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 Ellah, Elias 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every day 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.
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?
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.
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.