Despite physical boundaries and isolation, a community of Atlanta artists is coming together to share and heal.
Emerging in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak is “Very Healing,” a multi-modal art showcase that brings raw creativity and talent to an all-new digital platform. Viewers can freely browse, like, and comment on the digital exhibit while reading artists bios and connecting with artists on the platform. All in all, Very Healing is a breath of fresh air, providing a non-fuss experience and an accessible destination to the city’s sequestered, and at times disconnected art landscape.
The idea for the exhibit was hatched in late March, when curator Samiyah Malik, who had just launched a show at The Bakery on Warner St., heard news that all art venues and galleries would be closed for the foreseeable future as a result of Georgia’s impending COVID-19 lockdown. With such restrictions, Samiyah knew that in order for the show to go on, it would have to enter a virtual space. She proceeded to singlehandedly develop and design a site with many of the social aspects of Instagram and Facebook that also highlights the connective and healing aspects of art.
“The hard part about social media is that your post isn’t going to get enough attention, so no one is going to see it because of the algorithms . . . if you don’t get the 50 likes in the hour, no one is going to see your art. That makes it difficult,” Samiyah said, highlighting some of the core differences between existing platforms and Very Healing. “I think this was like a celebration; because of everything going on, this was the least we could do.”
On April 18th, hours of hard work and effort paid off when the spring show launched at precisely 4:00 p.m. EST. For the ten contributing artists, the project had turned into a network, which superseded state and even national lines. In the midst of a pandemic, it had brought people together to share and appreciate the healing properties of art.
“I think this was like a celebration; because of everything going on, this was the least we could do.” – Samiyah Malik.
“A lot of people came in at that four o’clock hour, and it was really cool because it was like a collective experience,” Samiyah said. “It was almost overwhelming — it felt really good, and I was like, ‘Wow! It feels like a party even though we’re not together.”
For some, a virtual gallery may take some getting used to — this was a factor Samiyah counted on. Like a high-brow exhibit, the space is clutter free with white walls and has a minimalist design to direct attention to the exhibits; the space is comparable to a physical gallery, which makes the transition easier. The exhibition’s size, of course, is relative to the device it’s being viewed on, and the layout varies between computers and smart screens.
As contributing artist Carrington Ware points out, the site’s versatility makes it more inviting to those who might not typically visit or submit their work to an art show.
“For lack of a better term, I don’t think it’s so pretentious,” Carrington Ware said. “I think it’s a space that allows anybody to contribute, and I think that’s what the art world needs. Many spaces still aren’t accessible to certain groups of people and having an online platform opens the door for more opportunity.”
Carrington submitted work she created during her last semester at Florida International University where she recently graduated with an MFA in Digital Illustration. Her submissions, three flat color-style digital paintings depict three different women of various skin tones and sizes, each enjoying her respective relaxation ritual from home. Entitled, “Hot Tea,” “Painted Nails, Orange Slice,” and “Day Dreamer,” the illustrations were created specifically for Very Healing and present personal care as a viable form of healing.
“I think it’s a space that allows anybody to contribute, and I think that’s what the art world needs.” – Carrington Ware
“I wanted to focus on the activities that each of my subjects was doing in each of these digital illustrations,” said Carrington. While titling her work is usually a chore, naming these pieces was a no-brainer for the digital illustrator. “It goes back again to what makes me comfortable or what helps me decompress after a day and those, I think, are my top three things,” she added.
Highly relatable for most quarantiners is Cayce Tiedmann’s film photography depicting the vibrant ecosystem of her back porch. She began shooting the series with a Pentax K 1000 shortly after the pandemic started and she was almost forced to start spending more time in her backyard. Doing so, she admits, has led to a greater awareness and deeper appreciation for a space she often took for granted. “It’s been really cool feeling more connected to nature via my house,” Cayce said.
“It’s been really cool feeling more connected to nature via my house.” – Cayce Tiedmann
Samiyah’s submissions, “the same sun sets at maghrib” and “fall into the sky, breathe into the air” reveal her personal reflections on a life well-lived and show the important place faith and spirituality hold in her life.
“[T]he same sun sets at maghrib,” she explains, is named for the “Maghrib” the Islamic prayer at sundown, a daily tradition that for Samiyah, is as beautiful and peaceful as the sunset itself. The second submission, “fall into the sky, breathe into the air” resonates with concepts of mindfulness and shows two girls jumping into a waterfall. “[They’re being] super straight forward but being poetic at the same time,” Samiyah said.
Viewers will experience a paradigm shift in Harrison Wayne Gallo’s Infrared photography series, “IR People.” Landmarks such as Centennial Olympic Park and The High Museum of Art are almost unrecognizable in these photos, due to a vibrant lilac tint that covers the grass, trees, and even organic cotton in the subject’s shirt (IR People #1). What the viewers is seeing is a wave of light typically invisible to the human eye. Harrison spent months studying the technique for a chemistry research project at Georgia State University, a painstaking task that culminated in a series of highly sensitized Infrared photography shots.
Regarding IR People #2, a self-portrait taken on a cold winter day in Centennial Olympic Park, Harrison said, “I’m trying to use this idea of invisible light/invisible wavelengths to kind of play on the idea of how I see myself and how I see the surroundings around me and to kind of tease out the little hidden parts.” Appropriately, he titled the works not only for the technique with which they were shot (IR film), but as a pun for intense introspection which creating often requires – “IR people.”
For Mahnoor Elena Spall, the digital exhibit did require some adaption, as her textured and three-dimensional pieces are best observed in person. Still, the artist had nothing but praise for the project’s execution. “It was exceptional,” Mahnoor said. “The fact that every artist displayed in this digital art exhibit has their own unique capabilities and thought process just blows my mind; every piece of art is different.”
“It was exceptional . . . every piece of art [in this digital art exhibit] is different.” – Mahnoor Elena Spall
Mahnoor’s pieces are from her most recent series, “Florals,” oil-on-canvas paintings inspired by the many beautiful bouquets that decorated her childhood home in Bad Homburg, Germany, just outside of Frankfurt. While on a surface level, these pieces are serene and still, there is a degree of emotional ambiguity about her work. Naming Vincent Van Gough and Leonardo da Vinci as her top influences, Mahnoor says, “The biggest thing I carry within myself from Vincent is to always turn your sadness into paintings. Truly, a moment of sadness is when you are most vulnerable and deep in your thoughts, resulting in a painting created during that time to be more connected to you.”
Despite the distance and isolation, Atlanta’s art community is coming together to share and to heal. Even after the pandemic, we may see virtual spaces play a more critical role in the city’s art scene, acting as a glue for the many dissociated pockets within the city’s arts scene. In this way Very Healing sets the standard, providing artists equal opportunity as well as total rights and ownership of their work.
“When I think of it from that perspective, that’s what we need,” said Harrison who considers connection to be the most healing aspect of art. “Every artist, especially Atlanta artists that I talk to, everybody is always talking about how the current social media platforms are either just completely inadequate or failing entirely; like they don’t let us communicate or connect with each other on more than a superficial level. So I really do think that if [Very Healing] continues to be a platform where we can share art openly and try to have this healing aspect to it, I think it might be what the Atlanta art community needs.”
Those who enjoyed Very Healing may find it worth their while to follow @atlhabibae and keep tabs on the project over the next few months.
“I really do think that if [Very Healing] continues to be a platform where we can share art openly and try to have this healing aspect to it, I think it might be what the Atlanta art community needs.” – Harrison Wayne Gallo
On June 20th, Samiyah will launch a second exhibit, “Summer Soulstice.” Artists of all types and levels of experience are welcome to submit their work until June 10th. Contact Samiyah via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and stay tuned to Habibae’s Instagram for details.