Artist Check-In, How are we doing?
Two Nashville-based artists, Vadis Turner and Nuveen Barwari check in on social distancing, art making, and give advice to other artists during the COVID-19 crisis.
Question: What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
Nuveen Barwari (NB): I am currently working on a body of work that involves the transformation of found materials and discarded items into paintings and apparel. I’ve been exploring the intervals between colliding cultures, languages and places through transforming a living room in my parents house. I’ve been calling the installation, “2 half-truths make a new truth”. I critique and take ownership of orientalism by creating these installations that have elements of an over-exaggerated domestic living space but simultaneously have the potential to become a place of commerce such as a bazaar and or even a place of worship. Living between different languages, cultures, and places creates an imbalance; different modes of existence; a third place. The abstraction and deconstruction of rugs into multiple patterns is connected to this idea of creating a new space or redrawing the borders to a stateless nation. I am forced to participate in a transcontinental, improvisational exchange of materials between Kurdistan and America. This exchange often extends beyond the studio, installations, and manipulation of materials and into performances, podcasts, a transcontinental zine, and through an online shop called Fufu Creations that supplies apparel internationally. So, social distancing hasn’t affected the recording of our podcast or zines, however, it has affected studio access, upcoming shows, and frequent trips to the post office!
Vadis Turner (VT): I am creating work for my September show at Geary in NYC. I have been sculpting dyed bedsheets into wall reliefs that resemble splayed moths. These shapes and materials will be juxtaposed with architectural elements. Researching Brutalist buildings has led to explorations of the expressive potential of grids. I have also been making limp/wobbly grids with strips of leather. Trying to figure out the next steps for those… Working alone for long stretches is a crucial part of any artistic practice. Artists are always hunting for pockets of time and distance to work. But the nature of this time and distance is very different. Since the schools closed, I have no idea what time it is. It is either day or night. What I normally do during those hours has reversed. I love on my two young sons during the day, and keep the momentum going in my home studio at night. The news seeps in through the cracks, bearing fear and worry. The intensifying information is counter-productive to creativity—which I rely on in the studio and with the boys. I listen to audiobooks while I sew and am currently revisiting the Odyssey….. so glad I don’t have to homeschool my kids on that.
Question: What advice and tips can you give to artists during this time?
NB: Don’t stop making. I know a lot of artists who can’t work in their studios right now and I just want to say that you are not alone! I rely on art and my community of artists to get me through hard times therefore we need to keep making! I highly recommend that you read “Your Art Will Save Your Life” by Beth Pickens. Make the best of your situation and even if you don’t have access to your regular tools or studio it’s okay we are artists therefore we are problem solvers and we can get through this and find a way to continue to make and do things that will fuel our practice! I have been reassuring myself that, “I’ve been making art in my parents’ house ever since I was little. The kitchen table is great for cutting fabric and the bathtubs are big enough to wash silk screens in.” I am using this as an opportunity to collaborate with my parents, reflect, write, read, and collect.
VT: Unimaginable changes are in process. I mostly look forward to seeing what will be born from this vulnerable chapter. People will change how they live, love, and work. Beauty will come. Artists are hopefully watching, listening, thinking, and creating. Although we are physically distanced, we are all connected by this weird and wonderful type of work. Do the work. Put in the hours. Make it hard, and then enjoy it. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Question: How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
NB: I have noticed a lot of people using various social media platforms to support one another and that is exactly what I have been doing! I am trying to stay connected through Instagram and other platforms and still recording podcasts on the Newave with my cohost Pael Abdullah who lives in Minnesota! I think the community needs to continue to share each other’s works, share resources and support small local businesses in any way possible!
VT: Social distancing has inspired more virtual studio visits. FaceTiming for feedback has re-connected me with people and perspectives that had felt far away. I have some amusing long-term threads going with a few artist friends. I exchange rejection letters and poems – a perfect combination – with one friend. I send pictures of failed experiments to another. Sometimes you don’t want feedback; you just need a witness. Community support for artists is hard to define at the moment. There will be heartbreaking losses for all walks of life and ways of work, but artists supporting the community is certainly nothing new. After the recent tornado in Nashville, right before the coronavirus took hold, local artists and galleries galvanized to raise money and support victims. We will undoubtedly come together again…once it’s safe to leave the house.
More About the Artists:
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Turner received a BFA and MFA from Boston University and has exhibited her work internationally. Selected exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum, New York; National Gallery, Prague; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA and Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, 21c Museum, Tennessee State Museum, Kentucky Arts and Crafts Museum and the Egon Schiele Art Centrum. In 2016, Turner was awarded the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant.
Nuveen Barwari is a Kurdish American multidisciplinary artist. Barwari’s art is influenced by her family histories, being born in the U.S in 1995, and spending her adolescent years in Duhok, Kurdistan. She completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Studio Art from Tennessee State University in 2019 and is a 2022 MFA candidate at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Bringing together the fragmented state of diasporic living and membership in a stateless community, Utilizing painting, photography, screen printing, mixed media and installations, Barwari aims to spark social commentary about migration, the struggles of refugee resettlement, transnational negotiations of self, and managing Islamophobia. She is the founder of the brand, Fufu Creations supplying apparel and art internationally. Fufu Creations was a featured designer in Kurdistan’s first ever fashion week in 2018.