Spinning Our Wheels
Back in March 2020, our world as we know it turned upside down. As we tried to make sense of the fact that we were stuck in the middle of a pandemic called Covid-19, it felt like we were living in a dystopian novel. As people were getting sick and dying in the thousands, I turned to my art-making to work through the disbelief and fear.
I painted Enough after I saw the New York Times front page article with the headline “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss.” On that Sunday, under those headlines, were hundreds of obituaries listed in columns: a long, stunning, and somber list of lost lives. Simone Landon, assistant editor of the graphics desk, and her team came up with the idea of “Compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country culling vivid passages that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost.” It was so powerful that I set out to reproduce those obituaries in column form as a statement that these were mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, and friends. Their lives mattered, and they died senselessly.
The woman with the horrified look in the middle represents the large number of older people disproportionately affected. She is surrounded by masked people who tried to protect her, but could not. When I finished the work a few weeks later, an unbelievable 26,000 more people had died. Little did anyone know that we would see more than 800,000 people in the U.S., and counting, almost two years later.
I fear that we have become numb to the numbers. There were times I wanted to change the number on my painting as the death toll increased. But, in retrospect, I’m glad I kept it at 126,000 to document that time in history when those numbers seemed unimaginable—and as a comparison to our present-day numbers in 2022.
My painting, Spinning Our Wheels, is a universal lament. Embedded into this narrative piece are some of the obituaries from the May 23, 2020 New York Times article that I have used in my prior work, Enough. The sheer number of deaths documented in that issue were unimaginable at the time. And now, almost two years later, as we approach an unthinkable number of lost lives, we have become used to the daily roll call as if it were only to be expected.
The words “LONG LIVES” across the center mean actual lives lost or maybe the hope we have that we will be able to have long lives if we escape the insidious germs all around us. In between the two words is a woman’s face—the eyes are from a portrait of an old man. On the red circle around the eye is the word “END.” Behind the Statue of Liberty and her is a map of the United States, mostly of the East Coast where I am from. My husband and I split our time between New York (home base), Florida (where the red X is), and England where our children and grandchildren live. Therefore, I am often on a plane flying from one place to the other.
Lady Liberty stands tall and proud, but this one has a hand spinning the globe at the tip of her finger like a circus performer playing with the world. Symbolically, she stands for freedom. It is where the world wants to be right now—free from the constraints COVID has put on our lives. The spinning globe is a metaphor for all the progress we have made while we feel like we are still in the same place as we were when it all began.
Copyright © 2022 Eileen Shaloum
Eileen Shaloum is an abstract painter and mixed media artist who uses a variety of materials to support the messages and imagery in her work. Her work is mostly of an imaginary nature and whimsical in style. Reflection on life inspires her themes. She observes and feels what is current in our amazing and troubling world. The Coronavirus Pandemic has taken over her emotional and artistic consciousness since it began in March 2020.