DISCOURSE: COVID ART — THE NEW PORTAL

Published April 19, 2020
Italian street artist TV Boy’s mural on a wall near the Colosseum in central Rome appropriates a scene from the famous Hollywood film Roman Holiday
Italian street artist TV Boy’s mural on a wall near the Colosseum in central Rome appropriates a scene from the famous Hollywood film Roman Holiday

Welcome to the new normal — a life dictated by lockdowns, social distan­cing, quarantine and self-isolation.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, people — confined largely to their homes — have begun to indulge in creative forms of social comment and communication. Quarantine has opened a new art portal where experiences of living through the pandemic are taking shape as first-person accounts. The history of our present moment is being recorded by ordinary citizens around the world. “Diaries and correspondences are a gold standard,” says Jane Kamensky in Library Newsletter Fall 2019, a professor of American History at Harvard University and the faculty director of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute. “They’re among the best evidence we have of people’s inner worlds,” writes Amelia Nierenberg in an article in The New York Times titled “The Quarantine Diaries”.

The article reflects on the history of the present moment taking shape in visuals, journal entries and diaries. Some, such as Colin White, an illustrator in Ottawa, are drawing their pantries. Others, such as Gavin Snider, an illustrator in Brooklyn, are sketching the view from their windows. But in architect Adina Tudor’s window painting, it is not a journey outside anymore, but a journey inside.

Such personal outlooks, snapshots of ordinary lives, told in words and pictures, will prove to be very insightful when future historians look to write the story of life during coronavirus. Questions about the future and concerns about the present are taking shape in varied art expressions. Be it heartfelt tributes painted on walls to overworked hospital staff, graffiti made to prevent racism in these highly charged times or just pantry inventories and window views, it looks like art is never far from the frontlines.

Gavin Snider, an illustrator in Brooklyn, sketches the view from his window
Gavin Snider, an illustrator in Brooklyn, sketches the view from his window

The Washington Post published illustrations of Chinese artist Jing Li, quarantined in a Chinese city close to Wuhan on March 17, 2020. She has made line drawings of shelters for community workers, acting as security guards to prevent people from leaving their homes. Other revealing drawings focus on recycling and red garbage containers on every corner, for face masks only. Images of workers disinfecting the city, as seen from a window, and packs of vegetables tied in plastic bags, delivered free at doorsteps, also capture some of the lifestyle changes enforced to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown in an effort to tackle the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak outside of China. Movements in and out of cities are severely restricted. But this is not stopping Italians from using art and creativity to tackle the situation. “Andrà tutto bene” means “everything will be fine” in Italian. This is the message, accompanied by a rainbow symbol that the children of Italy have adopted as they use art to cope with the quarantine and spread messages of hope and positivity.

Artists and ordinary citizens alike are making art to spread messages of hope and to illustrate the quarantined life

From rooftop views in Paris, to a city skyline in Seville, to streets in Rome and Munich, drawing enthusiasts are capturing unique vantage points creatively while dealing with confinement. The Star in its March 18, 2020 edition (photo by AFP), shows an artist preparing his graffiti with the inscription “The Coronavirus Is A Wake Up Call And Our Chance To Build A New And Loving Society” on a wall in the slaughterhouse district in Munich, Germany. In another photo by AFP, a mural by the provocative Italian street artist TV Boy, displayed on a wall near the Colosseum in central Rome, appropriates a scene from the famous Hollywood film Roman Holiday. He depicts a masked Hepburn holding a banner reading “Clear Air Now.”

It is not a journey outside anymore, but a journey inside,” says Adina-Mihaela Tudor, a 36-year-old architect in Ploie ti, Romania
It is not a journey outside anymore, but a journey inside,” says Adina-Mihaela Tudor, a 36-year-old architect in Ploie ti, Romania

A glass sculpture replica of Covid-19, created by British artist Luke Jerram, is seen at his studio in Bristol. A tribute to the huge global, scientific and medical effort to combat the pandemic, it is two million times larger than the actual virus.

Spanish publicists Emma Calvo, Irene Llorca and José Guerrero, from Barcelona, have created a virtual museum with works on the coronavirus. “Our selection criterions are to choose works that are made in the quarantine period, that transmit and reflect what we are all living and feeling,” they state on their website. “That’s why we don’t limit ourselves to any one technique. We collect all kinds of art, be it illustrations, photographs, paintings, drawings, animations, video, etc. We find messages of all kinds: many talk about love and union; others seek to raise awareness; some have a more comical approach and others are simply curious observations of the new scenario in which we find ourselves.”

The elements that are most repeated in ‘Covid Art’ are the masks, toilet paper and the virus itself. “We think the pandemic will end eventually, but art never dies. For the time being, this will be our archive on Arte Covid and, in the future, all those interested will be able to find out how the artists expressed themselves during this period,” the Spanish publicists conclude.

While the pandemic keeps us apart, such creative exercises keep our spirits high and help us make sense of a challenging situation.

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 19th, 2020

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