Pandemic-Inspired Creative Work

On using creative work to capture pandemics such as HIV and AIDS, and the Coronavirus pandemic

Oftentimes in life we have to face extreme situations–man- or nature-made–that, in turn, force us to look at life through a new lens, and compel us to capture the experience for ourselves and for those who come after us.

It’s not unusual for creatives to inspiration in these kinds of experiences; after all, they can be life-changers, for better or for worse. Take the HIV and AIDS pandemic, for example. Many works of art and activist art have been inspired by that ongoing pandemic, in particular when at its height. A few examples come to mind: plays (some then made into movies) like Angels in America, RENT; also, the AIDS quilt; activist art like Silence = Death and other posters; books by AIDS journalists like Randy Shilts and, more recently, other authors; or visual art work by award-winning photographers like Kurt Weston, and so on.

Fast-forward to 2020, when we’re faced with yet another extreme situation–the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The experience of trying to make it out of it alive, of surviving this particular never-ending pandemic has also inspired and compelled many creatives to capture it–in words, images, moving images, and other art forms.

While I wasn’t here during the eighties and early nineties, to capture the dark years of HIV and AIDS, I’m here today, during the not-so-bright days of Coronavirus and Covid-19, and I’d like to share a few images I’ve captured so far in this post:

“How do you measure time, when time stands still” – sundial on the waterfront, during the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic in NYC area. Titled inspired by the song “Seasons of Love,” (RENT): How do you measure a year in a life defined by Coronavirus pandemic? ©Alina Oswald

An Upside-Down World. ©Alina Oswald. Snapshot on a short walk, during the early days of Coronavirus pandemic, when cities were virtually shut down.

“I’ll Walk Alone” ©Alina Oswald Inspired by “You’ll Never Walk Alone” song always sung at AIDS Walk NY. The title of this image was inspired by the idea that we come together to never walk alone in order to fight HIV and AIDS, while with this new pandemic we come together to walk alone and respect social distancing in order to fight Coronavirus and Covid-19.
The first sign of hope, as Comfort reaches NYC. ©Alina Oswald
At the height of Covid-19 in NYC, ESB displayed its siren lights, as a symbolic thank-you note to Coronavirus first-responders. ©Alina Oswald.

Covid-19 Easter Weekend in NYC. ©Alina Oswald. The first time I’ve noticed the heart-shaped lights, perhaps sending love, hope, and encouragement.
The Ghost of Covid-19 used to show up each evening for 7pm cheer. ©Alina Oswald.
Framed by Shadows – A Covid-19 state of mind and quarantine self-portrait. ©Alina Oswald.
“Let me out!” Hand Self-Portrait. #photographersinisolation Read more about it in A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine
Covid-19 state of mind and another self-portrait. ©Alina Oswald. #photographersinisolation
I’m not an activist, but I’ve always been in awe of this particular poster. Here’s a quarantine self-portrait with Silence = Death mask and t-shirt. ©Alina Oswald.
Another Covid-19 self-portrait with mask. Also, check out the special summer course (FREE) Making Meaning in a Pandemic.
Under the Covid-19 Dome was also included in the Pandemic Archive Project.

Having covered HIV and AIDS for almost twenty years, I’ve noticed several parallels between that pandemic and the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, in particular when it comes to some people’s behaviors during such an extreme situation. Last month I had the chance to talk at length about this, as well as about pandemics captured in literature and the arts, in an interview for Finding Meaning in a Pandemic course. Feel free to check it out!

This year has allowed me to reflect on self and life, to join others in creating work capturing life during Covid-19. While we’re still in the thick of it as I write this, I hope that there will come a time when we’ll be able to look the Coronavirus pandemic not in the face, but rather in our rear-view mirror; and I wonder what that image would look like, feel like….

In the meantime, stay safe and well, and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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