More than 20 California artists have partnered with the state for the Your Actions Save Lives campaign. Efforts have been launched to strengthen and celebrate community resilience and promote safe practices that will stop the spread of COVID-19 as Governor Gavin Newsom plans to reopen the state on June 15.
The campaign’s 14 original art projects range from murals, interactive exhibits, and live performances by artists from communities hard hit by COVID-19, including Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, and San Diego.
“The arts have an opportunity to elevate and heal your emotions,” said Jessica Wimbley, an African-American digital artist who worked with the state for an advertisement on an Oak Park billboard in Sacramento and a digital art exhibition at Arden Fair Mall in has Sacramento.
“It was a breath of fresh air to work on this campaign. There has been so much negativity and division in the world that weighs heavily on the mind, “said Wimbley.
“Working on this project has been transformative,” she added.
For the project, the state has teamed up with the Sierra Health Foundation Center in Sacramento, which relies on the power of art to convey the importance of health awareness alongside vaccination.
“These accomplished artists use their culture and creativity to share empowering messages with communities hard hit by COVID-19,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation.
“Art has incredible power and we believe these works will spark important conversations, connections and inspiration across the state,” he said.
Four artists, including Wimbley, used the project to tap into their respective cultures to create powerful visual works of art that empower and inform their diverse communities.
The interactive installation “Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals” by Masako Miki in Oakland’s Chinatown was inspired by Japanese folklore.
Sunroop Kaur, a classical artist whose spring mural is in Stockton, was inspired by her Punjabi Sikh heritage. In San Diego, Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio’s “Stop the Spread” mural honors her Mexican heritage.
In addition to the arts campaign, Newsom recently announced a $ 116.5 million incentive program to reward people in California for being vaccinated. For the next two million people who get vaccinated, the state has allocated $ 100 million in food vouchers worth $ 50 each.
The remaining $ 16.5 million will be given as cash prizes to people who have been vaccinated across the state. More than 17 million people in California are fully vaccinated, which is about 44% of the state’s population.
The incentive program is designed to encourage everyone in California to get vaccinated, with the goal of reopening the state by mid-June this year.
State officials say they are determined to fully reopen California schools and businesses to help the economy recover.
Black and brown families continue to suffer the economic blow caused by COVID-19, despite efforts by the state to reach out to the community to minimize the hardship in their respective communities.
The artists of the nationwide campaign “Your Actions Save Lives” hope to convey messages of unity and solidarity through art influenced by their different cultures.
Four local artists celebrate their heritage and take inspiration from their multicultural communities.
Masako Miki – Oakland
The interactive art installation ‘Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals’ by Miki was inspired by the idea of a treasure hunt across Chinatown in Oakland. The pandemic forced people to stay indoors, but the public art installation encourages people to explore various shops and restaurants while admiring the art.
The artwork was inspired by shape-shifting animals in Japanese mythology.
“I wanted to do it positive and uplifting because when things are dark and difficult we need more positive images,” said Miki.
The current reality of the pandemic is “so dark and difficult that we need to have images that allow us to imagine something positive,” she said.
In Japanese culture, the tiger is a majestic and fearless animal, she says. The cultural message of the work of art reflects the idea of hardness.
“Resilience is our strength,” and the benevolent animals in art should encourage people to “respect one another and have empathy in order to get through this difficult time together,” said Miki.
Recent incidents of violence against Asians have fueled racial tensions in America, in addition to violence against African Americans across the country. Miki aims to dispel stigmata related to COVID-19 across the Asian community with her artwork.
“We have to have this dialogue so that I can present my culture in such a way that it is trusted and they are not afraid because they don’t know about it,” said Miki.
Artistic and visual performances by all the artists in the Your Actions Save Lives campaign have been on display since April and will last until June this year.
Awning Kaur – Stockton
Kaur, an artist of South Asian descent, has set herself the goal of decolonizing classical art by placing people of color in the center of her paintings.
The large population of Punjabi Sikh immigrants in Stockton is a major influence on Kaur’s artwork. In her mural “Spring” in the JMP Restaurant Supply, Kaur deliberately relies on People of Color as the focus.
“This mural is a visual celebration of my community and their resilience to not only survive but thrive in a foreign land,” said Kaur.
The mural is based on the idea that “using colored colors to decenter the white in my work is my main facility,” she said.
“Appropriating Western classical art canons as a way to decolonize my own body and culture,” she said.
The artwork features two people social distancing themselves wearing masks represented by the Italian Baroque portraits, a 17th century art style associated with grandeur, movement, and drama.
The body language of the characters symbolizes “the universal longing and longing that we feel one after the other, but also the fact that we have to protect our loved ones,” said Kaur.
The mural also features pastel floral designs inspired by spring, which represents the resurgence of life after the pandemic. The mural features royal blue arches, plus pink and malachite with historical pastel pigments that are part of Persian culture.
Jessica Wimbley – Sacramento
Wimbley, a renowned African American artist, uses her digital art to empower black people to shape their own lives.
The Oak Park Billboard, which is part of a government sponsored advertising campaign, features Wimbley’s husband as a model. The portrayal of dark-skinned black men is important after there have been many fatalities in the media.
The billboard affirmed, “That idea of a living black,” said Wimbley.
“It’s really important to humanize the way black people are portrayed in the media. And focus on producing and strengthening an agency, ”she said.
Wimbley’s Masking Series was inspired by the tradition of masquerade, which is celebrated in many cultures across Africa. The art series features a still photo of a face with a mask modeled by her husband and a multimedia image with a mask that reflects various visual elements.
“Storytelling conveys the important happenings within the community, I have thought about wearing a mask within the mask culture and the transformative nature of both donning and wearing a mask,” said Wimbley.
Wimbley also wanted to humanize blacks and browns who were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The added stress of police brutality that resulted in the deaths of African Americans across the country also inspired Wimbley to show that blacks have agency in their own lives.
Through her art, Wimbley said that she wanted blacks to be “in a place of empowerment as opposed to a room of trauma”.
“We are part of an interconnected story and part of each other’s stories. We have freedom of choice as to how we move forward, and we can write, claim and develop what the next phase looks like, ”said Wimbley.
The symbolism of the images featured on the Oak Park billboard and digital display in the Arden Fair Mall highlight various codes that have inspired social justice movements across the country. On the billboard, the model wears a mask with coded patterns advertising vaccinations and several rings, one with Harriet Tubman.
In her mural “Stop the Spread” in the Bread & Salt Gallery in Chicano Park
Mexican-American visual artist Ortiz-Rubio used the image of a Latina woman to raise awareness of COVID-19 safety precautions in her community.
According to national data, Latinos make up about 30% of the population of San Diego. They were disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as there are a disproportionate number of people with important jobs or people without papers.
“This is really a message for everyone in the world as a pandemic has hit us all. But it didn’t affect us in the same way, ”said Ortiz-Rubio.
“In the United States, minorities are affected because of their race and economic status,” she said.
Muralism was a social movement that helped promote systematic change in Mexico. Ortiz-Rubio said the Black Lives movement also inspired her to challenge racism and inequality through her artwork.
“It speaks to everyone, and the fact that it is a Latin American woman who speaks to everyone is also important because they are usually generalized images of a white person,” she said.
Being a woman is an integral part of Ortiz-Rubio’s experience of creating the mural. She remembered young girls and their mothers witnessing her painting the mural from their backyards, which reinforced her desire to use a Latina as the centerpiece of her mural.
“It is very encouraging to be celebrated,” said Ortiz-Rubio.
“This will be a message that will take that stigma away,” she said.
The visual artist said she would like Latin Americans to be represented and celebrated in her art, especially if they are the target audience.
California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.