Scribbled instructions for incoming patients pasted on the reception desk window of a quiet hospital. A lone worker in a hazmat suit constantly spraying disinfectant in an empty hospital corridor.
Those scenes from the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, moments of fear and despair, as well as unity and resistance, are etched in the mind of artist Yang Qian.
A year later, he is channeling those memories into the artwork to preserve the memory of the 76-day blockade of the central Chinese city that changed the lives of some 11 million people. In a way, that’s an extension of her volunteer work delivering vital supplies to hospitals and residents during the traumatic period, while also reflecting the pride many residents feel in having resisted the outbreak and the draconian steps taken to control it.
“Expressing what I have seen in a realistic way, this is the responsibility that I have given myself. I also hope that much of the story is not forgotten, ”Yang said.
A painter by profession, she felt powerless in the face of an unknown virus ravaging her beloved hometown in January 2020. Fear gripped the city when authorities abruptly shut down residents from their homes and froze transport connections on January 23. .
Two days later, she began volunteering with a group that delivered protective clothing, masks and other supplies to hospitals. Over the course of 4 months, she and a fellow volunteer delivered about 90,000 sets of protective clothing and about 450,000 face masks.
As he made his rounds, he attended to requests from residents and strangers, delivering much-needed supplies, from medicines and disinfectants to food. Sleep was scarce as deliveries sometimes lasted until the early hours of the morning.
His first post-pandemic artwork, Reception, grew out of the experience of accompanying a mother and daughter to a hospital in early February. The two had developed symptoms of COVID-19 after the father died at home from the disease and, in desperation, they turned to social media for help.
Yang saw the post and found a hospital willing to accept the couple, but was told there were no ambulances available.
With public transportation closed, the only solution was to cycle to the hospital, with Yang at the helm.
At the reception desk, she saw new patient instructions posted randomly on her window, some scribbled by hand. Stretched to its limits, the hospital staff pointed to the window instead of answering questions.
“It made me feel a kind of oppression, a kind of fear,” Yang said. “Everyone, especially the doctors, dedicates their time solely to rescuing patients.”
He meticulously reproduced the scene in an oil painting, right down to the torn papers and scribbled notices.
A second oil painting based on a photograph of a worker disinfecting a hospital corridor followed, in dark shades of deep blue and black.
“It is such a serious situation (but) even in this atmosphere, there are still people who defend us and protect us,” Yang said.
Shortly after sending the mother-daughter couple to the hospital, Yang developed a fever and cough and feared he had the virus. With tears in her eyes, she went to the hospital to get tested and began to write her will. After what she calls the longest hour of her life waiting for the results, she was given the go-ahead.
A year later, Wuhan is largely back to normal, its streets teeming with shoppers, its nightclubs buzz until dawn, and retirees dance to a Chinese rendition of a Katy Perry song along the illuminated Yangtze River. neons. Only face masks that residents diligently wear provide a visual reminder of the impact of the pandemic.
“What I see is the unity of our city, our nation. It seems to me that I am really very proud to be Chinese, ”Yang said, expressing widespread sentiment that has been strongly encouraged by the government, which has been accused by some of mishandling the initial stage of the outbreak and allowing it to spread around the world. . .
An exhibition he organized last year at a gallery he runs brought together 23 artists with 60 works of art related to the coronavirus.
His efforts have won praise from the media and Wuhan residents. The exhibition “crystallized every poignant moment of the pandemic,” said businessman and friend Michael Liu.
“Unifying art and thoughts, and acting, is something that many of us cannot do,” he said.
Yang is currently working on a wall-sized aerial view of Wuhan under lockdown, with individual residents represented by dots of black ink. It is an expression of your drive to overcome the crisis, as well as an invisible pain.
She still feels that pain when talking to residents and survivors who have become depressed or withdrawn from social life.
“Some people are trying to recover slowly, just to get out of this shadow. Then there are some who can’t get out, because this virus and disaster really took those closest to them, ”Yang said.
For now, she is focused on making up for time lost from the pandemic, working on her painting, managing her gallery, and preparing for upcoming exhibitions. The pandemic, he said, is a reminder of how precious that time can be: “Life is really very fragile and small.”