Creating Images During the Pandemic

Early in March 2019 my doctor asked me to start working from home because I have a problem in my immune system that puts me at risk for serious complications from Covid-19. The pandemic hadn’t yet hit the Charlotte/Lake Norman area very hard yet, but she knew it was coming soon and wanted me to take two weeks off “to let the virus pass through.” Then I could go back to work. Needless to say, this has been the longest two weeks either of us have experienced. The governor shut the state down two weeks later and I had already gotten ill with what we believed to be Covid-19 (this was before tests were readily or easily available in our area). During the time I was ill, I had more time to create art than usual (although, honestly, I slept most of the time).

The pandemic was in the forefront of my mind when I created the first two pieces while ill. Image number one had come after seeing so many images of grieving and death. It was a very a dark time–and one increasingly full of despair. I didn’t want to make a piece of art that only represented the grimness of the new reality. There was darkness. But there was also love.

And hope.

pandemic image
wounded spectre

The second image is “the weight of hearts,” which was the one chosen for “Windows of Hope” in Charlotte and for the 2020 Mira Mobile Prize exhibition in Porto, Portugal. Some of the same thought process went into its creation, with the exception that I wanted to emphasize the dimension of hope even more. The piece represents an intersection of earthly and spiritual planes. A transcendence in life and death–but the heaviness of love, and the loss of so many, is still very real.

pandemic art
the weight of hearts

I did do a type of variant of the above themes later in the year. I began by playing with the idea of one’s relationship with one’s sel(ves). At the same time the pandemic as well as the images I had made earlier helped to shape this new piece. For me art is multivalent in its creation.

pandemic art, multiselves
revenant (lost self)

The other works I created early to mid 2020 didn’t have to do with the pandemic directly, but I found that I had become more playful. Hearts became a symbol of the weight of human emotion while also maintaining an element of hope.

  • longing, love
  • love, loss, play
  • longing, love
  • choice, chance, love
  • love, Radiohead

The works I did towards the end of the year had Covid as a constant backdrop in their creation, but only two referenced it more directly.

The first was “agency,” which didn’t start as an image having anything to do with the pandemic. It started with thinking about the (seeming) duality of the self. It continued that theme as it formed but I intuitively found myself adding a red mask and gloves. The context in part was the (sometimes violent) debate about mask-wearing in the US.

covid 19, pandemic, art
agency

One image I did near the end of the year is a self-portrait. Its title is “fatigue.” I had the virus earlier in the year, but its effects lingered well into December. I would have flare ups with crushing fatigue and leg pain. For several months I found myself out of breath and needing nebulizer treatments if I overworked (knowing where that line lay was a constant experiment). The piece doesn’t just talk about physical fatigue but also psychical fatigue. Lack of physical contact with family and friends as well as the constant barrage of negative and depressing political and socioeconomic news was itself like an enervating virus.

covid, sickness, pandemic
fatigue

In July, Joanne Carter of The App Whisperer asked to interview me on the topic of “Hope in Adversity” as part of a series of interviews with mobile artists about isolation and art during the pandemic. I’ve had more time to reflect on my art since then, but the thing in the interview that still stands out to me is the appreciation of the online mobile community. Despite all the negative things about social media (and there are many), the deepening of my involvement with the community of mobile artists on Facebook and Instagram helped keep me afloat and moving forward creatively and even spiritually in 2020. It will definitely also be part of my post-Covid world as well. .

The Power of Art as Witness: Call Me Down the Rain

Robert Rhodes, ‘Night map (1) so we can always find the way to one another.’ Acrylic, gouache and pencil on Arches paper.

Robert Rhodes, ‘Night map (1) so we can always find the way to one another.’ Acrylic, gouache and pencil on Arches paper.

The second Creative Thresholds issue in July was a very special one and perhaps one of the most important ones we’ve done. It was a series of poems dealing with attacks by Boko Haram in the city of Jos and other areas in northern Nigeria. The cycle of poems began when poet Laura M Kaminski (who grew up in northern Nigeria) posted “Call Me Down the Rain” on her Facebook page. Poet j. lewis responded with one of his own, beginning a conversation. amu nnadi contacted Laura and his poem was added to the collection. They continued the dialogue in poetry form from there. Creative Thresholds has the entire series, in two parts: “Call Me Down the Rain” and “Call Me Down the Rain, Part 2.” Artist Robert Rhodes’s paintings accompany the two posts. Please visit and experience the power of art as witness. Here’s the poem that began it all:

Call Me Down the Rain

work-song honoring those attempting to return home to territory reclaimed from Boko Haram

I must dance a circle
bring the monsoon
call me down the rain

pray like someone greedy
give me give me give
more than my share

of this year’s water
bring it bring it bring
the water, carry me the river

call me down the rain
and flood the plateau, bring
rags and buckets to me

you will find me on
my knees and scrubbing
more than red dust

more than harmattan,
I must scrub the northland
clean down to the bedrock

how can we return
to farm and village, how
can we plant new crops

in this earth from which
we’ve lifted the broken
bodies of kin and country

washed them, taken them,
them all, to mourn and bury?
how can we till land

charred from bomb-blasts,
how can we plant when
we keep finding bullet-

casings in the soil?
our lips will not permit
yam and cassava grown

in blood-soaked dirt
to cross them, our bodies
will refuse such tainted

nourishment. no. you
must carry the Benue
here, bring bring me

water, call me down
the rain so I can first
scrub the stains

of blood and bitterness,
scrub until there’s
nothing left but dancing

here, until the stain is
gone from memory,
from sole and soul —
call me down the rain

–Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba)
(first published in Synchronized Chaos, forthcoming in Dance Here, 2015)

Even if you can barely see it…

Yesterday I was driving home from teaching a Pilates class and this is what appeared in the sky as I neared home. Faint, but full of hope.

Rainbow iphoneography for blog post 9:13