Reflections on a Pandemic 
Oscar J Rivera

 

Oscar J Rivera, Untitled ( 45 minute wait at Walmart Caguas), Notes on Paradise series, 2020.

 


 

The last 8 months have been a period of transition, I got married and moved to Puerto Rico. This relocation came with a unique set of challenges, unstable infrastructure, natural disasters, isolation, being an outsider, and a severe lack of inspiration. Navigating these challenges has forced me to reflect on my upbringing, my privilege, and my connection to my cultural heritage. In March 2020, I decided to move back to New York, we decided to pack up what we could fit in our bags, and start again for the third time in two years. April 29th we would land in New York again, and everything would be okay. We did not know that shortly after making this decision we would land in the middle of a global pandemic. 

 

The quarantine order on the island was the among first and strictest pieces of legislature to be enacted in the states. Overnight we lost our jobs, our access to anything deemed non-essential, which by law was defined as anything other than gas stations, supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, and doctors offices. We were thrust into a state of emergency, with no support and each day generated more and more anxiety. We lost all sense of time, sleeping only when our bodies gave out. Eating whatever was easiest to open and swallow. Our depressions were not unique, across the island, throughout the states, and around the world, people were suffering in similar ways. This brought us no comfort. 

 

We spent weeks trying to convince ourselves that the growing panic was overhyped and that it would come and go, like all the scary viruses of our childhood. The panic didn’t register as real and downright terrifying until I got the call that mother, a home health aide with a history of cancer and nodules on her lungs would have to go back to work. This news shook me to my core. It reminded just how mortal our parents are. Suddenly my mother was no longer, the shining beacon of strength that I saw her as, but simply human and at risk. I called her every day, fought with her from 3000 miles away, pleaded with her to stay home, and for every phone call, she refused to stay home and insisted she would be cautious. I was left with no choice but to believe her. 

 

After a few weeks, and things leveled out I got another call that rattled me to my core. My father was sick. Even as I write this, we await his results with bated breath, because COVID has no pattern. There’s no way to tell if my father will be one of the lucky ones who bounce back, with a story to tell, or if we’ll join the thousands of American’s mourning. COVID-19 has rattled American culture and proven that everything that the left has been fighting for, was not only possible but necessary. The pandemic has highlighted the glaring disparities between affluent, and low-income families. The privilege of being able to stay home, the public shame that befalls those who need to commute to and from work. The ever-rising rates of transmission in communities of color. The pandemic has rattled society as we know it, and the impact of COVID-19 will be felt long after the end of the quarantine.. 

 


 

 

Sandra Ayala
The word pandemic implied a foreign concept… never a possibility.  Until I woke up one day fearing for my life and those of my family and friends.

Reality hits hard when lives are at risk and when the anxiety took hold and wanted to settle in I remembered one thing, art heals. I am not only an artist but a nurse handling COVID cases. Each night I returned home, I was in despair. Sitting in my safe space dreaming of ways to purge the unease, I held on to art. I have created and continue to create pieces that help me restore my faith in humanity and in myself

 

Argenis Apolinario
I’ve built my career as a photographer working with many artistic, educational, and community-focused institutions. Like many artists and freelancers, my work was slowly canceled or put on hold. Losing a week, a month, a season, and the possibility of losing work and projects for the foreseeable future has left me anxious and financially insecure about the future. During this time, I’ve used my photography to explore the city and my experiences. Another challenge is, after living in the Bronx my whole life, about two years ago I moved to Hell’s Kitchen. Being disconnected from my family, friends, and community has left me feeling somewhat isolated and longing to be back in the BX. The last time I saw my mom and aunt in person was early on in the quarantine — to show them how to video chat. However, as time passes, my anxiety has turned into hope and desire to continue growing my practice.

 

 

Kasey-Lynn Rodriguez
I’m a new mother to an 8-month-old baby. I was able to finally get myself back into a routine as a working artist once again, but when the Pandemic hit, my gigs were canceled. My son doesn’t understand what is happening, so he doesn’t know why we have to wear masks when we go outside. He won’t remember why my aunt had to move out of our home to prevent us from getting the virus, since she’s a nurse who takes care of COVID patients. My partner and I won’t be able to properly celebrate our first Mother’s or Father’s Day as parents with our baby. I would have never imagined that our first year as parents would be even harder because of a Pandemic. 

 

 

Elias Rischmawi
Everyday I see Americans protesting the lockdowns, not taking the pandemic seriously and just spreading false facts. Too many lives have been lost and how many more will be lost because of greed? Ignorance? Crime? I am struggling but how can I process anything while I have to once again pick up the slack for the government and selfish Americans to help my family, my communities, my people. The government aid, a joke. Our communities are disposable and non-citizens are not even included in the conversation, yet again. Should I be surprised? I thank God I still have my family and friends to stay sane, and of course my camera. Being in quarantine, I’ve had no choice but to revisit some works and find new ways to express my feelings. All I can do right now to heal, and help my people heal is to educate and create.

 

 

Monique Islam
My experience with COVID-19 has been challenging, but blessed. I am lucky enough to still have my day job and I am now working from home. Some of the people in my community have been laid off, have had their hours severely cut or have been subjected to work in unsafe conditions. Most of my family and friends live across the country. It has been difficult feeling connected even though we frequently video chat or text. Sometimes zooming with loved ones makes me ache & miss them even more, like I immediately want to hug them and go out with them. It has been difficult to work on my art practice during this time, given the heightened mental anxiety caused by staying indoors most of the day, being far from loved ones and the drastic change in day to day life. 

 

 

Kayla Lim
At the beginning of March, my partner and I left for a trip to Seattle and the Bay Area. When we arrived back in New York about two weeks later, it had surpassed Seattle in positive corona cases and, in turn, I lost my job due to closures within a matter of days. All of the film from the past two weeks that were being processed by a lab were now stuck there until business was allowed to resume. It was a huge blow to suddenly not have the resources to take care of myself but also losing the resources I relied on to create work. Relearning how to develop film at home and making the most out of limited subjects I have around me has been challenging, but it’s been a helpful way to maintain a creative workflow.

 

 

Gioncarlo Valentine
Everyday I see Americans protesting the lockdowns, not taking the pandemic seriously and just spreading false facts. Too many lives have been lost and how many more will be lost because of greed? Ignorance? Crime? I am struggling but how can I process anything while I have to once again pick up the slack for the government and selfish Americans to help my family, my communities, my people. The government aid, a joke. Our communities are disposable and non-citizens are not even included in the conversation, yet again. Should I be surprised? I thank God I still have my family and friends to stay sane, and of course my camera. Being in quarantine, I’ve had no choice but to revisit some works and find new ways to express my feelings. All I can do right now to heal, and help my people heal is to educate and create.

 

 

Patricia Ellah
It is only right to expect a change in our lives and the lives of our various communities during this pandemic. It would be a mistake to try to distract ourselves from the reality of it and it wouldn’t be right to act like thousands aren’t dying, grieving or out of work. I grew up sheltered, bordering on reclusive, so staying home uninterrupted by human life is an old habit. However, not knowing what the future holds is confusing, and not being able to help friends going through a hard time is very disheartening. I’m not working from home, I spend a good portion of my time face-timing family and friends trying to keep our collective spirits up. How do we continue to move forward when it feels like everything is at stake?

 

 

Courtney Garvin
Watching movies, shows, online concerts, streamed screenings and talks etc has helped a lot with keeping me inspired and it’s helped me feel a lot better about not having the energy to create work. I spent the first few weeks of quarantine reminding myself that I can and should find the time to rest and take care of my body as best as I currently can. Reminding myself that I don’t have to make something during this time – especially if it feels forced. Some of the online events I’ve been able to tune in to have been interactive group events and I really hope that these sorts of events continue just as frequently once this is over. 

 

 

Nik Antonio
On March 6th, I left New York, heading to Philly for a few days and I never made it back home. Within two days of me being gone, it seems like everything progressed really fast and everyone everyone was quarantined. I got lucky to be stuck with other artists to keep my creativity flowing, but being out of work for the last month, as well as not having the resources available to create work has taken a huge toll on my ambition. As a mostly analog photographer, having to start using a digital camera again is new to me. Not having money but still having to pay my bills is constantly stressful but when you see everyone going through the same exact thing, I don’t really know how I feel right now but I’m excited for what’s next.