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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

The 6 memorable artworks that sum up 2020: from empty streets to Black Lives Matter

From Zoom art to drone shots of Dubai in lockdown, these images could only happen in 2020

People visit a memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31, 2020. AP Photo
People visit a memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31, 2020. AP Photo

2020 has been a year when many of us were glued to our screens – working, Zooming, doomscrolling – as we saw a world changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with other industries, the art world turned to the online realm to keep things going. At the same time, artists and photographers also documented and reflected on the challenges of our time, providing comfort and bringing new ideas for many.

Here, we have rounded up six works that truly captured the ups and downs from the year.

eL Seed’s Zoom artwork

Before 2020, the video conferencing tool Zoom may have been of little use to most of us. This year, we were inundated with invites to work meetings, gatherings, classes and catch-ups.

In the midst of this, French-Tunisian artist eL Seed saw an opportunity to create art. With the help of 49 participants, he created a digital tapestry that formed one of his signature colourful calligraphic prints. The artist did this by giving each participant a section of the calligraphic work, then allowed them into the Zoom meeting one by one until they formed the complete image.

Lebanese Lady of Liberty rises from rubble

Less than three months after the devastating blast in Beirut, a figure had emerged from the debris as a statement of defiance and hope. Dubbed Bride of the Revolution, the glass and metal statue of a woman emerging from the rubble was made by Lebanese activists and unveiled in October.

The figure is made out of the debris from the explosion, with legs made of glass, a dress constructed out of sheet metal and hair of steel wires.

A statue of a woman by Lebanese artist Hayat Nazer, made out of leftover glass, rubble, and a broken clock marking the time (6:08 PM) of the mega explosion at the port of Beirut is placed opposite to the site of the blast in the Lebanese capital's harbour, to mark the one year anniversary of the beginning of the anti-government protest movement across the country, on October 20, 2020. - Hundreds marched in Beirut on the weekend to mark the first anniversary of a non-sectarian protest movement that has rocked the political elite but has yet to achieve its goal of sweeping reform. A whirlwind of hope and despair has gripped the country in the year since protests began, as an economic crisis and a devastating port explosion two months ago pushed Lebanon deeper into decay. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION
A statue of a woman by Lebanese artist Hayat Nazer, made out of leftover glass, rubble, and a broken clock marking the time (6.08pm) of the mega explosion at the port of Beirut. AFP

In an interview with The National, Hayat Nazer, the artist behind the sculpture said it was meant to show that “we [the Lebanese people] will not burn, we will not break, we will be victorious”.

Making connections through art

Can you share a connection with a stranger through a phone call? Artist collective 600 Highwaymen presented an interactive theatre experience A Thousand Ways at NYU Abu Dhabi as a way to bring people together as social distancing became the norm in everyday life.

Participants called into a conference line and followed a series of prompts from a recorded voice. Callers were then asked questions that went beyond the usual small talk, aimed at evoking emotion, the instructions turned the callers into performers and asked them to imagine dramatic visualisations together.

600 Highwaymen described the work as exploring “the line between strangeness and kinship, distance and proximity, and how the most intimate assembly can become profoundly radical".

'Wake me up when this is over'

In April, a Florida mother gained worldwide recognition for her sidewalk chalk drawings depicting Disney characters dealing with the pandemic.

It started when Casey Drake drew a character from Frozen on the sidewalk for her daughter. Adding her own funny captions to the drawings, Drake was able to cheer up her neighbours, one of whom shared a photo of the work on Facebook that went viral.

Since then, the self-taught artist has been gaining followers and sharing more drawings online.

Drone shots of an empty Dubai

Bachir Moukarzel’s haunting drone videos of Dubai’s empty highways are unforgettable. It was April when the emirate’s stay-at-home orders instructed the public to remain in their residences. Sheikh Zayed Road, the main artery of the city, became free of the usual rush of cars and the surrounding sidewalks were barren of pedestrians.

The videographer was able to produce the footage through a collaboration with Dubai Media Office, Dubai TV and Dubai Police. He filmed areas such as JBR and Downtown Dubai. “It was emotional somehow … I had goosebumps,” he told The National in an interview.

Say their names: tributes to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor

After the murder of George Floyd, 46, in May, protests filled the streets of American cities as the public demanded racial justice and a police reform. It marked the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which arose in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a man who shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin the year prior.

Soon, BLM slogans, as well as tributes to Floyd and other victims of police shootings, including Breonna Taylor, cropped up on public spaces, on buildings, sidewalks and even monuments.

People visit a memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31, 2020. AP Photo
People visit a memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31, 2020. AP Photo

Among the first was a mural of Floyd by community artists Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain and Xena Goldman in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. The site became a memorial for Floyd, with visitors laying flowers and placards in front of it.

Over the summer, the BLM movement spread to cities around the world with some protests leading to clashes between marchers and authorities, captured by documentary photographers on the ground.

Updated: December 31, 2020 05:08 PM

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