Socially Distant but Still United: Art in the time of COVID-19

By Adi Berardini

When I first posted a call for submissions for immunosuppressed artists and artists affected by COVID-19 cancellations I had no idea that we would have such a strong response—we had a large number of submissions and it was shared over 150 times. I spent hours getting back to artists who are affected by the pandemic; hearing many stories from both immunocompromised artists, artists who had faced closures, and students who had their final grad exhibitions cancelled. Although COVID-19 has brought upon a sense of collective trauma, artists with pre-existing conditions that put them at risk should be centered in the discussion. Through the call for submissions, I was able to connect with some of the artists who are also working as disability activists, fighting for their rights and accommodations that should have long been addressed by art institutions and the broader society long before this pandemic hit.

Launching this call for submissions re-affirmed what I already knew— that the community behind this small publication is in fact very large and interconnected. The following are some artist highlights from our social media call. The posts were curated around certain themes such as invisibility and chronic illness, memory and dreaming, land and the environment, the domestic and interiority, and biology and its relationship to art. You can view all of the features on the Femme Art Review Instagram under the stories highlight “Social Solidarity” and by following the hashtag #caringisnotcancelled and #sociallydistantbutstillunited.

Cat Lamora. Mok yok tang, We Bathe Here installation shot. The Margin of Eras gallery. 2019. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Cat Lamora

Cat Lamora @catlamora is a Toronto-based artist who creates large-scale installations with paper. “We Bathe Here” is an immersive paper installation by the artist that explores themes of connection within a shared and very vulnerable space—the Korean bath house, or mok yok tang, which translates to “bathing pools.” Traditionally, towns became named after the bodies of water flowing through them and to know the names of the bathhouses would be to get a glimpse of the town itself. The installation aims to interpret the transition where a long-used space becomes a physical, emotional, and cultural reflection of its people and how these spaces also influence the internal strata of experiences.

Kimberly Edgar, Quarantine. 2020. Courtesy of the Artist.

Kimberly Edgar

Kimberly Edgar @deadbirdparty is an artist, cartoonist, illustrator, and designer living in the subarctic town of Dawson City, Yukon. Kim is chronically ill and uses comics to reflect on their experiences of both the medical system and the ennui that comes with being sick with no end. Edgar’s work transports the viewer to enchanted forests with mushrooms and flora and fauna. They explore the experience of bodily illness in comparison to the experience of climate change and how it impacts the land (which is also a body). Their works have been nominated multiple times for Best Comic with the Broken Pencil Zine Award, and in 2019 they won the award for their comic The Purpose.

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Nina Zdanovic, The Kitchen. Oil on Paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Nina Zdanovic 

Nina Zdanovic @allaboutninka is a painter from Vilinus Lithuania living in Tokyo. As if referencing distant memories, in her paintings she refers to situations that have happened to her, places that she has visited, or people that she has met. Real stories often merge with similar memories and the emotions she associates with them. Most of her paintings are like a snapshot of a lucid dream: some things are real, some things are not, and it’s not possible anymore to tell them apart.

Kat Cope. Onward March.

Kat Cope

Kat Cope’s @kat_cope_artist project titled, “Onward March,” is a sculptural installation comprised of a series of suits and fragmented pieces of armor made from paper.  They remain feminine in nature to contrast with armor, which is commonly perceived as masculine, despite historical women warriors. It is a documentation of how we build our own armor in the face of challenges through perseverance. Describing her process, Cope says, “Paper, like skin, is vulnerable to the materials and elements that assault it; yet, paper is an astonishingly resilient material. Sheets of paper can be made incredibly strong[…]While in most cases we as humans do not develop a thicker skin, both time and experience shapes us and we learn when, and where, to protect ourselves from harm both emotional and physical.” Starting this fall, she will be pursuing her PhD at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland.

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Em Somoskey. Bedrock’ (84”x96”). Mixed Media on Canvas. 2020.

Emily Somoskey

Emily Somoskey @emsomoskey gives form to the complexity, instability, and enigmatic nature of our lived experiences. Through these large-scale, mixed media paintings, she explores the simultaneity between the actual and the psychological, the material and the immaterial, the visible and that which lies beyond sight. Domestic spaces are largely the carrier for this ambition, which offers multi-sensory and ever-changing material that the paintings build upon. Digital collage fragments and painted shards might reference a tiled floor, a stove-top burner, or the edge of a piece of furniture, but they also point to readings that move beyond the domestic. The complex tension of their visual density calls for contemplation; asking the viewer to slow down in order to navigate, discover and dwell within them.

Isadora Vincent. Installation shot, Michigan State University. 2020.

Isadora Vincent

As part of her BFA exhibit at Michigan State University, Isadora Vincent @isadoravincent addresses the altered way she views the relationship between her body and her mind after she had to face her irrational fear of needles, foreign objects, and substances invading her strange cellular interior. The processes she uses to generate painting and sculpture initiates a rediscovery and connection. She investigates the complexity of the human body, specifically with feelings of pain, discomfort, and anxiety around the unknown.

Dana Kearley. Relief, 2019. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Dana Kearley

Dana Kearley  @danakearley is a multidisciplinary artist, illustrator, and jewellery designer on the unceded territory belonging to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Kearley depicts powerful figures among other-worldly landscapes with a digital airbrushed aesthetic. Her work is inherently autobiographical, dealing predominantly with themes of chronic invisible illnesses, disability, mental health, and tenderness. On COVID-19, Dana states, “I kindly ask abled folks to please remember that you still have an able body while in quarantine, and that a quarantined lifestyle is normal for many of us. It is VERY different being chronically ill and disabled during this time. Many of us are merely surviving…It makes me sad that abled folks who have recently been laid off due to covid are getting much more compensation for their lob loss than myself and other disabled folks ever will. Itʼs not that they donʼt deserve it, but why are people with disabilities still being paid less? Ableism! It is very, very hard to sit with. It hurts. I donʼt share my experiences for fun. I share them as part of my activism, to raise awareness around endometriosis and for disability visibility.”

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Madeline Walker, studio shot. 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Madeline Walker

Living with an invisible illness has informed the majority of @madelinewalkerart‘s work, which is a combination of painting, sculpture, and digital fabrication. Using a range of mold-making and casting techniques, her sculptures and installations are commonly assembled out of cell-like parts that emerge as a visualization of various mental states, encouraging closer examination of what we thought we knew to be true.  Often coloured white, faint candy pink and blue, the molds resemble that of honeycomb or even bubble wrap packaging, merging natural structures with the artificial. Playful yet architectural landscapes of thought patterns and mind maps emerge in her recent series, Sensory Landscapes /Mind Maps 1. Forms, colors, textures, and everyday objects are re-contextualized as a form of re-writing and storytelling about unseen disability.

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Em Minyard Oppman. Products of Nature in Bloom. Supreme Court ruling Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. screen printed on bacterial culture growth medium cast in a petri dish for hosting bacterial colonies, creating a living document. 2019.

Em Minyard Oppman

Em Minyard Oppman @emminyard_ is an interdisciplinary artist and scientist from New Orleans working in sculpture and genetic research.  They were recently part of the 0.1% exhibition at NAVEL Gallery in Los Angeles in collaboration with UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics, and EXPO Chicago. Oppman earned their BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an emphasis in Art & Technology and Sculpture.

On their practice they state, “mixing lab protocol with sculpture and performance, I enjoy subverting systems of power and control by working within them to expose their depravity. My lab work focuses on the intersection of biotechnology and oppression.” Drawing upon their experiences with the medical industrial complex, they break down the alienation of the white coat by performing within it. Currently,  they are patenting mutations of their own genome, challenging SCOTUS’ 2013 decision in the landmark case that ruled for-profit corporations can no longer identify and patent isolated human genes. Having identified a loophole in the ruling, they are patenting mutations of their own genome to educate the public on issues of bioethics and prove that if they are able to do it, large corporations undoubtedly still can.  Following lab protocols including molecular cloning while collaborating with patent attorneys, this project is a conceptual exploration of the American patent system, as the artist navigates legal labyrinths and distribute NDAs. Minyard Oppman explains that “this work is about ending the monopolization of human genes and the further exploitation of sick people.”

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Tania Alvarez. Image Capture. Oil, Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas. 2019.

Tania Alvarez

Artist Tania Alvarez @taniaalvarezart paints in the same way that she recalls events in realtime: Objects, lines, and figures may appear and disappear as she remembers them, but the process is left behind like a roadmap for the viewer. Regarding her practice, Alvarez says “Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I have become increasingly concerned with how my own story will be remembered. While every day it becomes easier and faster to record our story in the digital world, it can just as easily become diluted and two-dimensional. The human experience is layered and full of nuance and mistakes.  My paintings aim to preserve the raw experience and tell a more complicated story.”

Emily Sara. Image courtesy of the artist.

Emily Sara 

 Emily Sara @emilysara12345 is a disabled, interdisciplinary artist, designer and disability rights advocate working within the language of advertising and animation to discuss the America healthcare system, pain, and the extent of social control over the disabled body. Her work mixes feminine signifiers with food, commenting on the infantilization of women with disabilities, and also how sickness affects one’s relationship to food. Emily received her undergraduate degree from Boston University in Advertising and Art History and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has exhibited nationally and is the recipient of grants from the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles, and the Foundation for Inclusion Fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA where she currently teaches in the Graphic Design Department. Emily has authored articles such as Fighting the Art World’s Ableism, first published by Hyperallergic in 2019, and is a current resident for the art criticism website The White Pube (London, England) where she utilizes the platform to highlight international disabled artists.
Katrina Jurjans. Our Sanctuary underground (at times withdrawn). Acrylic on Canvas. Image courtesy of artist. 2019.

Katrina Jurjans

Katrina Jurjans @katrinajurjans is a visual artist creating poetic narrative heavy with symbolism— flowers embody feelings of absence and growth and rain clouds communicate intense emotion. She is interested in the power of analogies to tap into the feelings we all experience. Shifting into the surreal, the depicted scenes – intimate, often nostalgic and heavy – are anchored to this world while simultaneously departing away from it. Sometimes flesh and blood, other times ghostly outlines, the figures she paints exist between somewhere real and imagined.

Mimi Butlin. Image Courtesy of artist. 2020.

Mimi Butlin

Mimi Butlin is the artist and creator of @cantgoout_imsick. Often using pop culture references, Butlin makes art to amplify the experiences of many sick and disabled womxn, making those who are chronically ill and disabled feel seen. She also aims to highlight medical trauma, inaccessibility, and to break down disability stereotypes, provoking conversation around the many issues faced in a world not built for sick and disabled people.

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Amira Brown. Untitled (frosting). Image Courtesy of the artist. 2020.

Amira Brown 

Amira Brown @amirahb_art is an interdisciplinary artist based in New Haven, Connecticut. Currently experimenting with the limits and variations of subjects in paintings, she often uses random chance as the starting point for her series of work. Her work at the moment focuses on personal meaning and the obscuring of such through red herrings, whimsical aesthetics and deconstructing the picture plane.

These are just some highlights! To view the rest of the social media features, check out the Femme Art Review Instagram under the stories highlight “Social Solidarity” and by following the hashtag #caringisnotcancelled and #sociallydistantbutstillunited. Thank you again to all the artists who submitted their work. 

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