Weathering the Storm:
Art Amidst a Pandemic
By Teresa Chia
“Masks, lots of masks,” is what you would have thought reading this article title. Yes, many contemporary artists, satire artists, and advertising hoaxes have flooded the streets to slapping on a surgical mask onto every statue we can lay our eyes on, but we are also talking intricate glass sculptures and powerful social media pleas.
The Coronavirus pandemic has taken over the world, shutting down cities, states and even whole countries. At this point of time in writing, there are currently 10.8 million COVID cases worldwide, and the number of deaths has been skyrocketing steadily over half a million. While some are sharing their blessings with families affected through clothing and food donation, others are in the front lines of this war and some others are trying to make light of this situation and bringing some smiles amidst this darkness.
British artist Luke Jerram created a detailed, lifelike, and not-so-microscopic glass model of the virus’s shape and form in tribute to the huge global scientific and medical effort to combat the pandemic. The glass sculpture measures 23 centimetres in diameter and is an estimated 2 million times the actual size of the Coronavirus. “This artwork is a tribute to the scientists and medical teams who are working collaboratively across the world to try to slow the spread of the virus. It is vital we attempt to slow the spread of Coronavirus by working together globally, so our health services can manage this pandemic,” Jerram commented on his work. All the proceeds from the glass sculpture will be going to the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Made with scientific glassblowing techniques to capture the details of the virus proportions, the intricate work can serve as a conversation starter as the centrepiece of the home, but the sculpture is unfortunately not for sale to the public since it was commissioned by a university for research and learning purposes.
Social media has also played a big part in the growth of artworks and creative direction in the COVID-19 season. Many online forums and pages that discuss specifically COVID-19 related works have been surfacing and completely changing the online art scene. As featured on Instagram, @COVIDArtMuseum, @PsquiArt, and @FestivalFotoBSB, Brazilian designer Gabriela Delcin Pires who is a researcher, artist, and design major took to Instagram (@elas.me) to share her cynical and daring approach to the pandemic, LOTE: COVID-19.
This muted, washed-out, and otherworldly series was created as her personal response towards how the world is handling and seeing the pandemic, racial injustice, and death. Look a little closer at the product label and you will find their age, name, and cause of death. To further the personal aspect of her photography work, almost every name on the labels are of her now-deceased family members who have ultimately succumbed to the virus.
The jarring images of lifeless body parts wrapped in the tight suffocation of plastic wraps carry a heavy connotation to the lives that the Coronavirus has taken away and the damage it has dealt. The bar-codes hint at yet another typical and insignificant product being ripped off its comfortable place on the shelf, a beginning of its journey to an end of its shelf life.
LOTE: COVID-19 was first created as a commentary on human rights, but as the occasion arose, Gabriela took it in her stride to create something more out of her initial shots with editing and portraying her own new visual narration. It is so realistic; you can almost hear the screaming of the faces bouncing off the plastic wraps and styrofoam bases in your head.
Gabriela strongly believes and advocates that “deaths are not (just) numbers, they are people with names, with faces, with families, feelings, and when death becomes trivial, what dies is also humanity”. The box labelled CNPJ, a type of company registration, further presses on the concept of capitalism and undermining the deaths of the people as ‘CNPJ death’ usually signifies a company’s importance over the lives of their people.
"The crisis caused by COVID highlighted this inequality and how people are treated as merchandise, and life has been losing meaning and people are losing their humanity by not caring about lives anymore."
- Gabriela Delcin Pires, 2020, in an interview with Art Herald.
The course of the pandemic has seen many cultural resets on race, religion, and political power shifts and Gabriela chose to take the stand of the people who were forgotten and overlooked.
Beyond covering anything that can be covered with a surgical mask, other artists have seen breakthroughs in their work and created spaces to encourage and uplift other budding and young artists as the community weathers the storm together across the globe. Maybe the pandemic is not a completely devastating season, but one that brings about a cultural reset to the world.