"Easter Morning Sun 2020 (COVID-19 artwork no.3)," by Alfred Freddy Krupa

Arts As Refuge Amidst The Pandemic

The world is gradually trying to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in one of the most severe global economic crises and therefore, quite naturally, arts and cultural heritage sectors have taken quite a major hit all over the world. Yet, what is truly amazing is that it has not dampened artistic spirits. What has dawned on all of us by now, surely, is that science and technology will get us out of this situation one day, but it is the arts, culture, and humanities that will get us through this tough time right now.

{ In the dark times

Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing

About the dark times }

~ Bertolt Brecht, motto to Svendborg Poems, 1939

On the night of August 4th, as I was mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram, my friend texted me to check the news and I saw the devastated Beirut headlining my feed. Shocked, I said to myself, “Can this year get any worse?” and proceeded to watch the videos of the horrifying explosion that had been captured live on camera and posted by the residents living near the blast site.

I felt shattered at the sight of the destruction caused and wanted to help somehow, but I was quickly impeded by the reality of my own situation.

Humbled and heartbroken, I, with a wish to help and try to make a difference beyond myself, yet unable to help my own system or situation for that matter, decided to educate myself, read, and write about it for now.

But as days progressed, I quickly realized that there were already a variety of tweets, articles, and posts shared online, which were essentially despairing and ultimately cynical regarding the unfortunate happening. Having said this, it is the blanket truth for all such similar events around the world, nowadays.

So, distraught and unwilling to propagate any more of such, I pulled away, reserving my points of view and put on Einaudi’s Una Mattina on Youtube shuffle while reading about the political and economic implications of the horrible explosion.

Then, suddenly amidst all the news articles, online discussion forums, images and videos, people’s comments, and mass speculations, a video by the ABC News surfaced on my feed in which a 72-year-old woman is seen playing Auld Lang Syne on her piano in a corner of her former drawing room amidst the ruins of her wrecked house, in Beirut, two days after the devastating explosion. The video had been shot and posted by her granddaughter with the caption, “Beauty from ashes” who further gave us a glimpse of the extent of damages their apartment building and similar buildings nearby had sustained. You can also see the family combing through what’s left of the house. There are shattered windows, broken frames, glass, building wires, ashes and dust everywhere. Honestly, it is a very depressing sight.

But what left me in complete awe is that even in a time and situation like that, when the human spirit had taken such a serious hit, you see a person doing something like that and it completely moves you, makes you grateful from within and simultaneously compels you to try to understand how deep the human will runs.

It has been a long time since the global pandemic has come into effect and has us all locked out in our houses. With each passing day, we hear new things about the virus or about our ever-changing governmental policies to tackle it somehow; we see people suffering and dying and all sorts of other morbid things happening around the world; and, often, we find ourselves wondering whether our only chance of survival is by being cooped up in our houses, quarantining for as long as possible, till the storm passes.

It’s as if we have all been living the same life with the same boring repetitive days playing out over and over again like Nadia in Russian Doll (but at least she could attend a party!).

And so, collectively, we have all tried to break this rut in a million different ways and the most sought-after way seems to be through the arts and culture. This abrupt change in our lives has caused us all to turn toward arts as if suddenly aware of its remedial and spiritual aspects and our own desire to concoct unique spaces through artistic endeavours that define our taste and creativity.

It’s a beautiful thing to see, people having started painting, designing, singing, dancing, photographing, video-graphing, reading, writing, critiquing, etc. People have gravitated toward all these activities to provide them a much-needed release in this one endless summer. We no longer desire the need to be exceptional, but the need to feel okay again after being crudely ripped from normal lives.

The vivid stream of colors seen through people’s shared artworks, words, photographs, music, and videos shared online serves to restore the lost colors of our little lives and help us get going each day.

Quite sensibly, what has dawned on all of us by now, surely, is that science and technology will get us out of this situation one day, but it is the arts, culture, and humanities that will get us through this tough time right now.

As John Keating in Dead Poets Society says,

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

And, together, we certainly will stay alive.

This unprecedented pause has led us to reflect on our inner selves more deeply and has us questioning who we truly are and what we stand for. As people, what are we like individually and communally? How do we relate with other people, how do we perceive the world around us, and how do these things impact the choices we make?

The world is gradually trying to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in one of the most severe global economic crises and therefore, quite naturally, arts and cultural heritage sectors have taken quite a major hit all over the world. Yet, what is truly amazing is that it has not dampened artistic spirits.

Online forums and social media platforms have now paved the way for the new wave in artistic portrayals.

Sure, the artist-audience interaction is severely affected and, in many ways, damaged but, since the universality of arts and culture is undeniable and boundless, it is still surviving with continued hope and is bound together by faith across the world.

Earlier this year, we saw Italians and Spaniards singing their hearts out from their balconies; we came together to pay tribute to our front-line health care workers; and, on social media, we saw DJs playing music right from their apartment balconies in attempts to uplift others.

Netflix, MUBI, Amazon Prime Videos, Hulu, and other online streaming services have released many films and series for their viewers, so that local cinemas aren’t missed. Artists like Camilla Cabello, Alicia Keys, Shawn Mendes, etc. gave us mini-concerts from their home studios and kitchens in the ‘iHeart Living Room Concert for America.’

Other musical artists like P!nk, Chris Martin, Norah Jones, and Yo-Yo Ma have given us beautiful live performances and have continued to make us feel uplifted throughout these tough times. COVID-19 benefit concert events like ‘I for India,’ ‘One World: Together at Home,’ ‘#Canada Together,’ and many more events attempt to unite people all over the world through art-related charitable causes.

Many artists have also taken to curating unique Instagram Live sessions and have performed online for us from their homes. Even writers and novelists have started reading out their works and have collaborated for audiobooks and online story-telling sessions. Stand-up comedians have taken to online live-streaming their shows and have kept us laughing. Even theatre and dance-drama artists have collaborated over Zoom calls and provided us with some incredible performances to watch.

Despite all the positive stemming from the arts, it is easy to feel demoralized by the overwhelming amount of information dominating the news regarding COVID-19 and its far-reaching consequences in the political and economic sectors.

Through the arts and humanities, we are granted strength, hope, and a faith in progress. Now more than ever, we must stand united with a sense of solidarity despite differences.

If we can do that, something tells me we’ll make it out alright.


Asmidisha Ghosh is a 20-year-old world-weary engineering student hailing from Calcutta, India. She is a creative writer in her university departmental literary society, ‘Escalada,’ and some of her writings are published on their social media handles on Facebook and Instagram. She consumes ungodly amount of films and media and is an open-minded reader who loves obscure poems and music. She absolutely loathes discussing herself in the third person, but can be persuaded to do so for things like this.

Instagram: @asmidishaghosh

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