Corona Memoires: We All Discovered New Talents

Saturday 9 May 202003:27 pm

As the weeks turn into months and the seasons change, coronavirus continues to draw every relationship into its web. We have all had to adjust to novel routines which have become “our new normal”. Marriages have been put to the test in every corner of the planet. Our isolation has physically brought us closer together even though (ironically) the officially sanctioned prescription to keep the coronavirus at bay is to physically or socially distance. “Go figure”, as they say in America. 

Virginia Woolf wrote an extended essay entitled A Room of One’s Own. In it she writes about the importance of having a place where one can lock the door in order to have the freedom to write. Our recommended confinement has turned me into a writer. I say this with great humility and with great deference to Mrs. Woolf, although we do have some geography in common. I grew up in a house where her father, the man of letters and mountaineer, Sir Leslie Stephen lived, as did she as a child, although I recollect reading somewhere that she wasn’t very happy when she lived there. She generally was not a very jolly person but she wrote at a time where women were still considered inferior to men intellectually and that must have caused her some consternation.

A physical shutdown of the outside world made us shelter in our rooms while still managing to connect with friends and strangers. I never would have imagined that the pandemic would lead me to need a room of my own

Today, I write in two rooms: my very own bedroom and my living room. I use a pen (a blue ballpoint that came with a packet from a meeting that I attended for the Middlebury College Museum and Visual Arts Council last year) and a golden colored journal that I had bought from the Mount Street Printers in London a few years ago. Writing has enabled me to search for my voice and it turns out that I have a lot to say. I am struck by the profundity of my memory.

In isolation, I am adding new friendships that I have formed virtually since the lockdown and developing the old ones that I have rekindled with the help of my iPhone and other devices. I have taken quickly to Zoom meetings and I must say that this has been a technology that I have embraced. Although it can be frustrating and I have encountered some difficulty in joining meetings, on the whole it has worked. As Martha Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing”. It has brought me closer to others albeit virtually and I have found this soothing. It has allowed me to join webinars and Instagram videos, and educate myself by way of all the online lectures and courses that seem to have proliferated.

Recently, I stumbled upon the Saudi photographer Abdulnasser Gharem on a live web chat and listened to him recount how his experiences in the Saudi military informed his practice. Another conversation I had the great luck to join by happenstance was with Lebanese architect Jemma Chidiac and Saudi interior designer Nawaf Al Nassar. The theme was on the spirituality of architecture, focusing on the Sancaklar Mosque in Turkey. This strikingly contemporary mosque is located on the outskirts of Istanbul and designed by architect Emre Arolat. I discovered a pared-down design which is unadorned and well-integrated into a flat and understated landscape. A stone roof and a simple minaret are visible with tufts of grass sprouting around the stonework. Lights are set beneath the steps in crevices, and only a sliver of light provided by a skylight orients the worshippers towards Mecca. It is a quiet antithesis to the neo-Ottoman creations being erected by Erdoğan.

In isolation, I am adding new friendships that I have formed virtually since the lockdown and developing the old ones that I have rekindled with the help of my iPhone and other devices. I have also taken quickly to Zoom meetings!

The interior took me back to the island of Teshima in Japan and specifically to the eponymous museum by Ryue Nishizawa which houses a single exhibiti by Rei Naito entitled Matrix. There droplets of water are continuously at play in a totally meditative space not unlike the aforementioned mosque. No explanation of the technique was offered when we asked the guide for one, as it was deemed proprietary. Sometimes, it is better to leave things unexplained. Misshapen droplets of water floated up from the ground in different directions. A miracle of engineering and nature. Full stop.  

A month ago I was asked to participate in a webinar called Behind Closed Doors where I was invited to share my home interior with the Museum of Art and Design (MAD). This took place last Tuesday where I presented virtually (my husband was the camera man and prompter when words failed me) to friends and patrons of the museum, and shared with them stories of design, art and photography that I have lived with, and with which l have become even more familiar since the lockdown. The next day I joined them in a webinar about jewelry-making as we peeked into the studio of a Swiss designer. That same evening, I joined a webinar from Aspen where a group – which included a curator, an artist, a gallery owner and a foundation director – discussed the current state and the future of the arts. The general consensus was that a humbling was in the works. The gallery owner highlighted the escalating financial costs and the strains of participating in art fairs which seem to have multiplied exponentially over the last few years. The coronavirus allowed the artist to close his doors and create art without the pressures of creating fodder for show in Miami or Basel.

I will leave you with a parting thought. I never would have imagined that the pandemic would lead me to need a room of my own, creating the possibility of fashioning a writing space. The sliver of light in the mosque in Istanbul directs the believer towards Mecca. A physical shutdown of the outside world made us shelter in our rooms while still managing to connect with friends and strangers. We have many engineers and technicians to thank for that. I would be remiss in not thanking the late Steve Jobs (whose biological father was Syrian) for playing an elemental role and permitting us to remain connected. Shukran Steve. And shukran Hussein. I write and you edit and then we both smile.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Raseef22

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