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Quarantine Diaries: Five Baltimore Artists Share Survival Tactics and Inspiration

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This first edition of The Quarantine Diaries profiles five Baltimore-based visual artists who have had solo exhibitions postponed or altered because of Covid-19 social distancing and stay-in-place orders.

After curating ANOTHER COUNTRY, an exhibition that opened on March 13 at Terrault Contemporary, I have been reflecting on all the exhibits that are sitting unviewed in galleries—in Baltimore and beyond. I am also thinking about all the labor artists have put into spring and summer exhibitions that have been cancelled, so many beautiful works of art that will go unseen, now haunted relics of a not-so-distant past where art shows were accessible for in-person viewing and not via screen.

As a person who lives alone, I have been finding comfort in reading the accounts of other individuals across the country who have been isolated from their friends and family as they self-quarantine in their respective spaces. I reached out to a selection of Baltimore-based artists whose exhibits have been cancelled or unseen to ask how they have been coping with the loss, and was inspired by their thoughtful responses which allowed for intimacy across geographical boundaries.

 

Sangram Majumdar

Name: Sangram Majumdar
Profession: Artist/Full Faculty in Painting at MICA
Web: sangrammajumdar.com
IG: @sangram_majumdar

Neighborhood: My family and I live in Bolton Hill. We moved back to Baltimore a year ago after living for ten years in Brooklyn. Strangely, or not so strangely, it’s only a couple blocks from where we used to live before we moved the first time.



What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

I am a horrible emoji user, but here you go: Hand holding a pen, Eyes looking left (side eye), and a thumbs up 

What object, thing, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

We lived on Park Ave on a second floor apartment facing the fountains. Access to natural light has always been important to me, at home and in my studio. This past month I have been noticing the light shift with the passing hours and days as the leaves grow fuller and the flowers bloom with the passing season. It’s been strangely calming.

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine?

My goal has been to try out a new recipe since during ‘normal’ times I have a stock of dishes I make. So, I have been going through our cookbooks and researching online a lot. I have also discovered the wonders of spatchcock chicken. Also, almost once a week I have been baking brownies or cupcakes with my daughter. She helps stir the batter and most importantly spread the sprinkles and eat them, whichever comes first. 



What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

The hardest thing has been the most obvious and common I suppose. My wife and I and our daughter are all cooped up at home. We try to find time and ways to get outside. It’s been tough for our daughter especially who misses her friends at school, and looks longingly at the playground. I have much less time in the studio. Instead the space has become a workspace for both my wife and me. I have been going there to conduct my Zoom sessions. Meanwhile, my wife, who’s in her first year doing an accelerated Masters of Nursing at Johns Hopkins, goes there to take a break from studying at home. Coffeeshops are obviously no longer a viable option.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over?

I am looking forward to the time when I will never have to use Zoom again. Beyond that it would be great to see and talk to friends in person, go to museums and galleries (specifically see Jo Smail’s exhibition at the BMA), to not feel paranoid about going to the grocery store, and simply be able to be outside and not mentally use a measuring tape to gauge distance constantly. 


What are you making?

Progress in the studio has been slow to put it mildly especially with a painting that is at that crucial point where it’s either done or has a long way to go. A break in process is a double edged sword. Sometimes the extended time helps me break from my train of thought and come up with new ways of moving forward; other times it makes me anxious that the original motivation was flawed from the beginning. So I have been doing a lot of small works on paper, variations to work out parallel possibilities.

At home I have been drawing a lot with my daughter, in the morning after breakfast or before she goes to sleep. While she paints, I make drawings of her hands moving. Inevitably, her paintings always look better.

(Photo credit: Annelies Mast)

 

Magnolia Laurie

Name: Magnolia Laurie
Profession: Artist and College Professor
Website: magnolialaurie.com
Instagram: @magnolaurie

Neighborhood: I live in Baltimore City and the neighborhood is called Sabina Mattfeldt.

What emojis are you using most right now? 

I seem to use a whole lot of hearts.

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? 

I’ve been making masks for friends and family, baking bread, and cooking a lot more. These activities can feel productive in a self-soothing kind of way. They are good breaks from my Zoom meetings and emails. I still get to my studio when I can, but painting has been an odd process for me during this—big changes often impact my studio practice. I’ve tried to give myself some rules until I figure it out: I have these sacrificial paintings that I’m allowed to do anything to right now. I have a series of paintings that are about ninety percent done and I was planning to use Spring Break to finish them up, but now I’m not allowed to touch those… my head’s in a different place at the moment. 

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine? 

It is different each day. I would say the most familiar and normal feeling is that I’m still hopeful each morning. The day proceeds with little joys: new blooms on the trees, birds going about their business, a successful loaf of sourdough bread, a kind exchange. What feels strange is the sense of relief I have each night. Relief from what, I don’t know. Most days I haven’t even left my house.

How has your living space changed to accommodate you during this time? Is this a physical change, a work-life balance change, or mental change?

My husband, Nicholas, and I are both working from home. His office is set up in the basement. My office is exploded all over the dining room table and I have lots of projects all over the house. I would say the change has been both physical and mental. My work/life/studio practice has always been overlapping and colliding, but having it all isolated to one place turns life into a strange unending dream. I feel a little in limbo and there are times when it is harder to distinguish if something matters a lot or doesn’t matter at all.

What will you do, with great joy, when you are allowed to?

Hug people, eat dinner with friends, go to openings, finish that series of paintings, and travel beyond a five-mile radius.

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

I have been feeling really lucky to have a yard and trying to make the most of it. I’ve been doing more gardening than I normally have time for. Particularly at this moment, it feels really good to see something grow and persist and thrive, so I’ve been planting and weeding and trying to make that happen where I can.

What kind of support do you/your business need? How can people support what you do?

I hope we can continue to find ways to share our work with each other. Anybody up for a one-off exhibition featuring the oddball works that hang out in our studios? I’ll have a few of those soon.

As an artist, I’m not sure the needs have changed all that much. We need to make, we need to share what we make with an audience and exchange ideas. And yes, we need to sell some of that work if we can. Many of the opportunities to do this are on pause and some might not exist when we can get back to something closer to normal. So we need to find ways to adapt and continue to share and support one another.

 

 

Name: Erin Fostel
Profession: Artist
Website: erinfostel.com
Instagram: @ErinFostel

Neighborhood: Mayfield. I live in a beautiful home that is big enough to also house my studio. Our neighborhood is very green and borders two parks, Herring Run and Clifton Park, and sits near Lake Montebello. My husband and I love to have people over, and fill the home with conversation and music. We look forward to doing that again when the pandemic is over.

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

The shoulder shrug girl, the brain explosion, the pink beating heart

What object, thing, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

I am seeking comforting things to watch on Netflix and have watched mostly baking and cooking shows (like the absolutely fabulous The Great British Baking Show). It has been very inspiring, so I have been in the kitchen cooking and baking a lot more. This has helped me to feel really grounded in my home and not feel like I need to rely on something outside of it.

Who are you in quarantine with? Whether you are alone or with others—what have you learned about yourself and/or about your relationships?

I am quarantined with my husband, Ryan Dorsey. I am usually home, as I work from home, but he is usually not here much, as being a City Councilman keeps him quite busy. It has been really nice to have him home more. I feel a little guilty about it, actually. We both work throughout the day in separate spaces, but pop in and out to say hello. We really enjoy each other’s company and feel really lucky to be quarantined together. If I have learned anything about our relationship it’s just re-enforced the fact that we are stupid lucky in love.

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

I really miss seeing my mom. I used to go over to her house every other week and now we can only talk on the phone. She doesn’t have a way to virtually chat and I miss her face enough that I have requested she take a selfie. She has never taken a selfie and five days after the request, I am still waiting for one.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over? 

Hug! I see friends sometimes when I am out grocery shopping and the imposed physical distance between us is heartbreaking. I would be fine in a world without handshakes with strangers, since people tend to take the concept of a firm grip too far. But a world without hugs from friends is brutal.

What kind of support do you/your business need? How can people support what you do?

I make a living through drawing. The thing that will help me sustain my studio is having a larger group of followers or network of supporters. Word of mouth is the best kind of connector, and so if people like my work I always appreciate when they spread the word about it.

 

 

Taha Heydari in School 33 Studio, photo: Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt Issue 08

Name: Taha Heydari
Profession: Artist, Painter, Adjunct faculty at MICA
Website: tahaheydari.com 
Instagram: @taha_hey

Neighborhood: I just moved to Charles Village. I wanted to be near the farmers market and Motzi Bread, which just opened around the corner from my apartment. I love bread. They make the best sourdough on the planet.

What are the 3 emojis you are using most right now?

Fingernail painting, pink flamingo, slice of pepperoni pizza

What new thing have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine?

Maura (my partner) and I go on walks and talk about how strange the city looks and feels in relation to what it was before the lockdown. Our conversations dig into the end of the world and various apocalyptic scenarios but usually end with deciding where we will get our next curbside pickup meal. The temporality of the situation casts ambiguity on the future, which encourages me to be experimental in my life and in my practice.


What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

For the last four years, I have been at my studio at School 33 every single day. Due to the shelter-in-place order, I haven’t had access to my studio since late March. That has been torturous.

Where are you getting the most satisfying news, information, or entertainment? How would you define news that is satisfying?

Fake news and memes that are filtered from Twitter through my partner. There has been very little satisfying news recently.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over?

I had a show scheduled for April 16 in San Francisco which obviously got cancelled, but the gallery, Haines Gallery, created a virtual exhibition on their website after they had to close. I look forward to traveling there and possibly having a physical show when it’s safe.

What’s your favorite meal or food you’ve been cooking at home?

We have mastered a Persian dish called Fesenjun made with chicken, pomegranate, and walnuts. We make it with saffron tahdig, which is rice that you crisp on the bottom in a frying pan. We first made it for Nowruz, the Persian new year, which coincided with the beginning of lockdown, and we’ve made it a couple times since because it’s so good.

 

 

Gaia on location

Name: Gaia
Profession: Muralist and Public Art Consultant
Web: gaiastreetart.com
Instagram: @Gaiastreetart

Neighborhood: I have lived predominantly on or near Greenmount Avenue for most of my 12 years here in Baltimore. I have finally moved out of a warehouse and into a more quiet home.

Emojis you are using most right now:
Praying Hands—nonverbal expression of gratitude for compliments from people on social media. Fist—for powerful statements of protest, courage, and self determination (Brofist is an admittedly fitting descriptor of my demeanor). Pink blooming flower—because it’s Maryland and it’s spring!

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

I have endeavored to take this time of forced isolation to relax and to decelerate. This means more time exploring the elasticity of paint and mark making, especially as it relates to atomizing and spraying acrylics. The Flexio3000 has been the tool with which I have been most fascinated, as it compliments the exploration I have already conducted with airbrush, airless paint sprayers, and other devices for splattering and gradients. I have been resisting the urge to rummage around the theoretical as I have found that many of my investigations ultimately feel like cul-de-sacs. Instead, I’m focusing on the formal with a hope that it will reignite some excitement during the doldrums of quarantine.

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine?

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the quarantine makes it difficult to look forward to much of anything. The primary beacon of excitement has been filling my home with stimulating flavors. I have engrossed myself with recreating some of my favorite South Indian dishes from my travels through the Middle East and the Subcontinent. In this regard, Punjab Groceries and Halal has been a lifeline for ingredients like fresh curry leaf and bulk spices. Otherwise, despite having an impending exhibition in the Netherlands that was postponed due to the Covid pandemic, making artwork has not necessarily been a motivating drive for getting through the day.

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

My life here in Baltimore was not much different prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. I mostly spent my time inside my house plotting furtive projects and producing large proposals for clients when not painting commissions and street pieces. I have also spent a lot of time gathering materials, so in a lockdown I still have everything I need to stay busy indoors. The anxiety arises not in the difficulty, but instead the absence of such difficulty in adjusting to the lockdown. I feel a little self conscious about how easily I isolate myself from the world when not doing public art, but taking my wonderful dog and local celebrity on regular walks has been a great escape.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over?

I sorely miss linking with intriguing people who are doing good work in this city and the thrill of collaboratively working on a project. It’s difficult to tell what the future entails and how life will return back to normal, but of course it would be wonderful to get back to painting murals and traveling again. It’s been a long time since I have put up new work in the streets and have been contemplating putting up more illegal work.

Have you taken up any new hobbies or projects?

Because the quarantine is such a prohibition on contact and thus, the tactile, I have made new forays into the digital: teaching myself how to use Procreate on the iPad and Cinema 4d on the home desktop. In an effort to lift the curtain on the process even further, and be more considerate of my intention to decelerate, I have been creating a lot of time-lapses of the painting procedures, and started a Tik Tok account which finally allows me to be silly rather than use all this weird art speak I can’t seem to let go of, ha.

How are you supporting local creative businesses, makers, and/or health care workers in Baltimore?

My primary concern during these difficult times is to batten down the hatches and keep my circle employed whilst endeavoring to help younger entrepreneurs navigate this complicated time.

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