When dealing with a global crisis, art is more often than not seen as a ‘non-essential’. Anxiety, uncertainty and traditionally ‘essential’ needs take precedence, making it hard to dedicate time to appreciate art, absorb its message and get inspired. This is exemplified in today’s climate by the fact that the cultural industry has not been seen as a priority by many countries in terms of receiving relief funding. However, while the Covid-19 pandemic has been highlighting major global systemic issues, contemporary art can and should be utilized as a powerful tool to capture and reflect on collective sentiment and more importantly, raise awareness of these problems plaguing our society.

During the past few months, Vastari has had the pleasure to come across fabulous artworks and exhibitions created to educate and empower communities to act collectively or individually to confront inequalities and inspire effective systemic change.

Below we have shortlisted a selection of exhibitions whose stories relate to the current global crisis.  Can art take a role to inspire action?

Transcendients: 100 Days of COVID

Since the start of the national Stay-At-Home Order this past March, Japanese-American artist Taiji Terasaki committed to keeping daily records of how people respond to the 2020 global pandemic. Using his Instagram account (@taijiterasakistudio) as his journalistic platform, Taiji shares found stories as handwoven photographic weavings. As a reaction to the ongoing news developments, he prints digitally collaged images on Kozo paper (a Japanese handmade paper) and meditatively weaves the images together. The act of weaving is his way of expressing empathy, compassion, sorrow; a variety of feelings to make sense of our uncertain world.

The exhibition’s handmade weavings represent heroic stories that range from healthcare professionals working at the frontline of the pandemic; to volunteers giving their time and support; the inequities of race and class; politics and policies; food; art; scientific innovations and climate adaption. In just a matter of nearly four months, the world, as we knew it, changed before our very eyes and Terasaki committed to documenting this change.

Taiji Terasaki is a Japanese-American artist based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Growing up in a family of scientists and creatives, and receiving formal art education, Terasaki has spent more than 30 years exploring avant-garde innovations in his craft, working in photography, sculpture, immersive and large-scale installations, and pioneering mediums like mist projections. His cutting-edge presentations are often juxtaposed by the subjects of cultural and environmental conservation, preservation, and restoration.

One Thousand and One Days, by Zigi Ben-Haim

One Thousand and One Days spins the story of Scheherazade into a contemporary pictorial narrative, highlighting the fragile and unstable conditions in which we live and breathe. Alluding directly, and indirectly, to the challenges we face - climate change, pollution, dust storms, various medical emergencies and hurricanes – Zigi Ben-Haim counters these perils with an array of images offering hope and healing.

The project was started in 2009 and completed in 2013. It contains unique cartoon-like drawings from life and nature that emphasize the precariousness of our existence. The combination of images is inspired by Ben-Haim's childhood recollection of the folk tale, "One Thousand and One Nights." Just as Scheherazade saved herself using the enchantment of words, Ben-Haim's reinterpretation proposes that images may have just as profound an effect.

The use of the colors black, white and turquoise carry forward Ben-Haim's personal story. The images he creates are drawn from his own rich vocabulary, and yet embrace universal themes, celebrating the diversity of cultures amongst us. Each part raises questions of social, cultural, and economic progress, and calls attention to our survival in the face of disease, climate change and global warming.

The drawings on 1,001 basic white dust painter's masks serve as medical symbols, like talismans protecting us from the self-induced costs of progress. The paintings on aluminum represent urban-industrial life, while the paintings on wood symbolize simplicity.

Zigi Ben-Haim is an Iraqi-Jewish who grew up in Israel and now based in New York. Ben-Haim has works in many public collections, including Haifa Museum, Israel Museum, Brooklyn Museum, World Bank, in Washington, DC,  Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York,  University of Maryland, Phillip Berman Museum and many others.

Conceptual Boredom, by Camila Gurgel and Ieva Paulina

Conceptual Boredom is a photography project that explores humanity’s connection with our homes, our things, our food and our bored minds during the Covid-19 outbreak. The project aims to raise money for the NHS, in order to support those that don’t get to be bored in times like this and create a dialogue about boredom and privilege during a crisis.

In the images conceived and developed by the creative duo Camila Gurgel and ​Ieva Paulina, the audience explores everyday objects creating surreal scenarios and shapes. The pieces (surprisingly all shot on iPhone) are designed to be both highly relatable and abstract at the same time.

These pieces with unique aesthetics and humour instigated digital conversations over the past months, now will have their first “real-life” exhibition in London. Half of the proceeds from the sales will be going to the NHS Charities Together to help provide some comfort to the frontliners. If you are in London, don’t miss out on the chance to see this exhibition from the 11th to the 24th August at Espacio Gallery. Find them on Instagram and donate to the cause here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/conceptual-boredom

We hope you enjoy getting to know more about these exhibitions as they are fantastic examples of art trying to inspire change. Many more shows targeting social, political and environmental issues are available on Vastari, so please do get in touch if you want to discover them!