By: Olivia Visser, Staff Writer
Created in 2020 by Toronto-based actor Nightingale Nguyen, Quarantine Qapsule is a digital art archive that aims to “archive the Asian Canadian experience during the pandemic.” The archive highlights various different works such as visual art, music, film, and more. This year’s Vancouver Quarantine Qapsule is a part of explorASIAN 2022’s programming and is hosted in partnership with Emily Carr University of Art. It expands upon the submissions collected when the project originally began in Toronto.
As someone experienced in researching archives, I was immediately struck by the self-representational aspect of this space. Strict institutional archives can limit an artist’s self-expression, but this space defies those restrictions. All artwork in the collection is non-juried “to allow [artists] to understand the power of community and self-documentation.” Giving people agency over their artwork’s presentation is important because it allows them to define their own representation. Most pieces touched on themes of deep emotions and isolation. This showcased a growing need for community representation amongst marginalized groups.
Isolation by Yasmine Ross
Isolation is a melancholic short film about the psychological experience of quarantine. Artist Yasmine Ross describes it as “an honest portrayal of the up and downs, the raw and reflective moments, and the often overwhelming loneliness that the pandemic has beautifully forced us to experience.” I was mesmerized by the film’s moody shots and deep shadows, then found myself inexplicably connected to the subject’s solitude. The piece exemplifies how the pandemic has exacerbated life’s monotony and contributed to widespread mental health problems.
Kodama Bones by Silke Seiler
In another piece, Silke Seiler employs realism and abstraction to depict driftwood against a stormy blue backdrop. Kodama Bones is a beautiful representation of nature in the midst of the pandemic. The depth of such a simple object is really captivating. According to the painting’s description, Kodama Bones highlights that the “enjoyment of outdoor spaces and sports has skyrocketed as a response to social distancing.” Seiler’s biography says her paintings tribute ancestors who were Japanese internment camp survivors and shipbuilders.
Misfortune Cookies by Pamela Chen
Pamela Chen’s multimedia piece Misfortune Cookies explores negative self-concept through the motif of fortune cookies. Chen writes, “As food is strongly tied to family and culture, the fortune cookies represent Asian adaptability through a lens of ‘otherness’.” Painted onto an 100% cloth rag and embellished with real gold leaf, this work uses the “Americanized idea of Chinese food to voice negative commentary.” Some of the messages peeking out of the cookies include “quit while you’re ahead” and “don’t get your hopes up.”
Not Your Puppet by Katrina Abad
Katrina Abad describes her digital illustration Not Your Puppet as a “response to discrimination and fetishization.” Her piece showcases a dejected-looking child operating a marionette puppet. At first glance, the attention given to the subject’s facial expression is impressive, and the touches of bright red framing the scene are very striking. Upon further inspection, I noticed that I somehow missed the detailing on the puppet theatre: two uniquely illustrated blue bears holding up the sun and the moon. The artwork’s details are almost overshadowed by the sorrowful expression of the child overhead. Abad writes that children are taught to “face racism and discrimination by keeping our heads low,” but “staying silent and obedient can no longer be an option.” She created the illustration as a response to the increase in Asian hate crimes following the pandemic.
It’s important to uplift the narratives of Asian creators, especially since anti-Asian racism has been rising during the pandemic. Centring the voices of local Asian artists is a powerful way of bringing attention to perspectives that are often absent from popular media. Through this archive, I expanded my understanding of not just different Asian communities, but the individual lives of community members.
As a disabled person, I found it more effective to browse the digital material comfortably and at my own pace. On top of that, I find it quite fitting that a pandemic-inspired gallery invites solitary viewership from the accessibility of your home.
The archive can be viewed indefinitely through Quarantine Qapsule’s main webpage, where you will find easily navigable links for different art mediums.