New Year 2021

Matthew Hong / December 26, 2020

Here we are, the end of 2020, this ill begotten year with no easy way to round out. We have seen over 75 million cases of Covid contagion world wide claiming nearly 1.7 million lives with surges increasing in many areas around the world. Unemployment rates are the highest in decades and the economy in many countries deemed the worst seen since the Great Depression. Even as the vaccine is being rolled out, a new variant of the virus is already emerging. As it has been said before, it may get worse before it gets better.

We are entering the 2nd and 3rd phases of confinement, curfew, or lockdown, no easier with time – heavier now with shorter days, longer nights, colder weather – new surges of contagion in that macabre dance with those in maskless denial.

This is the year that we have had.

We have seen human reactions spanning the gamut, of impromptu operas from open windows and shared meal tables spread across balconies, to gun violence over simple civic guidelines.

Many museums and galleries have turned to virtual exhibitions and festivals and art fairs took place online. Aesthetica Short Film Festival turned streaming, Photo London 2020 become Digital. Others included PRIZM Art Fair, Luxembourg Art Week, MoMA’s Companion Pieces, Festival Circulation(s), and We Are One, A Global Film Festival.

Individuals and organizations traced the pandemic, from the extraordinary to the banal, through personal journals, documentary stories, and the launching of new works, including I Remember Nothing by Ekaterina Anchevskaya, Sclavanie by Davide Degano, and Flavio-Shiró, a documentary film directed by Margaux Fitoussi and Adam Tanaka.

National Geographic recently published their History Defining Moments of 2020 and Magnum’s own photographers with their restricted movements initiated an ongoing photo series of Diary of a Pandemic, led by Peter van Agtmael, sharing information, updates, and works created in confinement, including those of Alec Soth, Mark Power, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Alex Majoli, among others. Our own 30 Under 30 Women Photographers, whose previous exhibitions took place in Rome, Paris, and Lille, this year inaugurated our Online Viewing Room.

The Black Lives Matter movement reawakened this year, this time gaining international support as new incidences of police violence against black individuals in the United States have become seemingly more frequent, blatant, and at times even unapologetic.

Demonstrations across the U.S. and beyond have been ignited, reopening the discussion of race relations. The predominantly peaceful protests in certain instances have erupted in violence and have been met with less than magnanimous authority.

The disappointing leadership in the U.S. throughout the Covid crisis doubled down and extended its already wide posture of denial and unaccountability into sheer aggression. Trump threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act against the nation’s own people with a show of force in the face of protests for justice and elicited nearly every branch of the arm forces to intervene: The deluge of acronyms of agencies presenting themselves to subvert the demonstration in Washington including the FBI, DEA, ATF, and the SWAT team, along with even the Texas Prison Guards shuffled into the ranks. Just short of deputizing anyone with a military grade assault weapon and the confederate kitchen sink, the former Attorney General, i.e., presumptive personal lawyer to the president, Bill Barr was seen calling plays out of the dictator’s handbook from the sidelines. And like the grand orchestra for some imperial leader, the anti-protest squad descended on the peaceful demonstrators to contrive the path for the president to pose before a church with a Bible in hand and claiming domination of the crowds.

With our feature A Matter of Black Lives we revisited the works of RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Gillian Laub’s Southern Rites, and presented artist Henry Taylor, writer James Baldwin, and photographer Gordon Parks.

Last month was The United Nations General Assembly’s designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The unfortunate statistic of 1 in 3 women having experienced such violence in their life time, or by approximate projection, 1 in 3 of us male counterparts have committed violence against a women in our lives, awakens us to the reality of this other societal illness.

Reported by every relevant and reliable organization, the dramatic spike in incidences, at times twofold in the confined conditions of a worldly pandemic, has made the awareness of what is now called the Shadow Pandemic that much more crucial. This virus, which has existed for a far greater period of time and whose rate of contagion is perhaps the highest known – with the spreader population in denial even more staggering – has not yet a cure. Long after the vaccine for Covid is distributed around the world and we are more or less safe in one another’s air space, this other illness will continue to play out in closed quarters.

Artpil highlighted some women artists and the notable exhibitions in their honor in The Shadow Pandemic. Including the works of Ornella Mazzola with Females, Newsha Tavakolian in They Defend Our Freedoms, Sally Mann’s A Thousand Crossings, and Emma Portner’s Femme Debout at Fondation Beyeler, along with the exhibitions HER, a group presented at In Frame and Thirty Years of Women from the archives of Jackson Fine Art.

Brexit is happening. A trade deal was finally struck in the 11th hour, provisionally active with remaining details to be considered in the coming days. Still, it smells an awful lot like what it was before.

This idea which was birthed in what feels like another life is now about to see its strange fruits. It all seems so irrelevant now in light of things. This arbitrary referendum no one remembers; arguably the one vote that might have been allowed to be recast, actually requested by many who voted. But even before the tolling of Brexit, the UK is being left in isolation as they discover a variant of the virus. What are the tarifs on the new strain?

“It’s never felt quite as isolating to live on these Great British Isles as it does in the wake of the referendum…an insidious isolationism with definitions clearly drawn between them and us….” We revisit our feature Darkest Hour, directed by Thomas Ralph.

In the United States, most of 2020 has been distracted with the presidential election. The thought that the anticipated historic voter turnout might have united the people seems now naive seeing that the post election results gave way to further discord and whatever will of the people appears to be challenged by an almost equal and completely opposite force.

Voter suppression has always been whispered with the same breath that pronounced the vote, and until now mostly legislated from higher up to maintain power. Rarely have we seen such important masses emerging to carry out this diligence as militias standing guard at voting stations or forcing entry into capitol buildings.

The current administration rushes now to fill their remaining days with federal executions, thoughtless as feeding blank pages through a paper shredder at an office closing; executive pardons for the highly privileged, overturning justice and forming a team of allies with very special skills and even more special proclivities; and faithless appointments for the promising serviles passed out like drunken holiday cheers, as irregular and absurd as the cabinet appointments during their term, insisting their legacy be no less flippant as their reign.

Meanwhile an uncivil war has been playing out in parking lots, coffee counters, and shopping malls – shootings in strip clubs for refusal of service – such surreal events with the rise of a new race in this post apocalyptic moral landscape give another dimension to the syndrome of Stockholm. In support of a lost leader who continues to betray them, the relative maxima achieves new hyperbole on the Dunning Kruger charts. This man would sell the world for a golf game, a casino, a beauty pageant, and a reality show.

So this is the year we would have lived. This would be the world we would inhabit for the time. The holidays would come and go, and celebrations would toast on a different tenor. The time of reflection would be imposed, a kind of reset from an external force. 2020 would go down in modern history as the most difficult of times. It could not be the way we leave things behind. We would see the resilience in our youth and know that this is not the end.

A New Year would await us and we would persist. There would be no returning to normal. So be it, return to better. Stop the limitless streaming, freeze the infinite scroll. Put down the screens and make a real connection. Despite all things, somehow stay Engaged. Try to Create. Find again that reason to Inspire.

Happy New Year.


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