During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Carmen Paulino is a visual artist who works on providing community art programming in hospitals, community centers, and senior centers around New York City. Raised in the El Barrio section of New York City, her love for the arts was inspired by the murals in her diverse neighborhood, and her father who performed as a musician in several traditional salsa bands. As a young child, she watched her mother and grandmother knit, crochet, and sew unique traditional quilts and patterns. These experiences inspired her to develop her own techniques and produce her own mixed media works that incorporate her own life experiences, visuals from her immediate surroundings, and the inspiration that comes from living in a diverse melting pot of cultures. Paulino works at the Creative Center of University Settlement House, and in 2019 was artist-in-residence at El Barrio’s Art Space PS 109.
AS: How are you coping?
CP: I have two children, ages 13 and 8, and my husband is a paramedic. I try to be as positive as I can, but it’s hard. My husband sees a lot of devastation in low-income neighborhoods from COVID-19. Recently he saw a guy his own age in cardiac arrest. He did everything he could to revive him, but couldn’t. It’s very hard on him.
Since the beginning of the epidemic and quarantine, I wanted to make some crocheted art pieces to inspire and uplift our community, first responders and essential workers. I placed a big Rainbow and knotted Thank You / Appreciation signs in a highly commuted area. I was motivated by my husband, an FDNY paramedic, and have personally witnessed not only the dangers he has to encounter, but have dealt with the anxiety and despair of him coming back home to our family after walking out into danger with no break and no days off. Because of those emotions, I wanted to let the doctors, nurses, essential workers, and first responders know they are being thought of; that I care and appreciate all that they do to keep the country and, more specifically, my city going. I also hope it will inspire them to keep helping those in need.
I work with various size needles, and use acrylic yarn because it lasts longer in the outdoor weather. I don’t plan the design ahead of time, but work “free form.” In the tribute pieces, I tried to coordinate with the colors of each particular service: blue for the MTA and NYPD, red for the FDNY. I’m very fast, a “speed crocheter,” and all the pieces you see in this blog were made in three days.
AS: How has your routine changed?
CP: My routine has changed dramatically due to the pandemic. I play “makeup” with my daughter and video games with my son. We bake and paint, and walk around the block once or twice a week. Since 2015, I’ve worked on a project called Beautifying The Community, and have provided free art classes to our seniors at senior centers, street fairs, hospitals, and various other locations. Now that my schedule is completely clear, I can focus on my own artwork, and also my family and health.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
CP: I’ve felt a great deal of sorrow for the countless families suffering from the loss of a family member, and I wanted to counteract the fear and anxiety by making pieces that would bring a sense of hope and joy to all those suffering.
AS: What matters most right now?
CP: My health, my safety, and practicing social distancing so we can fight this disease and stop its spread. This time has helped me focus on my inner self and realize the importance of those working right now. I believe it is paramount for us isolated at home to show our appreciation for everyone who is risking their life to keep us and our families safe.
I also want to improve on my patience, kindness, integrity, respect, loyalty, honesty and love. All of these things represent what matters most in life! You can get better at mastering your craft, life and habits.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
CP: I believe this experience has brought great awareness for the changing the way we manage and maintain our health and hygiene. It has also broadened my outlook on how simple pieces of artwork can make big changes and help inspire those who need hope in difficult times. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, and had to stay inside and crochet with my mother and grandmother. Other kids said crochet “was for grandmothers,” so for a long time I kept it to myself. But maybe if you can crochet, you can sit down with your grandmother. We are stronger together than separated. I want to be able to heal and uplift the community.