crisis.

As restrictions in the West are lifted and rapid vaccination drives appear to be bringing back what could be termed a ‘normal’ existence, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over yet. Raising awareness via social media, whilst useful in some capacity, in this highly virtual year has the potential of becoming performative. Instead, how about taking some time out to find an organization you can donate to, or someone whose efforts you maybe able to recognise? The famous slogan for AIDS activism, adopted by Activist group Gran Fury seems relevant even today: SILENCE = DEATH, or in this case even more specifically INACTION = DEATH.

Charities to donate to directly : Goonj, Hemkunt Foundation, Khalsa Aid

UK University Wide Fundraiser for medical supplies (Students for COVID 19 Relief in India)

A list of Indian labels who are donating for COVID relief



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