Worldwide, the pandemic has led to devastation, but these dark times have been interspersed with little bundles of light and positivity as well. Artists and creatives across the globe have been finding intriguing ways of collectively coping with the quarantine and social media has been on the forefront of this effort.
Poet, writer and activist Olivia Gatwood is one such name, who found a way to connect with her followers on Instagram through the creation of Girls of Isolation. An Instagram page with a wide following now, it is championing the self expression of women across the world as their self portraits are curated in a collage by Olivia. In a strange time like this, when we’re all quarantined and anxious, Girls of Isolation is a rather beautiful reminder of how we are all in this together. We spoke to Olivia to know more about the series and her experience during with the pandemic.
How were you led towards creating Girls of Isolation?
After returning home from my first big, grocery trip during quarantine, my neighbour, who is a former EMT, suggested we leave our clothes at the door to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. So I found myself in my underwear in my kitchen, unloading food and felt this really deep, surreal sadness and I decided to capture it via self-portrait. I'd watched Portrait of a Lady On Fire the night before and was really struck by the idea of love as the act of being witnessed and how, in isolation, I'm the only one witnessing myself, which I think is the the basis for all self-portraits. I captioned the photo ‘Self-Portrait of a Lady in Quarantine’ and posted it on Instagram. A couple of girls who follow me took their own and posted them, which led me to make a call for more girls to send me their portraits in isolation. I had the idea that I would make one collage with whatever submissions I received, maybe fifty, and post it once. However, within twenty-four hours, I'd received several hundred. They were all so beautiful, I couldn't imagine leaving any out, so I made the page as a way of curating them.
What is your curatorial process like behind the series?
It’s become a part of my morning routine. I go to the inbox and just sort of start opening e-mails at random, then saving the ones I like or feel like would do well next to one another. Once I’ve compiled fifteen, I make three collages of roughly five photos each. I organise them based on size and content.
What do you hope the viewers take away from Girls of Isolation?
I want them to see themselves and see each other.
Apart from this series, how else has the pandemic and the resultant lockdown affected you as an artist?
It’s been a really productive time for me, which is strange because I don’t usually do well under anxiety. For some reason, being completely alone has made it so that I have to fill my time and I’ve been drawn to filling that time with creative work. So I’ve been working on a few essays, editing my novel, and writing a short story. I feel very introspective and fantastical, both of which I think are ways of escaping reality.
What will be the new normal for you post the pandemic?
Not having anyone to kiss.
Everyone has different ways of coping with the isolation, what has/ have been yours?
Sticking to a routine, even if it’s just making sure I drink lemon water in the morning and eat meals on time.
Lastly, what kind of projects are you looking forward to working on in the future?
I’m really excited about the evolution of Girls of Isolation and its potential to become something tangible, like a book. I’m excited about getting involved in more filmmaking and experimenting with screenwriting.
Text Nidhi Verma