The drastic changes brought on by the Covid crisis have been difficult to many to manage. Among the millions now struggling are Amsterdam’s artists who are forced to find new ways to create art and find inspiration.
Countless people have turned their thoughts back to the age of the bubonic plague, which also altered the lives of millions of people. The recurring nature of outbreaks hung over the land for centuries. Much of the art created during Renaissance was informed by the bleak reality that the Black Death could come again at any time and overthrow the present. As Amsterdam grappled with disease during the mid-1600s, Rembrandt painted some of his most iconic work. So how has the current outbreak affected art production in Amsterdam? We (virtually) sat down with some of the city’s creatives to find out.
Ahmad is not unfamiliar with creating art in a crisis situation: hailing from Palestine and Syria, much of Ahmad’s inspiration comes from the effects displacement has had on his life. His tattoo moniker is stateless-poke. Ahmad studies fine arts and was about to commence work on his graduation project when the Netherlands went into lockdown.
With the onset of social distancing, Ahmad felt creatively stifled. This creative block lasted one month, after which he decided to switch his graduation project to hand poke tattooing. “I’m making a series of photos and working on a documentary while tattooing my story on my body. Every tattoo has a story behind it and a reason to be on my skin. I’m poking myself in different rooms and places in my house. It’s a painful procedure to tattoo yourself so often in such a short time.” Hand poked tattoos are often associated with the phrase ‘prison-style-tattoos’. For Ahmad, they are an embodiment of the current isolation we all are experiencing. Ahmad is using his art to tell his story as a refugee and to bring attention to the ongoing crisis back home.
Marrow, an illustration artist from Damascus, Syria, also found herself struggling to stay optimistic over the course of the past months. “’I’m an hyperactive person. Mentally, physically being obligated to stay home is a tough thing, which sometimes makes me unable to be creative,” Marrow said. She has been experimenting with different techniques, finding inspiration in the digital world. Her designs are eye-catching, with striking color schemes that are often representative of relevant issues and common human experiences. Her most recent series addresses topics such as racism, dictatorship, sexism, as well as her feelings during quarantine. “I can say that I’ve transformed this turmoil into art, as every artist does in one way or another! It was an opportunity to try something new, fun, and priceless!”
Alina is the creator of Giant Pansy. She’s an Amsterdam-based artist who works with printmaking, floriography and design. Alina opened her own studio on Czaar Peterstraat at the beginning of March, a time of escalating uncertainty in which the future of many businesses became precarious. “I felt a lot of frustration on this new project, but also not knowing if it would be able to happen at all in the future. There were a lot of tears, restless crap days, and moping (there still are!)” she wrote. Despite those challenges, Alina has been able to stay hopeful and maintain an objective mindset. “What’s happening it’s pretty scary: we haven’t gone through this before, and people who are less lucky are those going to suffer the most. So I feel really frustrated and annoyed that I can’t do more to help. I put my situation in perspective and try to remind myself to be kind and gentle.”
Since much of society’s interactions have turned digital, many artists have embraced new ways to connect with their audiences as well as the artistic community. Alina, for instance, has taken part in several online art initiatives including a DIY Art Market, online Instagram art galleries, and The Cool School‘s Lunch & Learn sessions of video call workshops. “For The Cool School I did two sessions: introduction to gouache and watercolor, and a general painting session which was really nice to feel a little less lonely.”
Many artists experience a sense of urgency or pressure to carry on the creative process during quarantine. This can cause frustration, making it hard to find inspiration and hindering the artistic process. But Alina emphasizes that it’s important not to be so hard on oneself during those times. “I think my conclusion is to stay present, feel what you need to feel (it’s okay to be sad, mopey, feel like a complete potato), reach out to your friends and take it easy and be kind to yourself and others,” she said. “I think when you are feeling healthy and happy, the creativity will come naturally and not out of guilt.”