Natasha Sharma’s Quarantine Qrayon series (courtesy the artist)

BENGALURU, India — In April and May, amidst a devastating second wave of COVID-19, India faced an overwhelming shortage of hospital beds and vaccines, choked crematoriums, and a rising death count. 

Through the tough times, the country’s creative community served as a beacon of hope. From their homes, artists took to social media and used visuals, words, and even cake to raise funds for frontline workers and organizations helping affected communities get basic supplies like oximeters, thermometers, basic medicines, and masks. From every part of the country, illustrators, photographers, poets, and bakers came together to do their bit. 

Anuradha Bhaumick sold embroidery hoops to benefit COVID-19 relief (courtesy the artist)

Hundreds of illustrators across the country have sold their prints, calendars, and other merchandise in exchange for donations to individuals and organizations most affected by coronavirus. Wildlife cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty (aka Green Humour) sold his Birds of India poster, while Akshaya Elizabeth Zachariah sold her prints on endangered animals. Anuradha Bhaumick sold her embroidered hoops; Nori Norbhu sold her Art Cares Bundle; Joanna Davala sold her gorgeous watercolor paintings; and Natasha Sharma sold her Quarantine Qrayon series. Meanwhile, Shreya Parasrampuria and Anjali Rungta of the Tiny Tumbler sold postcards, and Meera Ganapthi Ayappa and Harshita Borah put together a zine of poetry, prose, and illustrations.

Every cake, every artwork, and every photograph made a difference towards the greater good to benefit vulnerable populations. Keeping transparency in mind, the artists and their supporters shared donation receipts publicly, and Instagram was suddenly flooded with posts by good Samaritans doing whatever they could. 

Several artists also took on commissions, like Shivani Javeri and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, who made digital portraits for COVID-19 relief, and Divya, who did pet portraits on commission. Ria Mohta of Artisan’s Arbor created Feel Good postcards, through which people could buy postcards and write a customized message for loved ones. Creative Dignity, a volunteer-run movement, has been working to help traditional artisans and craftspeople from India who face the double threat of a health crisis and livelihood uncertainty. 

Several print sales have been hosted by the photography community as well, like Art for India, Ode to India, and Prints for Hope by Eight Thirty; Chennai Photo Biennale’s PhotoSolidarity, as well as the Print for Srishti sale, with 45 participating photographers, initiated by photojournalist Smita Sharma.

A series of art sales, in which multiple artists pooled and sold their work to raise funds as a collective, also arose. Author-illustrator Devangana Dāsh brought together 26 talented women artists to sell digital artworks; Kulture Shop ran two Art Fights Covid campaigns with 50 artists selling their art for oxygen relief; the Fearless Collective created an art sale Fearless Immunity; and LOCOPOPO and a group of artists and illustrators sold their original works and art prints.

Artwork by Natasha Sharma (courtesy the artist)

A Friendly Fundraiser was started by a group of friends who decided to donate their time in exchange for donations, offering a variety of services and experiences from home coffee brewing, writing better college essays, personalized digital portraits, and even guidance on raising a puppy in lockdown. More recently, community fundraisers with various workshops and panels have grown in popularity, like student-run initiative Moonflower COVID Relief and Sensory Expansion by Unlocked

India’s poetry and music communities have also had a part to play. In May, a group of writers hosted an evening of poetry, In the Dark Times, There Will Be Singing. Poet Nakuul Mehta is currently running #PoemsForHumanity, where he writes and performs an original poem for those who donate. 

Even the independent music community has been doing their bit. Producer Arjun Vagale mobilized his friends in the Indian electronic music community, and together, they created a charity compilation album titled SOS. Producers Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Javeri collaborated with the coffee estate Kerehaklu to create Kerelief, natural soundscapes intended to bring calm. Sanaya, along with 11 other producers, also helped create CRSP (Covid Relief Sample Pack),  a bespoke sample pack of sounds produced from across the globe.

Offering workshops as a way to share practical knowledge also became a way to incentivize donations. Shub (also known as the Hungry Palette) hosted a visual journaling workshop, and natural color maker Manya Cherabuddi started a fundraiser called Find Your Calm and donated all the proceeds from her classes on natural dyes and pigments. In June, NPI Collective hosted a 3-day workshop on children’s books as maps to help navigate the pandemic.

The wave of self-initiated fundraising attempts from Indians also saw some truly unique campaigns, like Pearl and Krystall D’Souza’s Not Just Salad, a digital, illustrated recipe book. There was also #BakeForIndia, a campaign initiated by Neysa Mendes of Good Slice to raise money for the cause through selling baked goodies like cakes and pastries. What started as an individual bake sale snowballed into dozens of bakers across India trying to do their own bit with their skill and creativity.

In these difficult times, it takes collective action to make a difference for a better future for all. The artist community of India has proved that art matters — that we can shift mountains and spark real change if we decide to work together. To anyone who would like to support India through this difficult time, here is a comprehensive list of places to which you can continue to donate.

Rohini Kejriwal is a writer, poet and a curator based out of Bangalore. She is always up for a good story, travel, strong coffee and the company of plants. She runs The Alipore Post, a curated newsletter...