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  • Zoë Atkinson Fiennes

Art in Times of Great Upheaval, Uncertainty and Fear.

One day, I was walking through the park in my neighbourhood in Italy, the plum blossom had just begun to bloom. Its dainty flowers unfurling in the afternoon light, stretched out along gentle swaying branches. Sending out the first sprig of nectar to waltz on the wind. Clover and daisies carpeted my feet as I tiptoed, white petals brushing my eager nose. Full of promise was the day, just an article to finish, a final chapter of a novel to read in the armchair by the sunny window at sunset. Welcoming in the evening with a smile and a voyage into another world. The peaceful tide of every day life, clicking by. Rumours and uncertainty about what might be coming, kept at bay, kept at bay, at bay…

The next day, the world changed. COVID-19 became a reality. We were ordered to stay in our homes. What was outside, was unsafe. What was inside became the margins of daily life. The limits of experience.

A silence ensued and for a time it was as though there was a screen between the public in lockdown and what was really going on. Then harrowing news stories began to filter in from the TV set, the internet, and friends of friends, colleagues of colleagues. Brave doctors and nurses began to break their silence. Began to take the world behind the scenes of a nightmare: the public has a right to know they said… and unbeknown to them at first, their courage was being immortalised in front of our eyes.

Milan-based artist Paolo Troilo chose to share these poignant images with the public in the days following the media coverage of medics at the heart of the COVID-19 crisis. They are literally on the front line of this epidemic, they are - as Paolo so aptly depicted them - our superheroes. And he has been able to distill this day-to-day reality into something that is digestible in the moment, enabling a dialogue. Any and all proceeds from the sale of the artist's "redefining heroes" series will also go straight to Bergamo hospital, Italy.

This artist is a shining example of what the philosopher Alain de Botton and research storyteller Brené Brown are talking about when they hold art up as society's beacon of truth: art is one of the most powerful tools we have to help us overcome feelings like disconnection and loneliness in times of division, in times of great social upheaval, uncertainty and fear:

 " ...who can do that? Can a politician do that? Can a social scientist do that? a researcher? No, a creative...because what creatives do is they bring truth to us in a way where we recognise our own humanity".1
Brenè Brown

I am reminded of something Paolo Troilo actually said to me little over a year ago, which seems more relevant now than ever: "There is an Italian psychologist Massimo Ricalcati, who at the beginning of one of his books, which is dedicated to the Father, if I remember well, writes, I am not a religious man, neither is my wife, we are scientists but at the same time every night we ask our kids to pray before going to sleep. Pray, not to God or any particular deity but to something bigger than them so that they have access to the dimension of living in which they are part of something bigger. I also have responsibility towards other people... if you no longer believe in something bigger than you, you also lose your belief in who stands beside you".

The response from the creative world has been truly vast, here are a few more examples of the ways in which creatives are reaching out to the public, offering an outlet for the emotions bubbling on the surface of society; and, of the public themselves choosing to reach out to each other in collective expression and togetherness, over division and fear;

The Florence Academy of Art, Florence, Italy.

An inspiring initiative has been proposed by the Florence Academy of Art to bring people together no matter what the circumstances. The Academy has been offering all artists the opportunity to take part in a competition to paint or draw the #viewfromyourroom as we all do our best to stay inside as much as possible. For more details watch the video below.

Milan-based, Italian artist Paolo Di Rosa

Italian artist Paolo Di Rosa, who we often feature on, shared this heartfelt message with the community,

'This, a painting from my past, seems sadly to be of the moment. The road will be long and hard, many things will be lost but just maybe we will be able to find them again. Everything will not be ok, but we will get through this'.* 

You may have seen the phrase andrà tutto bene (everything will be alright) flying from balconies throughout Italy. A collective assurance, framed by a rainbow.

Communities coming together in song.

All over Italy communities have been singing as one chorus of voices over balconies and window frames. Musicians and operatic singers have been heard serenading the rooftops, providing comfort to people closed within the boundaries of their own four walls. Brené's adept reflections on art come to mind again, ‘Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope...Music, like all art, gives pain and our most wrenching emotions voice, language, and form, so it can be recognized and shared...[to] both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time. When we hear someone else sing about the jagged edges of heartache or the unspeakable nature of grief, we immediately know we’re not the only ones in pain. The transformative power of art is in this sharing … It’s the sharing of art that whispers, “You’re not alone” ’. 2

Three-Michelin star, Italian chef Massimo Bottura and Family

And last, but not least, Massimo Bottura and his family are bringing the art of cooking, in Italian and English, to people all over the globe each and every night: some of his instagram posts have over half a million views, proving that creativity shared really is creativity² !

People are generously sharing their gifts with us all, free of charge, in a colossal community effort to keep all of us knitted together long-distance. Whether we are rooms, houses, streets, cities or continents apart. And because of these people, despite the circumstances and despite the isolation, I continue to feel a part of something bigger, albeit virtually! I don't feel alone.

We will tread outside and meet each other again, but this time I believe it will be with a new perspective. I hope it will bring us all closer: to those who stand beside us, and the earth we stand upon.

Until then, stay safe. #iorestoacasa (I'm staying home)


1. Quote from Brené’s interview with Chase Jarvis, click here to listen.

* Translation from Italian into English, Zoë Atkinson Fiennes

2. Quotation from Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown (2017)


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