Darwin’s theory of evolutionary theory, the survival of the fittest, rather became an immediate point of reference and yardstick in 2020. The fittest is being defined not merely based on physiological advantage but on collective strength and mutual aid. From the deadly pandemic and Australian bushfires to global movement for racial justice, stock market crashes and Trump’s electoral loss, the year 2020 has certainly experienced its fair share of world-shifting events. In India too, 2020 didn’t begin without dramas. AAP winning elections, Delhi Riot and Trump’s visit to India – everything did set the stone rolling for the catastrophic year. While the first Covid death on 12th March started shifting the realities, the announcement of lockdown on 25th March was without any fallout plan for daily/migrant workers and other marginalised communities such as sex workers and small-scale entrepreneurs. Several thousands of migrant workers and their families were forced to walk thousands of kilometres to reach the safety of their homes, no matter how much shattered those houses were. There was also a reverse exodus in June once the unlock phase was announced, as the situation that forced these helpless workers to move to urban areas in search for livelihood didn’t change an iota. This should have caused a tremor within the social and political fabric of any society. However, it didn’t lead to any lasting change. As we read this, the farmers, risking everything, continue to protest at the borders of Delhi.
The pandemic did the worse to not only the marginalized but also the majority of entrepreneurs, freelancers and independent practitioners. Only having a roof over the head and other basic facilities to count for, the lower and upper middle class Indian populace had their share of troubles due to a lack of income flow. On top of all these, several millions of salaried Indians lost their jobs. The Covid death toll also is on the rise and even with total number of cases crossing 1 crore, life appears to be normal, for the economic vulnerabilities of a developing Nation demands merciless risk taking and sacrifice. Nevertheless, life did continue parallelly. Amid the pandemic snag, political drama continued to unfold. This included the India-China stand-off at Pangong Tso and later at Galwan Valley and banning of 59 Chinese Apps, locust incursions, two cyclones, Babri Masjid acquittal, Alan and Thaha bail release, by-elections, continued arrests, and now the farmers’ protests.
The world of art and culture is one of the hardest-hit sectors. The already limited support structure for artists and art/cultural organisations in India has dwindled further, pushing many to oblivion. The coronavirus outbreak and subsequent nationwide lockdown did affect almost all art practitioners, but then, the scale of impact was different for different sectors. Performance artists and photographers received the first line of bullets, with curtains down on live performances and mobility curtailed for photography assignments. Even within this, there were increased vulnerabilities because of one’s age (young, mid-career, and senior), location (rural or urban), networking possibilities, social and family support lines etc.
In India, the culture of buying art is not that common and often much thought is not given as to how an artist survives. It is especially so for those who do not fit within the mainstream gallery structure – the ones who are not within the success circuit, so to say. Even the mainstream artists, except those who have a saving or a buffer job or family support system, were pushed to the wall. With gallery shows and festivals either postponed or shifted online, the sales funnel got collapsed, making it a struggle for survival for most independent practitioners.
The government did almost nothing to mitigate the situation, not even a proper assessment of the impact of the pandemic. Despite this, many stakeholders of the art world did push the limits to make a difference. While it would be impossible to list everything, here is a chronological snapshot of what happened in the world of Indian art.