KEEPING SPIRITS HIGH

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“…culture is sustaining many of us as we stay home and try to ward off anxiety and dread” Jillian Steinhauer, New York Times

This week I received an email from Janet Goldner, a New York based artist and friend who has exhibited in Ethiopia previously. She was reaching out about an ongoing online exhibition entitled How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This? curated by Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen. According to New York Times Jillian Steinhauer, “I’ve been asking myself the last few weeks. A pandemic rages; people are dying — who cares about virtual viewing rooms? And yet, culture is sustaining many of us as we stay home and try to ward off anxiety and dread. It offers comfort and distraction, and can help us feel less alone. What I like about “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?” is that it’s less of a definitive statement about this challenging time and more of an open-ended platform.” It’s kind of refreshing to have a space were you’re not being told what to do and you can feel free to enjoy and/or unpack the plethora of art work from artists around the world; in the absence of the gallery or museum experience.
The concept of the online exhibit is simple. It is not an open call. Instead curators Pollack and Verhallen select and invite specific artists to submit three to five images or videos of their work which may or may not be related to COVID19 as an “…exchange of ideas at this time of crisis. We invited artists who are considered thought leaders, artists who struggle with futuristic pessimism, political outrage and psychic melt-downs. The invited artists have responded with unbridled enthusiasm and we will be posting new artists every day for the foreseeable future.” The website will be on ongoing space that also invites viewers to post responses, encouraging “open a dialogue at a time of social distancing…art offers solace or has instigated resistance and rebellion…” states the site.
The exhibit features art work of leading artists such as Dred Scott and Jenny Polak. Dred Scott is an African American artist who focuses on the Black experience in America while Jenny’s work expresses the intersection between politics, immigration, and other serious social concerns. Both are New York City based. Also on the roster is Chines artist and activist, Ai Wei Wei. An open critic of the Chinese government’s position on human rights, the contemporary artist himself suffered under his home country’s policies and was even arrested and detained for 81 days at Beijing Airport, without charges. He is known as the architect of Chinese modernism with works displayed worldwide. Prince Merid Tafesse has also been selected by the curators and invited to exhibit on the site that attracts thousands of viewers. This is the most daring and diverse collection of work I have seen in a while curated in one space seamlessly. Prince Merid has been channeling the events around us and masks have been a prominent part of his new charcoal works. Printed, transparent, futuristic and all manners of face coverings speak to the current state of affairs. Merid says, “When we go out of the other side of this tunnel, which is inevitable, the whole structure of our human community and society will be changed and we will never be the same again. On the other hand, seeing how nature has responded to our minimized travelled followed by less carbon emission and other forms of pollution, it is incredibly and hauntingly unraveling the harm we have imposed on our planet. So I take this as a wake up call for all humanity in appreciation for every breath we take, without a mask.” You can check out artatatimelikethis.com to view the ever-changing exhibit.
It is a difficult time for every one however we must try hard to see the silver lining around the cloud as expressed in art, a good book or just even the ability to spend time with family at home. And if your world is darker than you care to disclose because you are a parent holding it together for the family, or worker who has just been laid off and don’t know where the next meal will come from or if you are afraid for tomorrow as there is no promise and little hope, find the light, find that one who will listen. Find your way in the dark with the hope and plan to face tomorrow. We are in trying times but we will not be forever and worrying won’t help. So take advice from Bob Marley who sings,
“Don’t worry about a thing,
Cuz every little thing’s gonna be alright.
Rise up this mornin’, Smiled with the rising sun,
Three little birds outside my doorstep
Singin’ Sweet songs
Of Melodies pure and true
This is my message to you-ou-ou.”

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.