Outside the ICA, images provide ‘a reminder of hope during difficult times’

A micro-residency series through the Institute for Contemporary Art and Studio Two Three provides local artists a forum to create during the pandemic.

The facade of the Institute for Contemporary Art covered in artwork both on the exterior and in t...
A small series of art projects outside the ICA provide visual commentary on the COVID-19 pandemic and a summer of protests after the death of George Floyd. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

The art on display in the windows of the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art provides a visual representation of the disparate feelings and messages of five artists during these current turbulent times. One work depicts a drawn figure crouching with one hand on the ground in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another shows the United States, separated from its geographic neighbors and floating like an island. 

They are part of a small series of works created by artists as part of a micro-residency through the ICA and Studio Two Three. The works, produced this spring and summer, will remain on display through the end of the month.

“We were tasked with responding to the uncertainty and fear [and] anxiety around the massively disruptive forces of COVID-19,” said artist Aimee Joyaux whose piece of a solitary United States encompasses everything from isolation and a loss of trust to the issues of poverty and racism.

“I’ve pictured the United States separate from our geographic neighbors. We are upside down in every sense — disoriented and alone,” she said.

The ICA was looking for opportunities to support local artists when the nonprofit Studio Two Three reached out with the idea of artist micro-residencies to create responsive work to COVID-19.

“We asked ourselves, ‘how can we help the creative community and the people we have worked with in the past during the quarantine?’” said Meredith Carrington, the ICA’s interim manager of design and communications.

The windows of the Institute for Contemporary Art with artwork displayed.
The art projects were created as part of a local artist micro-residency through the ICA and Studio Two Three. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Joining forces

Studio Two Three provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to its studio space at 3300 W. Clay St. to over 100 artists, said Kate Fowler, the studio’s development director.

The recent VCU collaboration with Studio Two Three provided opportunities for five artists to continue to produce work during quarantine during a series of one-week residencies throughout the late spring and early summer. The five artists chosen had prior experience with Studio Two Three, which allowed them to maximize their residency time. The artists received a stipend from the ICA for the week they were in the studio.

“We wanted them to feel supported even at a time when there weren’t as many resources,” Carrington said. 

Since the start of the micro-residencies, the artwork has shifted from a focus on COVID-19 to creating more art in response to the death of George Floyd and racial injustice.

“Every piece is responsive,” Fowler said. 

During their residencies, the five artists had full, private access to Studio Two Three’s 13,000-square-foot facility as well as the equipment and supplies needed to create their art. They also had private studio space inside the studio and the opportunity to use the space while the studio was closed to the public. 

“They could come in, be themselves and use our tools,” said Ashley Hawkins, executive director of Studio Two Three. “We wanted to provide support.”

The stipends from the ICA helped ensure that the artists were getting paid during their residency. “The ICA has also given us an additional budget for providing supplies,” Fowler said.

The Institute for Contemporary Art as viewed from Belvidere Street.
The works, produced this spring and summer, will remain on display through the end of the month. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

A personal expression           

VCU School of the Arts graduate Sana Masud was familiar with the Studio Two Three space before she was offered the micro-residency.

“I was honored and humbled they thought of me,” said Masud, who has lost work during the pandemic. “This offered me a stipend, plus I could produce work. It was nice to have a week that I didn’t have to hear the news every day.”

Masud, who majored in sculpture, works with everything from multimedia illustrations to prints. Her painting of the drawn figure crouching with one hand on the ground in reaction to the pandemic can be interpreted either as someone looking down or rising up. 

“It projects the isolation of being alone and weighed down but moving forward. The context changes now that people see they are not as alone as they feel,” she said.

Masud likes to use grief and humor, dueling emotions, with many of her drawn figures.

“I try to make work that is expressive enough to be able to hold feelings that seem contradictory but actually balance each other out. For this piece, I was thinking about how everywhere in the world people are dealing with grief in close proximity,” she said. 

She’s glad Studio Two Three and the ICA came together to organize something for the community and artists, she said.

Response to the art in the ICA’s windows has been positive, Carrington said. The ICA is partnering with The Valentine to archive the work after it comes down. 

“People have been taking photos and sharing them through social media,” Carrington said.

The ICA also has been providing free prints of the artwork by the five artists — Mark Strandquist, Nontsi Mutiti, CeCe Rios of Guard n’ Flags, Joyaux and Masud.

“They can get [the prints] from the hot-pink newspaper box at Broad and Belvidere [streets] in front of the ICA,” Carrington said. “They serve as a reminder of hope during difficult times. It’s a nice way for artists to get their work out into the world in an encouraging way.”

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