What does it mean to be a studio art student, in a time of the Covid-19 crisis? The lives of college students across the United States and around the globe, changed when classes were moved from in-person brick and mortar buildings on campus, to Zoom. This is what happened to Lyle Ashton Harris’ undergraduate Performance and Photography course at New York University, Steinhardt School of Education. I have been a visiting critic and occasional co-teacher for the past several years, participating in class critiques and engaging conversation in various pedagogical topics surrounding contemporary art and culture. In March, students were not allowed to return to their dorms, and without access to studio facilities, many returned to their respective homes. Now scattered around the country and in some instances also abroad, they come together each Wednesday evening via Zoom for a class at 5:45pm. A particular assignment, titled Pain & Loss, was discussed right before the shutdowns with individual meetings of which I was part. Post-quarantine, a majority of the students decided to change course regarding the direction of their project once outside of New York City. They are all experiencing upheaval, some finding contentment while others feel trapped, claustrophobic, and less inspired which is to be expected. Going from a highly liberal art school to, in some cases, a family with less open ideas regarding politics and gender identity can be very stifling. This is evident in their work.


As someone who commuted to art school from home as an undergrad student who didn’t have an email address until 1999 (my first summer abroad), I can not even begin to fathom what online classes would be like, except I can, from an adult perspective. Today, technology has added a tremendous opportunity for lives to continue within the realm of unusual circumstances. The days are getting longer, trees are budding, and flowers blooming as nature follows it’s normal pattern, yet society is in the process of changing. What arises is really up to the individual, within a collective expectation. Loneliness seems inevitable for some, and less so for others. This could also be said about creativity, self-sufficiency, or even self care. Where do you fall on the spectrum?

Present day.

A few of the students in the class are locally based and have not left New York. David Ma turned his lens to the local, deserted urban landscape of Queens. Camila Rodriguez Jimenez and Rehmat Zafar both live in Brooklyn, the later with her brother who is also a student. Others found their way with friends, family and in two cases, a police-regulated quarantine in Singapore and China respectively. As classes meet each week, they appear in squares across the zoom platform, in bedrooms, outside, sitting in darkness, eating and all muted unless sharing thoughts on their work or someone else’s. I’ve been impressed at how quickly everyone has adapted. The experience of online learning is not foreign or uncommon, but as a student who is used to having particular facilities for a studio practice, and pays a hefty fee, one could question the process of being a maker and what that entails. Fortunately, some of the students had made work prior to the quarantine and were eager for critical dialogue, and others turned inward, using this experience to further explore a relationship to their physical selves, family dynamic, culture, and past trauma.


Several of the students shared quotes that correspond with the Covid-19 crisis and their respective projects. All of their work is featured here and in the gallery below. Thank you Lyle Ashton Harris for your consistent support and inspiration in life, art and friendship. I am indebted and grateful for the opportunity to expand the dialogue in this crucial and critically important time.

“This period of isolation has been at the very least informative. Being uprooted from the life I created for myself in New York and confined to my family home has given me more than enough time to comb through the events that have shaped my identity, most of which revolve around ideas that my family have pushed on me regarding gender roles. My performance, AFAB Burial, was a cathartic way for me to release some of my anger and frustration, as well as regain a sense of control in a time where I feel otherwise powerless.” ~Talia Deane Fleischman

I made my Pain and Loss project before quarantine and with the intention of having it critiqued in person. Because I didn’t make my work within the context of covid-19, receiving feedback via Zoom felt surreal; images, which I had imagined printed and mounted in a physical space were being viewed by others through a streaming service. Though my critique experience was far outside the bounds of what I could have imagined while creating my self-portrait, I think the context of quarantine offered a new perspective from my peers, enriching my art practice and pushing me to create work that explores this new space of isolation.“~Oona Bebout

As an art student living in quarantine has forced me to live in a space that is uncomfortable. I feel as if I am only able to think about the past and the present because my future is currently uncertain. My artwork has also shifted from exploring the black body to now reflecting on my own body as I reflect on my past and take ownership but also strip away at the old. Creating my project for Pain & Loss was very uncomfortable because it put me in a vulnerable place where I was forced to acknowledge all the emotions I was currently feeling.” ~Caleb Williams

“Quarantine has been a surreal experience. Time has lost its valency and making art during this time feels simultaneously like an indulgence and a need. Life seemed so hectic, and now in the stillness there arises the possibility to focus, and to create. Now, my intentions for creating art are called to the forefront and I am able to attend to the needs and wants of my practice with new clarity. This is how it feels on most days. But to oscillate between finding sanctuary in the home and in my ‘unproductivity’ and to find some settlement of thought and attention is exhausting. And that happens every day. Everything I make is a document of this time of crisis. What is my responsibility as an artist? What do I do with what is unfolding in front of me?” ~Rehmat Zafar

Dean Montgomery Durkin, Virgil (video still), 2020

Pain & Loss


Katy Diamond Hamer is an art writer, lecturer and digital curator based in Brooklyn. She is the founding editor of Eyes Towards the Dove and her byline also includes published content in various publications. For more please visit, www.katyhamer.com