One photography student made a pinhole camera to shoot pictures of her cloistered roommates; an intern posed for a selfie in a suit and tie because he’s looking for work despite the times. And another artist, masked, simply held a sign that says “I am bored.”
When Toronto curator Phil Anderson sent out a call for COVID portraits, images flowed in from around the world. Anderson, director of Gallery 1313 in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, has mounted an exhibition of the results on the gallery’s website.
Gallery 1313 is a non-profit, artist-run centre with lots of multicultural and international connections so word spread fast about the idea of creating an image that reflected how COVID was affecting the artist. Anderson got the ball rolling with a masked portrait of himself shot in the middle of an empty Lansdowne Avenue and a bug-eyed image of his son entitled Too Much Screen Time. Many of the contributions he received are self-portraits, whether photographs, paintings or collages; some feature family members; a few artists depicted the spiky globe of the virus itself or created metaphoric images of the pandemic.
Anderson hit on the idea partly because the gallery had run a portrait show last winter and partly because its cancelled summertime show would have featured emerging artists, so this open call seemed appropriate.
“We received many different interpretations,” he wrote in his introduction, adding he has expanded the exhibition to include three installments but still can’t show all submissions. “There were so many submissions in fact, it became overwhelming. Not just submissions from local and national artists but also those from many different countries, each with something to say. It became like a collection of stories.”
Several of the artists imagined themselves as figures from myth or art history. Toronto artist and actor Lisa Anita Wegner emptied her junk drawer to pose as Madonna of Debris, assembling rolls of masking tape, bottles of nail polish and matchbooks to create a nimbus around her head.
Making the connection with the era of the Black Death, book illustrator Juliana Kolesova aped the Renaissance profile portrait to depict herself as a stressed-out and inward-looking figure in an elaborate headdress.
And Toronto photographer Candace Cosentino fashioned a startling metaphor for that lockdown feeling of being frozen in time: In her doctored self-portrait, she deploys five different arms, creating a sombre yet glamorous figure who’s part Hindu goddess, part movie star.
Covid-19 Portraits continues at g1313.org to June 27.
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