Black & White Sketches in Quarantine is an online exhibition highlighting a virtual artist community and project of the same name. Not long after the government of Jordan imposed a nationwide lockdown in response to the spread of COVID-19, artist and organizer Hilda Hiary began connecting artists through a Facebook group to share sketches they were making in response to the quarantine. Beginning with a close circle of friends, the project has grown to encompass an international community of over 4000 artists in many countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, India, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States among others. This exhibition represents only a slim cross-section of this vast project, gathered around themes common to the time of quarantine: the virus, masks, distancing, and the imaginative life in isolation.
The full project may be viewed here.
LUAG curator of exhibitions and collections Mark Wonsidler interviews Hilda Hiary, artist and organizer of Black & White Sketches in Quarantine.
MW: How did the project begin?
HH: The project really started on April 17, 2020 when I did my first sketch of two close Jordanian women friends, Sahar and Sana. We have a WhatsApp group called “only 3”. They were both on vacation, one in Thailand and one in Spain, and I was so worried about them so I started sketching our chat on a paper. They still haven’t been able to return to Jordan.
MW: What has your role been in organizing it? What has that been like?
HH: I’m doing it myself, with the help of three artist friends. The four of us receive hundreds of submissions every day, but not all of them are accepted. Every day, I choose an art work to be at the top of the page. Sometimes, I make videos about artists I find to have active and professional practices. I am also encouraging young artists to participate and post their works. We accept most of them, but if I feel the work is weak or not a good match with the group I decline it. This is rare because most of them are professional artists, young or old.
The Jordanian minister of culture asked to meet with me last week. He’s a new minister, and I had never met him before. He likes our group and follows our posts in the evening. He heard me say on TV that it is my dream to collect all these sketches into a real printed book. He decided to publish the book for us, sponsored by our ministry of culture in Jordan. One of the artists in the group, a Jordanian friend, has volunteered to design it.
MW: Why black and white?
HH: It’s not about black and white as much as it's about classical pen and pencils sketches. I chose black and white because these are materials that artists easily have in their homes during quarantine. For myself, my studio is located in the area near my mother’s house, and I couldn't go there for almost two months because of the government orders. Since I wasn’t able to walk to my studio, I knew others would be in the same situation. I thought it would be easy for many of us to use pencils and pens on paper, materials that most of us have at home. Lots of artists love to draw, but sometimes they don't have time for it because of many exhibitions and art projects. So now we are enjoying it a lot because we have free time.
MW: What have you noticed about the works you have seen, or the ways people are working during this time?
HH: I was really surprised that so many professional, established artists fell in love with the idea of going back to pencil and paper. They keep thanking me for suggesting it in their videos and comments. As an artist, I’m always drawing—even in my kitchen, I make sketches with ink and coffee all the time. But they were so happy that someone suggested it to them during this difficult time of coronavirus. I think they really enjoy doing this.
Another surprise has been watching some of the young or beginner artists who joined the group. At first, some of their sketches were not that good, but looking at their new sketches after several months, I can see a big difference now. They are improving quickly by being in a community with professional artists and seeing how they work. I think they are learning a lot.
MW: What does drawing mean to you personally?
HH: Drawings or sketches are very special to me. I always include at least fourteen sketches in my solo exhibitions. I like them so much. It’s hard to put it into words.
This interview was conducted via email during the summer of 2020.
Hilda Hiary was born in Amman in 1969, and graduated from the University of Jordan with a B.A. in Sociology and Political Science in 1990. For the next few years she began exhibiting her work as a self-taught artist. Over a decade later, she obtained her second B.A. from Zeitouna University in Fine Arts (Printmaking). Hiary’s work continues to move between abstraction and figuration, always characterized by strong lines and patterns, coupled with bright color schemes and elements from Abstraction, Expressionism, Pop Art and Primitivism. Filled with strength and emotion, her figures stare into our space, creating a dialogue with the viewer.