As Pakistan faces the worst flooding in over a decade, artists of the diaspora have banded together to raise funds for crisis relief onsite. On September 30, the South Asian Visual Arts Network (SAVAN) collective hosted an art auction with over 300 attendees that culminated in $85,000 in proceeds through ticket sales, donations, and bids. The core team of 11 organizers worked tirelessly over the last three weeks to secure donated artworks from over 70 members and friends of the pan-South Asian diaspora for an auction that took place at Prime Produce, an artist-led co-op and event space in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen district.
All proceeds will be split evenly among four women-led, on-ground organizations — Mama Baby Fund, Madat Balochistan, Ali Hasan Mangi Trust, and Women Democratic Front. Several of the event organizers mentioned to Hyperallergic that SAVAN wanted to focus on maternal health and women’s needs in particular as the nation evaluates the unprecedented levels of damage from the two-week torrential downpour during the summer monsoon season. In its initial event notice, SAVAN pointed to the importance of rising above divisive forces that riddle the relationships between the nations of the South Asian subcontinent to bring assistance to those who are most in need — a “resounding answer to the limited visions of governments and institutions.”
“I think this is an especially urgent time — past time, in fact — to consider who we need to support and give our efforts and care towards most during this time of compounding crises, which is very much a result of extremism, fascism, empire and unresolved trauma in the region,” co-organizer Ambika Trasi told Hyperallergic. “Governments and institutions are not going to provide that, it’s up to the people. I think this is very much in the same vein as how mutual aid operates.”
Ayesha Ali, the consul general of Pakistan in New York, spoke at the event to contextualize the gravity of Pakistan’s current situation. The nation faced a record-breaking heatwave with temperatures exceeding 120°F from March through May, followed by immeasurable flooding from an abnormally intense monsoon season lasting from July through August. Ali emphasized that while Pakistan is contributing to only 1% of global carbon emissions, the nation is the eighth most vulnerable to climate change. A third of the country, an area comparable to that of Virginia, is underwater. Thirty-three million people have been impacted or displaced from their homes — more than double the number of migrants during the 1947 Partition, the largest mass migration in human history.
As nations and humanitarian leaders bicker over who will foot the bill for $10 billion in damages, Pakistan’s poorest are paying the ultimate price. The floods have not only wiped out families and villages, but also schools, bridges, dams, and farms, leaving survivors without shelter, education, and basic resources such as food and healthcare. Several national heritage sites and monuments were also damaged by the floods.
SAVAN’s fundraising event was primarily orchestrated through the work of women and LGBTQ+ individuals, mirroring the efforts of the four selected organizations. Two pertinent organizers were Aisha Zia Khan and Atif F. Sheikh of Twelve Gates Arts in Philadelphia, who have committed to showing the work of artists from South and West Asia and the diaspora. Khan told Hyperallergic that while Twelve Gates Arts was not officially affiliated with the fundraiser, the staff and other collaborators were proud to volunteer their resources and expertise for the cause.
Participating artists carefully considered the fundraiser’s message when donating their artwork for the cause. Qinza Najm, an organizer and participating artist with a studio in Prime Produce, selected her two prints for auction with the intention of addressing collective traumas.
“The work revolves around trauma, healing, and issues around minorities, especially women,” she said. “It talks about a lot of our traumas, specifically displacement. Covering the faces and removing the identities indicates togetherness in our pain. We feel alone, but we are all in it together.”
The notions of displacement and togetherness make an appearance in Mala Iqbal’s painting “Migration” (2022) as well. Iqbal, a Brooklyn-based painter, personally suggested the painting to Aisha Zia Khan as it depicts a group of people mid-journey. “I want people to identify with this crowd, to look for a familiar face, to be able to place themselves in the scene. Due to climate change, war, and extreme financial pressures of this crazy global moment, millions of people are on the move.”
Those who were not able to attend the auction were invited to bid virtually through Galabid, and the platform remains open for donations.