Now through June 30, Bryant University Professor Martha Kuhlman will have several pieces of artwork featured in the “Picturing the Pandemic: Images from the Pandemic Journaling Project and the Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive” exhibit at Providence Public Library (150 Empire St., Providence).
This project, headed by the Rhode Island Historical Society and Providence Public Library (PPL), asked everyday people to document their pandemic life and contribute their experiences to a virtual public archive. Kuhlman, who has an interest in visual art, looked at ways she could engage with the topic artistically. She says the New York Times published directions on how to make a COVID-19 pinata, so she created one with her son and photographed it. This image and four of her other works of art were added to the RI COVID-19 Archive.
Reflecting on her creations, Kuhlman recalls the inspiration behind her work “100,000.”
“I remember tracking how things were getting worse over time. At a certain point, the number of deaths in the United States hit 100,000, and the New York Times put this on their front page and listed all the names of those who passed away,” says Kuhlman. “I was so blown away by the sheer number and scope of the tragedy that I made a collage using that newspaper. What you see is a little bit of the ‘100,000’ [headline] and a river of names pouring out into the landscape.”
At the exhibit’s March 22 opening reception, founders of the Pandemic Journaling Project and the Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive spoke, and attendees could document their COVID-19 experiences from the past three years. Kuhlman says the exhibit features a variety of films, photos, diary reflections, and artwork.
Kuhlman considered ways to adopt the project as part of her writing workshop class when she heard about the project. The Professor of English and Cultural Studies gave first-year students the following prompt: “Reflect on your own experiences with the COVID quarantine. What was difficult? What kept you going?”
From the responses, she selected a handful that touched on different aspects of students’ experiences and submitted them to the RI COVID-19 Archive. The students accepted are Manuel Rodriguez, Justin Faragosa, Charlotte Christo, Lauren Adriaansen, Grace Yost, and one anonymous individual.
“The works included one student who had an epiphany about her own personality; a musician whose musical was canceled; another student who worked at a hardware store; a student from the Dominican Republic; and a student whose mother passed away from cancer,” Kuhlman says.
The Picturing the Pandemic exhibit is in the Joan T. Boghossian Gallery on the third floor of the library and is open during regular library hours.
“It’s pretty impressive and is beautifully displayed,” Kuhlman says.