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  • Writer's pictureCARAVAN Arts

Arabella Dorman: Creativity in a Time of Crisis

© Arabella Dorman, 2020

How has this pandemic affected you and your creative output? How are you adapting to the new realities?

My studio has been closed, exhibitions, lectures and commissions shut down, so I am working from home, whilst trying to home-school my children. Within these limited confines, I have turned to them for inspiration, and have started their portraits, something I have dreamt of doing since they were born. This is a wondrous gift and helps to alleviate the sadness I feel for the world.

Please share any insights you have learned from this “lock-down/self-isolation”? Also, is there a special role you feel artists can play in response to the pandemic?

Self-isolation is our chance to find the sublime in the smallest things. In its simplicity life can become uncommonly rich. As artists self-isolation is what we do best; it may be disastrous for our businesses, but some of the greatest creativity is born out of darkness, some of the greatest advances birthed in tragedy.

Digital interaction with the world is the new norm. I shy away from social media, but this is a time to dig deep and reach out. This is a time to come together in new ways through the transformative power of art, so that maybe, just maybe, when we come through this crisis, we might understand first-hand the fragility and preciousness of our lives, and ask ourselves whether we want to return to what was, or move forward into a new future.

I fear however for the inheritors of that future, the children of today who are the hidden victims of this pandemic. Children who cannot go to school, children in refugee camps where self-isolation is an impossibility. When the adult world falls apart, it is the children who suffer. Children who are prey to traffickers and modern-day slavery, for whom the sanctuary of a home and an education is but a dream. Perhaps this is the time to hold up a mirror to ourselves, to build a bridge in our minds and to recognise in the refugee, the migrant, the suffering and the lonely, our other selves.

How do you think this will affect artists, the artworld and how people interact with art? How do they feel this crisis might reshape our societies in general?

As a war artist, my work is about looking for light in the darkest corners of existence. In recent months, that darkness has fallen over our country, bringing some of the realities of war straight to our doorstep. The tragic number of deaths, the level of disruption, personal and economic, cannot be underestimated. But it is in the darkness that the light burns the brightest.

Hope and love are the connective threads that can guide us through the sadness. We can know ourselves only as far as we've been tested. CV19 might reveal our vulnerability, but through the countless examples of courage, connectivity and compassion it more powerfully reveals our strength.

Within all adversity, there comes opportunity - we must use it, not waste it. As this pandemic stirs our compassion, we should accept it as a time to reflect how we move forward - how we can change our future. Perhaps it is sent to remind us of the important lessons that we seem to have forgotten. It is up to us if we will learn them or not.

“We have only a few years to save ourselves from ourselves. Our trashed and overheated world is a slower pandemic… More than anything, the pandemic has shown how quickly things can change if they must. Carpe diem.” Timothy Egan, NY Times

This is our chance to be still, to listen, to see and to reset. It is our chance to re-evaluate who we are individually and collectively, and to start to mend what is broken, to heal our beautiful, ailing world.


Arabella Dorman is an award winning war artist and one of Britain’s leading portrait painters. 

Arabella’s war art explores the realities of conflict today, its immediate impacts and long-term consequences. Arabella worked as an officially accredited war artist in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade, and in more recent years with refugees and those affected by war in Palestine, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. 

Arabella enjoys a prominent reputation as a public speaker and fundraiser. She was listed as one of BBC’s Top 100 Women in 2014, and Salt Magazine’s 100 Most Inspiring Women in 2015.Her work has been profiled across national and international television, radio and print, including New York Times, BBC, CNN, Aljizeera, Radio 4, BBC World Service, and featured on the front cover of The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Times Magazine. 

Winner of the Global Mosaic Award and shortlisted for the Art+Christianity Award, Arabella’s installation  Suspended (St James’s Church Piccadilly, Canterbury cathedral, Leicester cathedral 2017/18), and her boat installation Flight (St James’s Church Piccadilly, 2015/16), have been internationally acclaimed in raising global awareness about the consequences of war, forced displacement of people and human trafficking. 


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