The Story behind We Are Together 2020
by Director Sherry Liu
In March, when Canadian cities began to enter lockdown, my life as a university student rapidly shifted from spending time on campus to staying home and taking classes online. I strictly followed the rules of quarantine, and every evening at 7:30 pm, I would hear lively cheering from quarantined residents in neighboring buildings in support of frontline healthcare workers risking their lives for us. I thought to myself, what can I do as an art student to contribute, even in a small way?
When I learned about U of T’s COVID-19 Student Engagement initiative, I decided to seize the opportunity to develop an art project in response to the pandemic. Everyone around the world is adapting to a new way of living, and I became curious about others’ experiences with the pandemic. Even though some large-scale online art galleries continue to feature works of established artists during the pandemic, grassroots artists and other global citizens needed a platform to share their stories.
"Self-Portrait", submission by Keirsten Read
If I could curate an online gallery of artworks related to COVID-19, it would become a source of collective memory for the entire global community. This idea initiated We Are Together 2020. Since many services are moving online, my team also wanted to turn our online gallery into a physical publication, which will be mailed to artists and buyers, serving a more personal purpose. The profit made through sales will also be used to support COVID-19 research.
We then started creating everything from scratch, including social media platforms, websites, posters, graphics, marketing plans, and so on. This project came to be a very marketing heavy project, even though I did not anticipate it to be. Marketing was important because we wanted to include international artworks and stories to form a more dynamic collection. This required not only our efforts but also those from artists and writers around the world. We started reaching out to artists while also encouraging public submissions. In order to find the right artists for the project, we had to have a clear theme for the publication and the collection overall, for which I started to conduct in-depth research on the impacts of the pandemic in different countries and regions.
"KitaPastiMenang", submission by Khal Khalidz
It is almost inevitable that the theme of the collection has been influenced by my personal identity and observations. The theme transformed as I learned more and more through research and discussions with teammates.
My initial plan to include light-hearted content about people’s daily quarantine life appeared to be too superficial in light of the pandemic’s toll. I am a university student with the ability to pay for my rent, receive financial aid, and study and work from home, yet I realized that many others did not have the choice to stay home. The truth is, this is all thanks to those who are fighting in the frontline. Therefore, it is only right for me to dedicate this project to them.
Moreover, my duo identity as an immigrant and an art student prompted me to give voice to fellow international students and travelers who have difficulties going back home due to travel restrictions, as well as fellow artists who want to express their appreciation for frontline workers or other relevant topics through their chosen media. Therefore, we have included artworks of an array of media ranging from drawings and paintings to videography and music. We hope that frontline workers, artists, and international travelers can find representation in this collection of work.
One of the pieces from Lockdown Moods - A Series, submission by Zainab Hatim
Image submission by Nan Nan
I see this project as an art project rather than a journalism project because of two reasons. First, even though it includes artworks of different media, it overall has a focus on visual arts. Second, this project consists of two parts: the website and the publication. The two forms are interwoven in representing this curated collection. Besides writings, paintings, and drawings, pieces in digital media such as video and music will also be showcased on the website, and will be included in the publication through textual description and artist statements.
As we are all readjusting to a new way of living under the impact of COVID-19, this project has also been a learning opportunity for me. I have learned that positivity does not have to be conveyed through aesthetically pleasing lighthearted content, but rather it comes through much stronger from real stories in which humanity battles the heavy obstacles in our way.
I hope this project can bring forth hope and delight, in whichever form it might be.
July 25, 2020