Many months ago, in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, British artist Wendy Bliss approached me on Instagram. Wendy asked whether I’d be interested in contributing to a project she organized: The Covid Chronicle, an international textile artists collaboration addressing the experience of the pandemic. I checked The Covid Chronicle pages on Instagram and then on Facebook, and it really appealed to me. I was drawn to the idea of doing a group project with other artists from all over the world, of being a part of a bigger tapestry that described our common experience. At the time, I had just finished Interdependent, and, despite the darkened tones that had crept into the narrative, still felt compelled to be a part of the “we’re all in this together” experience.
As it often happens, however, life got in the way. The days ticked by, and I didn’t get to this specific project. The days combined into weeks, then months, finally to almost a year. But although I didn’t make anything physical, the idea for my contribution slowly formed in my head. It was there constantly, evolving over time, finalizing. Until a day came when I knew exactly what my panel would look like.
Not creating my panel right away gave me the luxury of a hindsight perspective. I tried to think what the lockdown experience felt like to me. I realized that for me, two contradicting–yet simultaneous–realities existed side by side.
Inside our home, everything was good. My husband and kids were near, fed, healthy and safe. The internet allowed us to stay connected to faraway family and friends, so we didn’t feel isolated. Everyone Zoomed to school and to various after-school activities. We exercised, took turns doing chores, watched movies. We spent a lot of quality time together, and became closer as a family. I kept busy doing domestic activities, creating art, filling my garden with flowers and practicing yoga regularly. The days were relatively calm and uneventful. And yet … the pandemic interrupted the cycle of the year. It forced us to forgo all the normal celebrations: holidays, birthdays, graduations. Without these normal milestones, the days blurred into each other. It was as if we were inside a cocoon, in which time had stopped. It felt like we were living in a time outside of time.
Meanwhile, the outside world felt dangerous and out of sync. Daily news bombarded us with a constant flow of horrible developments. The pandemic was raging everywhere, bringing fear, pain and death. Differences between people and nations surfaced, pushing hatred and ugliness onto the surface. Political rivalries divided nations. And if that was not enough, natural disasters struck frequently and widely, bringing global warming to the doorstep of millions. Here in California, millions of forest acres burned, and the very air was unbreathable for months. Disasters befell on people we loved, too. Good friends and family members suffered, and there was nothing we could do to ease their pain.
Wendy Bliss asked all project contributors to abide to a specific design formula and commit to one of three sizes:
I decided to make my panel personal yet universal, because we each experienced the pandemic differently, yet in many ways our experiences were similar. I chose to think of the inner circle as my domestic sphere, my protective cocoon. A light-colored heaven. It seemed right to put myself in the middle, like a baby inside a womb, sitting in the meditative pose with which I start and finish every yoga practice. That pose helped me stay centered and balanced in those months of chaos, even in those times when emotional turmoil threatened to swallow me up.
I thought of the inner square, surrounding the circle, as the outside world, which was falling apart. That square had to be red, to symbolize a dangerous, burning world.
The text, on the outer square, had to be concise. I wrote and rewrote it, eliminating many activities, until I was left with the five things that kept me going during the months of lockdown: family, friends, art, gardening and yoga.
I chose the largest size for my panel, 50 cm square, or 20 inches.
When September rolled by and my kids went back to in-person school for the first time in a year and a half, I went back into my studio after a long summer break. Deliberately, I gave The Covid Chronicle a priority over other projects. I sat down, and started planning my panel:
I started looking for light-colored cloth to use for the inner circle. Nothing in my stash caught my eye. I considered painting my own fabric, but then one day it hit me: use one of the doilies my mom gave me when when I visited her over the summer! A doily seemed perfect: it was the right color, and I even found one in the exact right size. Doilies represent the ultimate domesticity, and the ones I had were handmade by maternal ancestors–family heirlooms that represent familial ties and continuity. The exact traits I was hoping to portray.
Finding fabric for the inner, red squared was easy.
Once I had the basic composition, I printed my meditating image on printable fabric, and placed it at the center.
I then sewed the outer border, measured it, and used my kids’ alphabet stamps to stamp the words at the right places. I kept the letters on the left crisp and sharp. As they crawled around the panel, I let them get murkier and dirtier, to help reinforce the feeling of things falling apart.
After I sewed everything into place, I had to decide how to quilt it. I quilted around the doily just to keep it in place. But the red square was more problematic. I considered quilting little virus particles all over, but decided against it. I chose to keep things simple, and put squiggly lines and sharp angles instead. Squiggly lines to represent flames, heat waves, flowing flood water. Uneven, asymmetric lines with sharp edges to represent our imperfect world.
Here is my finished panel, which is now making its way to England:
I’m looking forward to seeing it sewn together with other panels, into The Covid Chronicle project, a huge tapestry to represent us all.