The deepening Covid-19 crisis is moving in unpredictable directions and it is sad to see people becoming increasingly helpless, afraid and solitary. When we look at the statistics it portends a very dangerous scenario that is yet to unfold as people are getting more and more pushed into the margins. As an artist involved in sociopolitical issues, it is very alarming to see the unfortunate sights that we as humans instead of building solidarity indulging in hate-mongering. It is very painful to watch misguided people attacking doctors and frontline medical workers, and the targeting and killing of people from weaker sections. As a person living in Mumbai, I see people showing great resilience in such dangerous situations, and doing whatever they can to hold the human fort against this pandemic. But it is very worrying to see people waiting for hours to get a bowl of soup or rice and daal. One hopes the pandemic doesn’t spread beyond our control because we are not at all equipped to accommodate such numbers. It is time to show compassion and love towards the people you can reach out to in your circles and to help the people in need.

Artists are not very far from such survival reality.    

Indian Art world was going through a low phase following the economic crisis and everyone was waiting for a boost of some sort. But then this pandemic has brought in a long term crisis and it will be difficult times ahead for everyone. Lockdown has a huge economic impact globally, and the pandemic will bring a new world order which we cannot speculate about. Amidst stories about people walking miles for food, and starving to death, stories about the survival crisis in the creative industry is not a point of debate. But soon, it will become one when the crisis deepens further and we artists begin to lose hope and to die of fear without seeing a future. I am foreseeing the worst. Social distancing will keep the galleries away from being a site of physical engagement and monetary exchange. But For an artist even if s/he is established with great creative Capital as his/her best investment will also find it very difficult to reach out to a market during this pandemic crisis, because of their economic dependency on galleries, collectors and museums !!!

The economic crisis of the galleries will be the first setback impacting upon the artists. It is alarming to know that there is no organisation which strengthens the coming together galleries in India. It is time to build unity among the artists, institutions and organisations in the art world to face this crisis …Galleries, Auction houses, Dealers, Collectors, Museums and institutions – all should come together to address this crisis to sustain the space!  If not, only the fittest will survive.  The art ecosystem is under threat so it is equally important for all these agencies that bring out the best talents among the artists should come forward for mutual survival; it will also be a credible act of showing solidarity with the artist’s community. Unlike writers, Artists don’t get royalty and they won’t survive if some support system is not geared towards them. Our art history shows that artists, in their life cycle, go through poverty phase twice. Once before becoming known and later when they can’t work. In India, we also have heard of sad stories where even big ‘successful’ artists dying poor. So beware of the betrayal or failure of organisations like artists pension trust that came to the Indian market when the art world was booming, but soon vanished in 2008 when the recession hit the scene. No money then no insurance. 

Corona has already taught us many lessons. It is important to care & share to survive. It is important to collaborate to co-exist. Everyone is ambitiously celebrating online possibilities to sell, while at the same time people are holding on to their capital. The physical qualities of art cannot survive through the celebrations of the almighty kings from the intellectual soft powers and through soft copies alone. Art is Real and it takes a whole life and many levels of sacrifices to make it. We may even lose many among us. It is unpredictable. So the crisis of the art world at the time of social and physical distancing will be huge in an increasingly sophisticated art world. Sorry to say. Online will be just an alternative space for the established ones. It will go on as it won’t make any difference to the viewers and collectors because it is only complementary to their presence and such mechanisms already exist.  

Many countries in the world are coming out with substantial financial support for art. England has announced 190 million dollars in support of arts. So for our government, it is equally important to look at this unorganized sector, our creative wealth and to find value in the artist’s contributions in nurturing of culture by producing great works of art. Now as ever, Art needs you and You need art. 

We are seeing a lot of discussions on data sharing in relation to this crisis. Surveillance has become the norm and the Indian art world has not reacted to it in a meaningful way. It is a tricky space. When I see our galleries lining up with new partners to sustain their business I am sure that politically radical works will be carefully kept outside such circulations fearing easy surveillance. I am terrified by the fact that how vulnerable we all are going to be as we get to know the details of such major takeovers and technological consolidations that are beginning to dictate terms, at the individual, social, political and economic levels… As an artist constantly engaged in political commentary as part of art-making and art-thinking, I feel it is going to be very challenging to survive in online premises alone. Let us hope The freedom that physical spaces and human interactions provide will be back in our lives… But at the same time, looking at the way things are developing around us, I am also afraid whether corona is going to lock us down forever. Let’s hope it won’t!

About the author:

Riyas Komu

Riyas Komu is a multimedia artist, a curator based in Mumbai. He completed his Bachelors & Masters in Painting from Sir. J. J. School of Art, Mumbai. Riyas is the Co-Founder of Kochi Biennale Foundation & has been the Director of Programmes of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. He has also been the Advisor and Visual Arts Curator for Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. Riyas has Co-curated the first edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012. He has also Conceptual-ised and Curated the ‘Young Sub-Continent’ project since 2016, 2017 & 2018 for Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. And Co-curated first International Football Film Festival in India at Goa International Film Festival and Trivandrum International Film Festival in 2012. He is Founder & Director of URU Art Harbour, a cultural hub in Mattancherry, Kochi, focussing on research on Local Culture and Maritime History. As an artist, his works have been exhibited extensively and his works have been collected internationally.