A couple of weeks ago, as Arshmeen Baveja was rewatching Rang De Basanti , the 2006 Hindi film by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, she struck upon a wild idea.
She let AR Rahman’s soundtrack wash over her, as she painted away her feelings — 10 songs, 10 digital artworks. Put up for sale on her Instagram, the prints have brought in around ₹36,000 so far, all of which she is diverting to the Migrant Workers Solidarity Network.
“ Rang De Basanti resonated with me, given the scale of the crisis we have at hand right now, and the mismanagement by the Government. We are stuck in a situation where we only have each other to help,” says the 25-year-old from Delhi.
Arshmeen’s contribution to COVID-19 relief is a drop in the ocean of fundraising campaigns being led by Indian artists at an individual level. Prints — both digital and physical — of visual art are being used as incentive for buyers, who can obtain them after showing proof of donation to a charity. Alternatively, they can send money directly to artists, who then pass it on to the organisations they have partnered with.
In just three days since the launch of Photo Solidarity, Chennai Photo Biennale has raised ₹3.6 lakh to be split equally between Khalsa Aid, providing medical resources, and Protsahan India Foundation, which takes care of children who have lost their parents to the pandemic. It was made possible, believes director of education at CPB, Gayatri Nair, because works by photographers such as Raghu Rai, Ronny Sen, Kannagi Khanna and Suresh Punjabi sold out immediately.
“A Raghu Rai photo could sell for a minimum of ₹50,000 to up to ₹2 lakh depending on the print size and the work. But here, you are getting it for just ₹5,000, plus your money is going towards a good cause. That is the main attraction, I think,” says Gayatri.
The other draw is the special nature of some of the prints. “When the artistes donate their work to the CPB, we are allowed to print only three of them. This is generally work that has not been a part of a sale before, so the value of the work goes up because it is limited,” she says.
Big names aside, CPB is also partnering with many young and upcoming photographers, to offer a variety of prints. While the funds go completely towards the charities and the printing cost, there may be another incentive for the young artistes. “I have noticed that many of the people interested are art buyers, gallerists and collectors. When they buy a young artist’s work, that increases its value, which will help them next time they professionally approach a gallery with their work.” So far, Photo Solidarity has over 60 photographers on board.
- Diversify Photo: By a team of BIPOC visual artistes. ₹4,500 for one print. Funds go to Adivasi Lives Matter, Hemkunt Foundation, Indian Red Cross Society, Khaana Chahiye, Last Wildernness Foundation, Goonj and Creative Dignity.
- Chennai Photo Biennale: Limited edition work by over 60 photographers. ₹5,000 for one print. Funds go to Khalsa Aid and Protsahan.
- Ode to India: Homage to the country by India-born artists. Funds go to Mission Oxygen.
- The Big Fat Bao: A3 size portraits of Dalit icons. ₹1,350 for one. Funds go to Swabhiman Society.
Young guns blazing
It was a collaboration of a similar scale that artist Devangana Dash pulled together in the beginning of May. “If the world wasn’t burning right now, I would truly call it the collaboration of my dreams!” quips Devangana. Within the first 24 hours of her fundraiser, she found support from 26 of her artist friends; the colourful mix of styles, voices and palettes raised ₹11 lakh in five days.
“I started the campaign by uploading one of my own artworks to sense the engagement on Instagram, which turned out to be decent. I knew I won’t be able to gather concrete funds sufficient to make any difference, alone. This needs community work to be done well, and compassion brings people together,” says Devangana.
Most of the artists, including Devangana, had no prior experience in fundraising. Finding a verified campaign or organisation to donate to, while at the same time amplifying the call for donations, and keeping a regular account of the money flowing in, can be challenging for a first timer. Platforms such as Mutual Aid India help.
The website curates a list of urgent COVID-19 relief campaigns, verified in-house. “They were highlighting organisations/individuals doing on-ground relief work with the affected groups and communities at the grassroots areas that often get overshadowed. Their research was a key force, as their team of volunteers is constantly vetting the campaigns and identifying under-funded spaces,” says Devangana.
Happy themes in a sad world
In Jaipur, Shreya Parasrampuria, along with five other artists, is also encouraging others to donate a minimum of ₹1,500 to any of Mutual Aid’s featured campaigns, to get a set of six postcards. The theme for these postcards is ‘solitude’, interpreted by each of them in their own styles. “All of us find catharsis in drawing alone, and have done so a lot over the past year,” says Shreya.
From a girl staring at a fish bowl in the warm yellow glow of her room, to one leaning against a fortress of mattresses — there is serenity to the postcards. Meanwhile Anjali Chandrashekar and Nidhi Singh Rathore from the US, aiming to get the Indian diaspora around the world to contribute to Mission Oxygen, say their theme revolved around an Ode to India. They write, “it is a collection that represented what artists outside India were missing — the small moments of joy, calm, and strength of their motherland, India.”
Artist MS, who goes by the name The Big Fat Bao, says, “There is a lot of artwork out there focussing on the pandemic, the lack of governance and so on, but I wanted to give people things they could remember other than this chaos.”
She is donating her sales to the Swabhiman Society and The Blue Dawn, both working towards supporting the Dalit community in accessing healthcare. Her artwork then, features icons such as BR Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule and tribal activist Kuni Sikaka.
“Savitri mai was one of the key figures in handling the 1897 plague in Pune,” she says, adding “It is a reminder for us to stay strong and help each other out.”