Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.Arundhati Roy
As Arundhati Roy argues, traumatic as the pandemic has been, in its disruption of the old normality it also represents an opportunity. A break with the past. Laying bare the problems previously papered over by acquiescent habit. A time to re-imagine who we are and how we wish to live together. Talking Pictures asked eleven artists to respond to Arundhati Roy’s provocation and reflect on what they learned during the pandemic, picking just one thing they would reimagine for a better future.
Each response is different. Some look forward with fresh hope. Some look back with regret, their aspirations for the future implied in the obverse of a past we must actively struggle to turn around. And some see that the dislocation of pandemic can itself lead to new inequities, which must be acknowledged that they be resisted.
Looking to a new year, new possibilities, we have choices. As Arundhati Roy goes on to say of the post-pandemic portal through which we are passing: “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Loud and angry, the child’s voice reverberates along the Dhanmondi streets. Despite the other sounds, the cry keeps echoing in my mind. They fade slowly. In the secure apartment blocks we now live in, people from ‘outside’ are a threat.
You can read an interview with Shahidul Alam here.
During the pandemic we found ourselves trapped, spectators of wildlife blooming again. Unable to get close to each other, we united in solidarity, connected via digital media. But just a couple of years on, I’m afraid we have forgotten our mutually supportive enthusiasm and desire of rebirth. Instead, it seems we have developed new dependencies.
Country life can be a cure to that. It provides an opportunity to reconnect with nature and find joy outside of the cyber world.
You can read an interview with Massimo Branca here.
Renée C. Byer
Much of my photography focuses on awareness of social issues in the hope for change and a shared humanity. I can’t help thinking of what will come next as the homeless crisis in the United States has worsened after the pandemic. In this image I made last month, Deborah Casillas feeds her daughter Holly Porter – who suffers from functional quadriplegia – burritos for breakfast. She peers out of the tent window listening to civil rights lawyer Mark Merin speak with residents at Camp Resolution, a self-governing homeless encampment in North Sacramento. The day before, the city of Sacramento had left eviction notices that would clear the encampment leaving the stressed-out homeless mother and daughter uncertain of their immediate future. By building trust, I was invited into their home, a tent, for a more intimate view of their reality. My hope is to break down the barrier that exists between those that have and those that have not, that they may better understand each other. With nowhere to go, Deborah and Holly face losing all their belongings and being separated from the residents in their encampment who have helped them safely survive.
You can read an interview with Renée C. Byer here.
We are emerging from a pandemic of global proportions. Widespread fear reigns in society, the future is uncertain. Everywhere, unbridled competition has made us fearful, experiencing anxiety and panic. Even with all the technology at our fingertips we feel vulnerable, the pressure and uncertainty remain. Virtuality opened up global potentials, but it has been closing us down more and more. We are becoming solitary beings, alone on a planet with eight billion inhabitants.
I think it is important to reconnect with nature. To open to the experience of breathing fresh air, connecting your gaze with the complexity of a landscape, learning to live in a simpler way. To demand less of ourselves, connect empathically with others, and look for those luminous places where calm allows us to start building a different world.
You can read an interview with Raúl Cantú here.
Following the pandemic, I hoped that we, as humanity, can be kinder and more compassionate towards our own pain and that of others. Millions of families had to say goodbye to their loved ones in new, less intimate ways such as virtual funerals. The image here draws on conversations I have had with the families of those who ‘disappeared’ during the Argentinian dictatorship [the period of state terrorism from 1974 to 1983]. It is from my new project ‘Oratorio’, made with those bereaved by violence in Colombia, Argentina, and Uganda. I have always believed that grief is the condition that, once you have lived it, you are capable of true empathy, sympathy, and compassion.
You can read an interview with Erika Diettes here.
Martin Hill & Philippa Jones
We humans stand in the great river of time eventually to be washed away by it. Reimagining the world anew requires us to think about nature differently, not as separate but as part of us. We cannot stand in the same river twice, but we do affect rivers and they affect us. Our endless demand for economic growth for growth’s sake is destroying the earth’s living systems. In everything we do from now on we will consider nature on which life relies.
You can read an interview with Martin Hill and Philippa Jones here.
I would rethink the meaning of life for myself at this moment in time, starting from February 24 in Ukraine. A pandemic is not the worst thing that has happened to humanity. Currently, for Ukrainians, the pandemic does not exist, it seems to have been erased, it seems that it never existed. Everything that happened before February 24 is unimportant. The re-evaluation that has taken place since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is unmatched by anything else. It does not compare to the re-evaluation that took place during the pandemic. The pandemic did not bomb our homes, it did not kill our women and children and our brave soldiers so mercilessly.
It is now very important for Ukrainians to look to the future several steps ahead. We may not be able to see it, but there is a future. There is a future for our unbreakable, sovereign state. A bright future. And then, like a phoenix, our country will be reborn, rebuilt, and will be a great modern state, no matter what.
You can read an interview with Sergey Melnitchenko here.
For over three years, I’ve worked on a project grounded in reflections on the emotional and practical consequences of being without a permanent home. Through photographing multiple individuals and stories, the overall message is an appeal for better systems in society. In this image, the woman who had become homeless through domestic abuse, sits on her bed in her new, permanent home. Before moving here, she had spent three years in homeless hostels and inadequate housing. This house is a new start for her, but the indelible trace of trauma remains. We need better support for our fellow human beings: more dignified, quicker solutions, more compassion – that would be my hope as we move into 2023 and beyond.
You can read an interview with Margaret Mitchell here.
Judith Nangala Crispin
Emerging from this global pandemic, I hope we’ve understood, finally, that human beings are not superior to, or separate from, the rest of nature. I’d like to see a society with a renewed reverence for trees, animals and birds. Instead of just talking about real estate, I’d like to see people genuinely trying to share language with Country. I’d like us to try to grow roots.
You can read an interview with Judith Nangala Crispin here.
The arts and culture sector – which is estimated to employ more than thirty million people globally – was hit much harder than expected by the pandemic. The fallout resulted in the venue-based sectors such as museums, galleries, theatres, live music events, festivals, and cinemas shutting their doors. Yet the need for creative expression remained strong. As a result, virtual connection became the new normal.
Each experience of isolation was unique, and each artist expressed their creativity during these times in their own way. It forced the art world to move past traditional structures (which were, anyway, not always inclusive), not only adapting for a digital-first community but also opening up the field of art to less conventional forms such as graffiti. New global platforms were independently created, affording many individuals whose work had previously fallen outside the frame of the established art institutions the opportunity to create, curate and exhibit their artworks virtually. And, in the process, develop a new and more diverse visual representation of our world. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
You can read an interview with Neo Ntsoma here.
At this moment, it seems like a time of silence. My home in Xi’an, China, is still under severe lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Three years after the epidemic in China, our previous normal life has been completely destroyed and imprisoned under the strict control of the government, just like the fate of the famous Helan Mountain Buddha head, which was photographed by many Chinese and foreign photographers. Will our lives and freedoms be reborn?
涅 槃 重 生 (Nirvana rebirth)
You can read an interview with Xiangjie Peng here.
‘Next’ is a Talking Pictures original.