From 1347 to 1665, the Black Death decimated towns and cities throughout Europe and Asia, killing millions. Those who survived it memorialized the suffering, medical innovations and discoveries in paintings and images that are now known throughout the world in books like Giovanni Bocaccio’s “Decameron.”
For months, painter Maricruz Sibaja and other local artists have also been absorbing the chaos of the world around them as the coronavirus pandemic rages. The artwork will reflec the current challenges of our time; COVID, fires and racism displayed at a special exhibit at the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino on Dec. 19.
Called “Dia 40” in reference to the Spanish number 40 for “2020” and “cuarentena” (quarantine), Sibaja — who is leading the exhibit — said they have devised four plans for the event, including one allowing for a small number of visitors to be present inside the installation, another for having the exhibit outside, and a completely virtual format, “depending on what the situation may be by then.”
Besides Sibaja, the exhibit will showcase artwork from well-known local artists including Lalo Garcia, Carlos Ruiz de Chavez, Felicitas Herring, Enrique Espinosa, Luis Villanueva, Heriberto Luna, Salvador Chava Rodriguez, Felix Barbara Rivera, and Gilberto Garcia Rodriguez.
The event will also include six poets — Reyna Reyes, Hugo Rene Olivas Romero, Marga Hee, Miriam Burbano, Eros-Land and Wenceslao G. Zapatero.
For many of them, this will be their first exhibit amid a pandemic that has forced the closure of galleries and other places where people gather.
All the exhibited works will have this abnormal situation as a theme.
“(The year) 2020 has been an attack on life itself. It has marked a line of uncertainty,” Sibaja said. “This year must be perpetuated for history.”
“Everything changed,” she continued. “It came to change our conscience where we didn’t value the freedom we had — the hugs, the kisses, being close to our friends, family, enjoying a meal.
“All, as a collective voice, are going to talk about what we absorbed in 2020. The poets are going to compose something based on what they have felt, the way their hearts and consciousness have been impacted as well.”
But the epidemic wasn’t the only issue. Protests over racial justice, devastating fires, unprecedented unemployment and economic devastation have also upended life.
All of these elements are part of Sibaja’s work-in-progress, which she has titled “La Sacudida” (The Shakeup).
“It’s called ‘La Sacudida’ because it came to shake up everything, entire nations. It put us upside down and it emptied the nations’ coffers,” Sibaja said.
“It came to shake up not only the economy, but our consciousness, that’s what the painting talks about,” she added.
The Mexican artist was spared some of the financial impact suffered by other colleagues. After working nonstop for the past four years, often spending 10-15 hours a day concentrated in her art for numerous solo exhibits that required a minimum of 30 pieces, in 2019 she decided she would take a breather in 2020.
“I purposely told myself I wanted to relax in 2020. It was going to be a year to rest. I already had that in mind, so it did not affect me in terms of work,” she said.
She is also used to “quarantining,” and closing herself up in her home to paint during those frenetic spells.
But she has not been spared the worry over a disease that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the US.
“My brother had COVID-19 and he suffered through that problem for almost 30 days. We saw that it was a very difficult fight,” Sibaja said.
And, like everyone else, she’s been unable to go to dinner or to hear live music, one of her favorite pastimes to clear her mind after work.
“I have all this free time, but I can’t go out. So that did affect me mentally,” she said.
Her artwork encompasses all of this and more. Sibaja said it includes face masks, people with their hands up, forest fires, coffins, and images covered in the flag of Italy, Spain, Mexico, the United States and Colombia — nations that have been deeply impacted by the pandemic and other challenges.
All of the art pieces must be completed by Oct. 30. Sibaja plans to release a video showing all the artwork and the artists to accompany the exhibit, which for her is like “receiving a spiritual hug” from colleagues she knows and admires.
Besides expressing themselves through their art pieces and poems, Sibaja said the purpose of the exhibit is the same as that of artists in medieval times: to leave a legacy for future generations of what happened in a tumultuous year.
A year, she said, “that will leave a mark on humanity.”