While some artists have been energized by the coronavirus pandemic, using their enforced time at home to make work, often in creative response to COVID-19, others soon found themselves in a sinkhole of misery and despair. Next Gallery co-op member Adrienne DeLoe definitely fell into that second group. “My initial reaction was that I lost all my inspiration,” she recalls. “I had no drive to create.”
Then her place in the Next show rotation schedule for May was canceled after months of preparation. “It felt futile to keep making work,” she admits. “I had no sense of motivation.”
Finally, she realized that staying in place during a time that's anything but normal necessarily inspires introspection, so why not turn that into a personal project? “I had an idea that I wanted to do a self-portrait to express what I’d been feeling, thinking it might be therapeutic,” she explains. That inspired her to write down the story of how she was feeling. She knew she wasn’t alone, and taking that step made her realize that other artists might find the exercise motivating, as well.
On May 4, DeLoe started a Pandemic Self-Portraits Facebook page, with the following entreaty to join in:
I started this page for my new project, Pandemic Self-Portraits. I wanted to create a space for people to share, through self-portraits, what they are going through as we navigate through this difficult time. I was thinking about what my experience through all of this would look like as depicted in a self-portrait. Although it’s complicated and can’t be summed up in one image, it has been interesting to explore experience through self-portrait.
I am currently looking for self-portraits and stories from people who would like to contribute to this project. Keep in mind I’m not looking for straight selfies, but rather something more creative and artistic. Portraits that depict your experiences and emotions during this time. I would love to have a story to go along with your portrait, but a title would be fine too.
There are so many themes that could be explored such as loneliness and isolation or maybe something cheerful having to do with looking forward to the future. Get creative! Dress up in something that expresses how you are feeling. Do some crazy makeup. Make a unique mask. Make a painting or a sculpture. Go abstract!
“I first posted it to the gallery, and people were responsive,” DeLoe recalls. “So I posted it to the greater art community, and it just exploded.” She began to dig deeper on the Internet, uncovering similar projects, hashtags and individual artists who were looking for ways to stay positive while dealing with their feelings about life during a pandemic.
That led her to open the call globally through the Facebook page and an Instagram account. “Within two days, I was getting submissions from around the world," she says.
DeLoe had no idea that her project would go viral so quickly, but within two weeks of creating the page, the project was up to 100 submissions, with more arriving every day. “It’s almost like people have a real longing to express what they’re going through in an artistic way,” she says.
With just a little effort after a lot of introspection, DeLoe had found and inspired a sense of community that reached around the world. “I’ve learned mostly that our world is pretty small," she says, "and most of us want to connect in some way. It’s really put a more positive spin on what’s going on than I'd ever imagined or hoped for. It’s really been uplifting.”
While the call for submissions is indefinite, DeLoe has already begun thinking about physical representations of the project, perhaps even a book some day. “I would love to initially start out with an installation,” she says. “It would be formatted like an Instagram page, maybe on square tiles, and perhaps there would be a pamphlet available with the stories that go with the images. That’s what makes it special.” She sees it as something for posterity, as an intimate history of what’s happening around the world during this unusual time.
But for now, DeLoe offers a kind of direct salvation for other people living in uncertainty: “I was spiraling down the hole of the Internet, obsessing, and it just made me feel more upset and more depressed. I felt a need to do something positive. Something important needs to be said; people need to share stories, to understand that we’re really not alone in this.”
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See more portraits in our slideshow.
See more self-portraits in our slideshow.