The universal quarantine students endured upon arrival was a socially isolating but necessary safety measure, and from that quarantine came creativity. Sadness, frustration, fear, loneliness, longing, hope and resilience. All of these emotions inspired students to create, and are featured in the works that were displayed in “COVID Diaries: A Festival Gallery” this past weekend. Creative content of all kinds — drawings, short stories, photography, musical compilations, animations, videos and more — are featured in this gallery. Together, it is a window into the psyche of students during the pandemic. This gallery provides a unique opportunity to reflect on what came out of quarantine and not just what went into it.
The virtual gallery was created by the Theater Department with the intention of supporting performing and visual arts in a time when gathering is not safely possible, providing students with a creative outlet and creating a space where students can connect over their shared quarantine experiences. In total, the gallery contains 18 contributions from students across all class years. Even just a cursory glance at the collection makes evident to the viewer that loneliness, self-reflection and an unattainable desire for freedom are common threads woven throughout the artwork.
Sophomore Maurine Fan created an achingly realistic portrait of a young woman whose face was dominated by streams of tears and an expression of yearning, hopelessness and indefinite sadness. Senior Keelah Dixon wrote a short story titled “Quarantine Hell” that encapsulates the difficulties students face while taking classes mostly remotely this semester, as well as how quickly and dangerously conditions at home can spiral due to quarantine restrictions.
The Department’s Technical Director Anna Labykina noted that the gallery did not receive many performing art submissions, since video is a challenging medium with difficulties only compounded by students’ feelings of being isolated and overwhelmed. Several students created image-based artwork to reflect their distinct processes of self-reflection and transformation during the quarantine. Finding a medium that allows the artist to comfortably express themselves is essential to communicating with the viewer. Labykina sees this gallery as a valuable form of artistic therapy.
“It is clear we are all struggling, and many students are using the arts as a means to process and overcome the mental challenges. Art as therapy is a well-documented concept, and I appreciate seeing deeper into the students’ psyches,” Labykina added.
Other works are characterized by their hopeful nature, seizing quarantine as an opportunity. Accompanying his video production “Window to the Soul,” Paul Jung ’20 explained that in his work, he seeks to create a parallel between the experience of watching a film and the chaotic nature of speech.
“This was also an attempt for me to gain experience in animation, a mode of filmmaking that has inspired me throughout my life but one that I have never tried up until now,” Jung said.
Since the coronavirus will likely remain a fixture around which we organize our lives for some time, this gallery remains relevant and necessary. The Theater Department plans to make the gallery an annual event that can evolve as a student showcase to extend beyond quarantine and beyond the confines of coursework in theater, dance, video and visual arts. Taking advantage of resources such as this is just one of many ways through which students can remain connected to each other and the University, which is needed now more than ever.