Azadeh Ghotbi: Creativity in a Time of Crisis
How has this pandemic affected you and your creative output? How are you adapting to the new realities?
For the first few weeks I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it all. I spent most days glued to the news as the pandemic spread around the world. Much of my time, energy and attention was focused on reading about the devastating impact Covid-19 was having and would likely have on the most vulnerable populations. I couldn't even think of taking refuge in my art studio. I felt that I needed to be in the moment and virtually connected to everything that was happening outside my four walls. The few times I ventured out to clear my mind I became obsessed with shadows and how distorted everything looked to me in my current state of mind. It led to a new black & white photo series I called "Lockdown Lens: Vision 20/20". It took another month before I was finally able to go back into my studio and resume painting.
Please share any insights you have learned from this “lockdown/self-isolation”? Also, is there a special role you feel artists can play in response to the pandemic?
It's been wonderful to see how incredibly creative and resilient many in the art world and other industries have been. My inbox, which at lockdown turned into a quiet black hole, soon erupted into an ever-growing stream of invitations to re-engage and reconnect. An otherwise physically distanced and disconnected world had suddenly reemerged and reconnected, virtually, in a web of endless possibilities: Webinars, Zoom studio visits, Skype panel discussions, YouTube concerts and performances of many types. Everything, even otherwise exclusive or expensive events, were suddenly accessible to anyone with an internet connection, for free!
Art has played a bigger role than I'd expected in bringing solace to many. Visits to online museums have surged. Streaming of art performances have boomed. Two video clips caught my attention early one: one showed the dancers of the Opera National de Paris dancing to Prokofiev, though each in their respective home; the other showcased the entire national orchestra performing the Bolero by Ravel each in a quarantined box on a screen. What amazed me most was noticing how many millions of times such videos were streamed. They managed to move and bring joy to so many who under "normal" circumstances would not think to engage with classical music or ballet. Sadly, the same can't be said for the many more millions who are below the radar, too destitute, preoccupied, and out of reach.
How do you think this will affect artists, the art world and how people interact with art? How do you feel this crisis might reshape our societies in general?
This pandemic has further exacerbated many inequalities and differences between groups. The same holds true in the art world. Renowned artists, their leading international galleries and their wealthy collector base will weather this storm. In fact, they may come out even stronger as the competition weakens. Everyone else will pay a dire price. The covid-19 led economic downturn will noticeably decrease private and public funding for the arts. Many galleries will shutter. The very social element of the art world will be eroded for years to come. There will be a forced acceleration towards experiencing and purchasing art online.
I certainly hope that there will be a silver lining to the current crisis though I remain rather sceptical. My wish list is for this pandemic to help reshape society for the better by increasing much needed collaboration between countries, encouraging society to be fairer towards the low paid and disenfranchised, and enforcing very impactful initiatives towards reducing climate change. What an utter shame if we let this opportunity pass and rush back to the way things were.
Azadeh Ghotbi is a London-based Iranian American painter and photographer.
Her works have been exhibited in Amsterdam, Dubai, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and New York.