Photo essay for the Special Initiative “From Fear to Resilience: Visual Storytelling of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia” by SEA Junction and Partners.
|Title:||Exploring Art and Nature while Stranded in Bogota|
I am a Filipino-American textile artist who lives in between New York and spends significant time in Asia. Last January I was flying into Manila from New York for an art show in February. There were murmurs about COVID 19, though it still seemed distant.
Little did I know that a week after I left Manila for Bogota where I planned to stop for some projects on the way to New York, all three places would go into lock-down at slightly different times. Even if I have been to Bogota before, the thought of being stranded in less familiar territory was in many ways unsettling. Also, I felt out of my element, not being able to work in my studio.
It was nature that helped me find new strength. Bogota is about 8,000+ feet above sea level. A city filled with parks and walking trails. A city lush with all sorts of flora. So, while walking my Basset, which enabled me to go out of the house for limited time, I started to bring my camera with me and to take photos of the beauty all around me. Occasionally, I would also attach my GoPro on my basset to have a wider view of the surroundings.
The initial lockdown was very strict, but one person per household was allowed to go to groceries, visit elderlies and walk their dog. There was supposedly a limit of 30 minutes for walking the dog, but I confess that sometimes it took longer. This done two to three times a day gave me some respite and exercise. The second stage was somewhat more lenient. Business were allowed to open, couples could walk their dogs together and there was no longer a liquor ban. I could also get permission to go out of the city for some explorations in nature. Unfortunately, as I write we are back to stage one as the infections have been raising again.
In the midst of the crisis I found an endless source of inspiration in the exuberant foliage and vegetation. I became enchanted in nature’s way of reclaiming man-made structures, vines and roots crawling all over each other and on walls and tree trunks. A variety of cacti and succulents growing almost everywhere, an assortment of magical looking flowers with intoxicating fragrance and various gnarled trees almost sculptural in form.
As an artist working with textiles, I started to combine the photos of urban spaces conquered by nature with textiles threads. Textile in my art is about archiving and threading memories of “Relationships, Places, Objects” in this case of our relation to nature and to the pandemic. I also mix it with other visual work, like short videos and documentaries of life under COVID-19 to express my feelings and thoughts.
I really believe that nature has its own way and power and will always take back what belongs to her. Climbing plants on walls or high grass closing unused gates. In a sense, this current world crisis can be as Nature’s, hopefully brief, reprieve. I hope that it will teach us to value what we took for granted. Nature, human relationships, caring for our well-being, for each other and for the planet and learn to……“just stopping to smell the flowers” or “taking some air” as the video posted below encourages us to do.
In this essay, I tell the story of my explorations as an outsider stranded in Bogota because of the pandemic and how walking with my dog and immersing myself in nature and urban spaces helped me be productive. I present some of the art work resulting from my walks with the basset combined with videos and photos of what struck me while walking.
Before the pandemic, as a foreigner to Bogota, I always wondered why no one seemed to enjoy the large windows and balconies in their apartments, not even during the weekends. I was then told that better-off city dwellers tend to go out to their “Fincas” (country houses). But now, I could see from the street, that the being home almost in an involuntary confinement, led them to adapt and learn to utilize what once was taken for granted: people started to look out from their large windows, use their balconies, having meals and drinks outdoors and taking in some sun.
Besides watching folks indoors coping and adapting, I was also taken by the signs people put on the buildings to signify their hope, resilience, and a positive outlook. They invite us to help those in need, give “Mas Amor” (More Love) and trust that Todo Vas Estas Bien” (Todo Estara Bien) – “Everything will be alright”
Ged Merino is a Filipino American mixed media artist based in New York. He is the Founder of Bliss on Bliss Art Projects New York. The cross-cultural artist run space provides a platform for experimentation and presentation of new works for contemporary artists, writers, filmmakers and performers. Textile in Ged Merino’s work becomes a realm of memory in which the artist weaves his biography with his art history through a material that threads through seemingly separate, even disparate, worlds, as if archiving sentimentality. His artistic process involves the transposition of experiences made possible by migration and settlement.
“From Fear to Resilience: Visual Storytelling of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia” is a special initiative of SEA Junction and its partners Beyond Food, GAATW and Bangkok Tribune to promote an alternative narrative of survival, resilience and solidarity. For more background and other stories click here.
SEA Junction, established under the Thai non-profit organization Foundation for Southeast Asia Studies (ForSEA), aims to foster understanding and appreciation of Southeast Asia in all its socio-cultural dimensions- from arts and lifestyles to economy and development. Conveniently located at Room 408 of the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center or BACC (across MBK, BTS National Stadium), SEA Junction facilitates public access to knowledge resources and exchanges among students, practitioners and Southeast Asia lovers. For more information see www.seajunction.org, join the Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/1693058870976440/ and follow us on twitter and Instagram @seajunction
“Mas Amor” (Photo Slide Video by Ged Marino)