In these two years of the pandemic, many studies have taken the virus as a subject of investigation in recent months, few have tried to give a cultural and political proposal to the effect that Covid-19 has had on society, on its imagery and its cultural forms. A global pandemic, seriously perceived in Italy only around February 2020, which has questioned many of our certainties: such as the infallibility of human life, the consideration of a body as a medium, as a conductor of viruses, the importance of technology in our lives. A pandemic characterized by a deep connection with the media system, with the idea of an interconnected world, with a globalized world like never before. And it is precisely this connection that today gives the concept of "future" a meaning - but also a different atmosphere: a different interpretation of what we are today and who we will be.
The vision of art by governments and, more generally, by society, is almost exclusively linked to welfare issues. These are undoubtedly true arguments, but they hide a passive vision of art, a vision that sees artists as "producers" of useful content exclusively for the world of art.
If we shift the point of view, we see how the Covid issue has instead opened up a crucial problem that would put artists in a guiding role for society and its future.
We talked about it with Her Royal Highness the Princess Alia Al Senussi, patrons of the arts, cultural strategist, writer, public speaker, academic and advocate for Middle Eastern design.
The covid that in these two terrible years has forced us all to a great reflection. what was the reflection of the artists in your opinion?
Like all of humanity, some artists were able to overcome their isolation and anguish and make something productive of this extraordinary moment, while others were unable to overcome feelings of despair and sunk further in to depression or inertia. The artists who were able to reflect helped us all to translate our own feelings, fears and dreams into their work and for that I am grateful for the hope that they gave me.
There are artists in your opinion who have documented this global situation? If so, which ones?
The artists whom I admire in the Arab world are those that document the changes they see before them – those that have shown us the horrors and trauma of the Lebanese Civil War, like Walid Raad, Akram Zaatari and so many more; the Saudi artists who understood the power of protest art in the context of their society and helped propel their country forward like Manal Al Dowayan and Ahmed Mater.
The artists of the seventeenth century during the plague still had an idea of making a work forever! What do you think is the attitude of contemporary artists towards something that must last "forever"?
I believe in forever, and indeed that artists are those that document what we live and what we will become. A certain group of artists believes in the ephemera, but there is still that stalwart group that makes things to last and makes things that will be our history markers.
Let's talk for a moment about the art market. Has anything changed in your opinion with the pandemic? And if so, how?
Of course this is about the virtual world, people are more willing to acquire things online, and we see that in the findings of the Art Basel UBS Art Market Report, but at the same time what has changed is just a deeper commitment by real art collectors to the artists and galleries whom they love.
Many artists during epidemics or pandemics in past centuries have been able to transform a serious problem into an opportunity. Do you think artists have been able to do the same today?
I believe that artists are transformative creatures – they transform themselves, but also respond constantly to the changes that they see and experience around them.
During the pandemic we were forced to reduce or eliminate direct personal relationships. for the artists it was another blow. How did you experience this lack of contact?
I will always remember what the celebrated architect Kulapat Yantrasast said to me: it should not be called social distancing; it is physical distancing. We are social beings, and I made the concerted effort to be there for my friends emotionally and as much as I could physically in their presence.
It must be said that the pandemic has also made it possible to develop new talents. which in your opinion are noteworthy?
The ability to feel more empathetic, the ability to make and do in the virtual world as a stop gap…but I do believe that society has also forgotten some of the qualities of togetherness that created the transnational modern cosmopolitan world that I treasured pre-2016 and that is why we now find ourselves on the brink of world war.
How did the great art organizations such as fairs and institutions react to this great blow inflicted on us by the pandemic?
I was so proud by the pivot I saw in Art Basel, as the Online Viewing Rooms provided me a moment of solace and were incredibly therapeutic when I was able to give my “tours” and bring my friends together on Zoom.
Finally, I would like to ask for something personal. What did it mean for you to live such a difficult time? Do you see any solution at the moment?
I lived my darkest time in 2016, with Brexit then the election of President Trump. I felt as if the world I had lived, and then built, was crumbling around me – the cosmopolitan modern world that would make everything better. At that time, I relied on my friends and my mother to help me through, and in March 2020 I felt that it was my duty and my calling to do the same for all those that made my life better and pulled me out of my depression. I wanted to provide solace, happiness and bring joy to those around me who were feeling confused and bereft by the challenges of the moment.
This conversation with Princess Alia leads us to affirm that it is essential that the artist be reviewed today, beyond the art system, as an engine for society, for the understanding and production of our future. For this reason, it is essential that artists have an active role beyond the world of art, such as in government task forces, in consulting strategies for innovation. It should also be important that companies, research centers, universities can look at art as the opening of new research scenarios.
Giving a new meaning to the word future, this is the challenge. Not only, and not so much, to talk about the future, but to give a new meaning to this term that can open a real operation for future generations. This is where art comes in, in the current sense. This is where a real operation can begin: inclusion of artists in innovation projects, forecasting their participation in structural financing of projects linked to sectors such as innovation, economy and development.
Only in this way will art get rid of the weak image, of passive welfare, to gain the strength it once had as the engine of society and guide for a new imaginary.