During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Cibele Vieira is a Brazilian-born artist whose work has been exhibited at Petzel Gallery, Gallery Geranmayeh, Valentine, Front Room Gallery, Christopher Henry Gallery, and Soho Photo in NYC; Ateliê 397 Gallery, the Bienal de Fotografia de São Paulo, and Casa de Cultura Mário Quintana, in Brazil. Her work is in the collections of the Ado Malagoli Museum and Rio Grande do Sul Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil, and the Kiyosato Museum in Japan, and has been published in The Village Voice, Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Visura Magazine, L Magazine, Culture Front, Washington City Paper, O Globo, Correio Braziliense, Zero Hora and Private Magazine. She was awarded First Place, Vision Awards 2000, by the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts, and is currently an artist in residence at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
AS: How are you coping?
CV: The first two weeks it was difficult to cope with the overwhelming distraction of news and hard to sleep. My days were filled with anxiety and I woke up in the middle of the night, but at some point I managed to find some peace of mind through my work and life experience by establishing a daily routine of working and began to put things in perspective.
For the last two years I’ve been working with a non-profit organization that places artists in city hospitals to work with cancer patients. In one, I worked with a number of bone marrow transplant recipients, amazing people who spend months in the hospital in almost total confinement in worse conditions than most of us experience in quarantine. These patients are in a hospital room, sick as one can get, fighting for their lives. Yet many still found energy to laugh and make art with me. So I decided to honor my relationship with them and stop whining and try to make the best of it. So I’ve been working daily in my home studio and have also started to generate video content to send to patients if they are looking for something easy to make.
AS: Has anything changed in your routine?
CV: I had a routine regimented by the minute, from waking up to going to bed because I worked in the hospitals, am raising a child, running the usual errands, exercising and, most important, keeping up with my artistic work. When the pandemic hit, my partner, the artist Peter Fox, traveled to Philadelphia to help his elderly parents who had been discharged from different hospitals that week.
As a cancer survivor, Peter is also considered at-risk, and we thought it would be safer for him to stay there, because our 9-year-old son, Sam, who was still going to school, might be a potential carrier. We couldn’t take the risk, so Sam and I stayed in New York. I thought a routine would keep things moving.
Though life is looser, our dog still wakes me up at 6:30, wanting to be fed. I let Sam sleep a little longer, and take that time to go to my basement studio. My mind is fresh, giving me the mental distance to analyze work and decide which way I’m going to go. I also do some imagery research online, flipping through books and other publications to get inspired.
When Sam wakes around eight, I make breakfast and he goes to online school. I do household chores, staying available in case he needs help, generally with math (luckily I like math!). After noon, we have lunch, then Sam reads for an hour then can do what he pleases. This is when I can go deep into studio work for at least four to six hours, a luxury I never had before. Right now I’m working on a series I started at the beginning of last year, my first body of work in watercolor, called Tardigrade Wars and its Allies. It was first inspired by children’s drawings, but now is being shaped by the pandemic.
Have you had a show or other creative opportunities canceled?
CV: At the beginning of the year I was selected to receive a grant from the Queens Art Council to produce a solo show at the Lorimoto Gallery. I signed the contract, and the check was supposed to arrive by the end of March. I’m still waiting to hear from them. I’ve already bought the art materials for the show and that deeply worries me. More upsetting was the letter rescinding my contract with the hospital I’ve worked most with, which was not only the largest part of my income, but something I did with great passion. I know that this job may not come back, as hospitals will have to implement even stricter safety policies.
Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
Though I’ve been calm, even content in this abnormal daily routine, I often feel very disturbed. I live in Queens, the hardest-hit neighborhood in the city, where many of the immigrants that make this city function are paying with their lives for the incompetence of our government. As a New Yorker, I know the city will come back from the ashes like a Phoenix, because the world needs New York and all it has to offer: its art, culture, knowledge, diversity and uniqueness.
AS: What matters most to you right now?
CV: My darkest feelings have been towards Brazil, my native country, where things are deteriorating very fast. Brazil’s president, Bolsonaro, is still in denial about the lethality of the virus, calling it “a little cold,” pledging to stop social distancing and the quarantines ordered by mayors and governors around the country, and concealing the number of infections and deaths from COVID-19. The country is barely testing people for the virus and the dead are being buried as pneumonia patients. It keeps me awake at night thinking what will happen when it arrives in the shantytowns around the country.
When I talk to friends and relatives in Brazil, I beg them to wear masks and observe social distancing. I show my support because nothing else I say can make a difference when their lives are in the hands of a lunatic. There are doctors and nurses in my family and I fear for their lives. Bolsonaro’s government is not providing hospitals with even minimal PPE. My feelings are boiling.
Any thoughts about the road ahead?
Right now it seems quite bleak, as nobody knows what the “new normal” is going to be. I will probably be out of work for a long time (and am still trying unsuccessfully to apply for unemployment benefits), but I know I won’t be alone, as many will have greater challenges to face.
Nobody will come out of this without losing something precious. I worry about my family and the greater good. Besides financial problems that will come, my heart aches to know if and when I can hug loved ones in Brazil. When my thoughts take this turn, I go out to listen to the birds, and if the birds are still singing, I know I will be fine.