“Shielding” explores the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine on women facing domestic abuse and the paradoxical meaning of home as shelter. News stories around the world have highlighted the significant upsurge in violence and the need for increased support for victims of abuse from both governments and the charity sector, at a time when support has been much harder to access because of infection control measures and reduced capacity, especially in the early stages of the pandemic.
The artwork is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) which states that women need their own safe space in order to flourish and be creative. This notion of a safe space is set against the stark image of the hastily constructed temporary hospital ward that has become such a familiar image in the news stories of 2020. Those locked down with abusive partners have no safe space in which to escape. Movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 are making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous. “Shielding” has become a familiar term for protecting those vulnerable to COVID-19 who are asked to stay home but the reality is for those at risk of domestic abuse the home is not a place of safety and care, and helplines globally are facing an increase of up to one third.
The installation combines traditional feminine crafts such as sewing, embroidery and natural dyeing with healing plants (such as turmeric), with 3D printing based on digital reconstructions of hospital beds from the first temporary hospitals in Wuhan with their rows of identical beds, often with a bizarre jumble of colourful makeshift bedding sourced at speed from nearby factories. The doll sized beds also remind us of Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” (1879) which deals with the fate of a married woman in a male dominated world.
“Shielding” has been impregnated with actual SARS-CoV-2 RNA (coronavirus) from a plasmid construct. This is a safe, non-infectious reagent for SARS-CoV-2 research (NIBSC 19/304), obtained from the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, UK. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was supplied by researchers Dr Ines Moura and Dr Jane Freeman at the University of Leeds who are working with the SARS-CoV-2 primers and the RNA construct in the development and use of a RT-PCR assay for SARS-CoV-2 detection in faeces.
It is a frequent theme in Dumitriu’s work to incorporate actual genetic material or other materials from the laboratory process in her artworks, such as in her “Plague Dress“. The presence of these bio-materials, even in this safe non-infectious form, allows us to confront some of our feelings about the pandemic, whilst the artwork itself becomes an authentic secular relic of the sublime laboratory and research processes that we pinned our hopes on.
The project was particularly relevant in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis crisis when numbers of domestic violence cases have been rising globally, while under-resourced civil society organisations struggle to remain accessible to those who need them most.
The project initially aimed to represent and creatively explore data around domestic abuse through hands on art workshops with staff from Brighton-based charity RISE, but was adapted to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic situation in light of the limitations that social distancing brought. Dumitriu prepared an art kit for the participants instead, which participants were able access online. The creative activity prompted them to imagine an ideal a room of their own or a safe and cosy space for a service user, reflecting on Woolf’s writings. It is hoped that in due course members of the public affected by the pandemic situation and domestic violece can work with artist to create miniature bedcovers to be incorporated into the artwork with embroideries that bring their own meaning to the piece.
Dumitriu said in an interview for SENSORIUM in March 2020: “An important aspect is to let this situation inspire work and I am relieved that I have been able to adapt one current art commission to explore the impact of self-isolation and quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic on the issue of domestic abuse and violence from a global perspective.”
The project was launched via an online event as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival on 9th October 2020 which featured the screening of a discussion between Dr Aristea Fotopoulou and Anna Dumitriu filmed in the enigmatic location of the Regency Townhouse in Brighton.
Wellcome Sanger, Hinxton near Cambridge (UK), as part of Works by Anna Dumitriu, 28th February – 25th April 2023.
The North Wall in Oxford, UK, as part of “Collateral Effects” a solo exhibition of works by Anna Dumitriu, 5th to 29th October 2022.
BioArt Revolution/ Revoluția BioArt, an innovative solo exhibition by Anna Dumitriu which brought together contemporary artistic approaches and modern scientific experiments to address issues of global relevance such as infection, climate change, and diversity. The show took place as part of Timișoara 2023 European Capital of Culture, from 30th September to 1st October 2023. The exhibition, which was created in collaboration with the Romanian Science Festival, took place in the stunning setting of Bastionul Maria Theresia, Galeria 2, Str. Hector, nr. 1, Timișoara, Romania.
BioArt Knowledge: A Solo Exhibition by Anna Dumitriu at the Yarrow Gallery in Oundle, Near Peterborough, UK, from 9th November – 6th December 2023.
The work was supported by the AHRC funded ART/ DATA/HEALTH : data as creative material for health and wellbeing, led by Dr Aristea Fotopoulou at the University of Brighton (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. AH/S004564/1 2019-2021). Anna Dumitriu’s project is inspired by the work of community domestic abuse and violence charity RISE. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.artdatahealth.org @artdatahealth1