While the coronavirus pandemic brought unexpected experiences to all of us, it also affected the creative output of artists in many different ways. Some artists preferred to show how they and people around the world felt during the challenging days of the outbreak in their artistic expressions. Others tried to warn people about the seriousness of the situation and encourage them to take necessary precautions to halt the spread of the virus.
I have visited many exhibitions – especially online shows as you can imagine – and since the very beginning of the pandemic and examined a myriad of artworks on the COVID-19 crisis and the accompanying extraordinary times filled with strange experiences like lockdowns. I still remember authentic ones among them that managed to impress me deeply with their creators’ talents and expertise.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, let’s take a look at some of these unique works prepared by skilled female artists.
Last August, Yunus Emre Institute (YEE) launched a project titled “Covidoscope,” featuring works from more than 40 countries. The project hosted pieces by professional and unprofessional artists and formed a global diary of the pandemic. The most iconic pieces that took place in the project have evoked diverse emotions from fear to courage, from joy to grief.
Two videos by Ukrainian animation filmmaker and book illustrator Alyona Potyomkina were trying to make people look on the bright side and motivate them. The first one, "Pro's of Self-isolation," presents a little bunny eating his carrots and reading with funny background music. Seconds later, two foxes on both sides of this cute creature appear holding a fork and knife in their hands. Even if they slobber, they cannot reach the bunny due to the 1.5 meters distance between them! It turns out that the bunny likes self-isolation. Reminding of the social-distancing rule, the video also refers to the introvert who is pleased to become distanced.
Another video titled "How to survive during quarantine?" by the illustrator shows people buying especially toilet papers in a market queue one by one. The black and white video stops when a little girl appears and draws a smile on her mask. Then, only she becomes colorful, the message is clear: health begins with a smile.
French lacquer artist Karoline Hantz illustrates the lifestyle during the quarantine in her “All Confined.” A view from a Paris street, featuring the Eifel Tower in the background, portrays people in the windows or balconies of their homes, some of which are decorated with “stay home” banners. Motivating people to stay indoors, the soft colors of the work (even the virus images are colored pink and orange) arouses a feeling of hope for the future.
“It becomes clear that this outbreak will change the world forever” by Russian artist Tatiana Barinova depicts a huge microscopic virus image with vivid colors. What draws attention to the work is the dollars looming in the background. Barinova believes in the resilience of the world, but it is sure that she expects some historic changes in the world balances.
Although these three artists imprinted on my memory due to the feelings that awakened in me at the first sight, I shall admit that I particularly could not help but looking two other works for minutes. The initial one was a mural in Australia’s Melbourne by Brigitte Dawson and Melissa Turner. It features a frontline medic holding the earth above his shoulders while standing on the virus to protect the world from the danger. The angelic wings spreading through his arms also add a divine view to this elaborated work. The mural is a way of expressing our thanks, gratitude and appreciation to health care professionals.
The other work that glued me to the screen was Turkish illumination and miniature artist Gülnihal Küpeli’s “Masks” series. The artist redesigned masks, which have become a significant element of our lives in the pandemic period, with various patterns including Ottoman motifs and renowned artists iconic works like Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Reminding of the importance of masks, Küpeli offers a spellbinding, unique take on these face covers.
Another female artist that I want to mention is Somalian Nujuum Hashi Ahmed. I read that she was using her art to spread awareness about how deadly the coronavirus disease is across Somalia. Saddened to see Somali people are not taking the measures put in place seriously and lack information on the disease, the artist thinks that different genres of art are the best way to tackle COVID-19.
When Nujuum had to lock herself in her apartment after contracting the virus, she made a drawing of herself fighting and punching the coronavirus. Apart from this encouraging work, the artist also has informative and advisory paintings. For example, she depicts doctors fighting against the virus and how they are jaded in a piece. The work reads: “We stay at work for you, please, you stay at home for us.”
In Turkey, some prominent institutions and artists also collaborated to organize shows on the reflections of the pandemic. “Masks/Connotations” of northeastern Bayburt province’s Baksı Museum was one of the significant exhibitions that aim to remove the negative connotation associated with masks and through the varying interpretation try to expand and enrich how we perceive them in the country. The show was moved to the Cocoon exhibition venue in Istanbul afterward and will be on display until April 21.
Among the mask interpretations by 20 artists and designers, glass artist Felekşan Onar’s and Simay Bülbül’s installations stand out with their different perspectives on the subject. In her installation “GetmePPE,” Onar has chosen to draw attention to the disposable economy and the fleeting memory of humanity.
The artist turns to glass, a material that is both fragile and durable, into tiny face mask sculptures thrown on the floor. Questioning our sense of common responsibility toward the environment, the work also raises consciousness about our precarious futures.
On the other hand, Bülbül dedicates her “Fanustaki Çocukluk (“Childhood in the Glass Lantern”) to children who have the best time in a glass lantern at home instead of playing outdoors. In her work, she produces a Lego mask for children whose life's focus is now on safety rather than toys.
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