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The En Foco Pandemic Response Forum was created to offer artists the opportunity to navigate their own experiences with the pandemic in a safe space created for artists by artists. To create and foster a community of affected peoples in the current epicenter of the pandemic. As we, a global community, continue to navigate and work to redefine what society should be, it’s important to create spaces for those who have been affected. We’ve invited photographers Kayla Lim, Nik Antonio, Monique Islam, Kasey-Lynn Rodriguez, Gioncarlo Valentine, Courtney Garvin, Patricia EllahElias Rischmaui, Argenis Apolinario, and Sandra Ayala to participate in the forum, share their experiences, and offer their truths about navigating the pandemic. Their personal narratives cover a range of experiences and begin to elaborate on the reality of life in the age of the coronavirus.

We stand on the precipice of cultural and societal change. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions across the global community and has proven itself to be not only a health issue but a socio-economic and political issue. Underlying systems of oppression have been highlighted as many communities of Black and Brown folks struggle to survive from threats of illness, over-policing, food and housing insecurities, and the lack of access to medical care and insurance. While these issues are not new for those of us familiar with life in these communities, COVID-19 has sparked a new wave of demand for equity. 

The experiences highlighted in this companion exhibition to the current issue of Nueva Luz are a small reflection of a larger pool of folks navigating this transition into a new global community. These artists have faced unique challenges adapting to the new reality of life in lockdown. With many having to encounter the glaring disparity of needing to social distance, continue working to support themselves and their families, and the ineffectiveness of the governmental systems in place to support us in times of crisis. 

Sandra Ayala creates ethereal images driven by family, the Bronx and a community navigating a changing world. Ayala tells a fable in 4 parts of life in the age of COVID.  Argenis Apolinario documented the seemingly overnight changes in NYC. Highlighting parts of the city no longer bustling, the effects of lockdown orders and how our families are adjusting to social distancing measures.  Kasey-Lynn Rodriguez explores the new challenges of motherhood, with the added pressures of a global pandemic. She remixes the classic visual language of a family portrait to reflect the new realities of family dynamics. 

Elias Rischmawi’s images offer a quiet look into the past, reflecting on bonds of family, culture and celebration. These themes offer a respite from the constant bombardment of uncertainty, lack of support, and fear compounded on communities most affected by the spread of COVID.  Monique Islam similarly explores the ideas of family, connection, and longing. Islam’s images offer a quiet longing for home, and the comforts of loved ones -a stark contrast to social distancing measures.  Kayla Lim in their series’ Bahay ni Grandma & Barong Tagalog focuses on their connections to Filipino culture and heritage through their grandma, and father. The images from Bahay in Grandma capture moments of familiarity, and Barong Tagalog, presents a shirt belonging to their father, one familiar to all Filipino men- imbuing the images with a sense of nostalgia, preciousness, and warmth.

Oscar J Rivera uses his series Notes on Paradise, to navigate the challenges of displacement, isolation, and change that come with moving to an unfamiliar place, and the struggles to define the idea of “home,” while trying to come to terms with the spread of COVID in Puerto Rico.  Gioncarlo Valentine uses the vehicle of portraiture to share a peek into his community. He offers slivers of connection, highlighting the bonds present in the images, and the bond between subject and photographer. Creating these impactful moments where the viewer is forced to lock eyes with the subject, reinforcing the personhood and agency of the subjects.

Patricia Ellah’s images tackle the ideas of contemporary black womanhood. She centers the female form, presents fearless portraits that push back against accepted notions of femininity, and highlight the women she photographs. Courtney Garvin’s portraits reflect the themes of black femininity, identity and resistance through the use of hair. Garvin, like Ellah, creates images to center and uplift the experiences of Black women. Nik Antonio uses the nude in his series Nüd, to explore the relationships present between the body and space, between the subjects, and the interactions between these connections. The images capture a sense of tenderness and a closeness, that seems foreign after the adoption of social distancing measures.