Exploration of Virus Times Through Creative Expression

In this feature, three NYU Shanghai students share their creative endeavors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed people’s lives drastically. Throughout the lockdown, quarantine, and social distancing, everyone has been reacting to these strange, unprecedented times in different ways. Three NYU Shanghai seniors, Maya Wang, Bishka Zareen Chand, and Gurkriti Singh, have responded to the worldwide pandemic by pursuing unique creative endeavors. Their projects represent a wide array of mediums of expression – from makeup art, printmaking and short videos on TikTok to the more traditional forms of poetry writing, singing, and painting. The works reflect their understanding and experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in a quest to staying connected to the world, to themselves and the people around them.

Maya Wang is a fourth-year IMA student with a minor in Digital Art and Design and Studio Art. She is currently based in Long Island, New York. In recent months she has pursued several art projects, both as part of assignments for her classes and outside of class. In late January, Maya posted a photograph on Instagram depicting herself with a hand-drawn surgical mask and red and yellow makeup around her eyes and on her lips, colors that represent the Lunar New Year. “This makeup art piece was my main Covid-19 feelings inspired art. I wrote a caption about it. I wanted to bring light to the racism that was going on in the U.S. towards Asian people at the time. It overlapped with Chinese New Year as well, and it was disheartening hearing stories from my friends and family in China. Through it I wanted to promote this feeling of hope.” 

Maya says the work was both a way to express herself and cope with the COVID-19 situation. “The irony is that it was made prior to the outbreak in the U.S., and people weren’t treating it seriously. So, it was a call to action. It made me make public my views and helped me cope in a way that I knew how to.” 

This is not however, Maya’s only makeup-art work. She also has a collection of pieces that represent her unique style. She started publishing them on Instagram over the last year.  “I have always been inspired by makeup art. I’ve also always been interested in non-conventional, avant garde makeup.” she says. “Sometimes it’s for a social cause, other times it’s really something I’ve wanted to try, for example, putting stickers on my face. I did a piece on celebrating women as well.”

You can check more of her makeup art through Maya’s website:

Photo: Maya’s workspace

Other than makeup art, she has also done two other projects this semester. Her capstone project is an artbook of photos and text on Family and Intergenerational Trauma. “Covid-19 played a part in how I wanted to tell the story. Being stuck at home made me re-evaluate family and what it means to me.” 

You can check out her capstone project here.

Her other project is for her Printmaking class, exploring the feelings of being home and quarantined, being trapped and lonely, but still having hope. “The quarantine and self-isolation has given me a lot of time to experiment with new mediums, like printmaking, collage, book-making and more makeup”. 

Photo: Printmaking Project

Bishka Zareen Chand is a fourth year Interactive Media Business student from Jakarta, Indonesia. She has spent the semester in her home country but has taken a Leave of Absence and will return next semester to finish her studies. 

The time off has allowed her to explore comedy on the famous social media platform TikTok. At first, Bishka did not find the idea of TikTok appealing at all. “I thought it was for high school kids. I also saw some TikToks on Instagram and could see how it can be an addicting app (so) I originally veered away from it”. With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a lockdown, she looked more into TikTok and started getting ideas about content that she could make. 

Bishka’s videos fall into the category of memes and comedy and showcase the events of her daily life with a comic twist. Her videos range from showcasing daily life in quarantine, to her school life in China, and also her Indonesian heritage.

You can check out her TikTok here or by her username: bishkazareen 

  Photo: Bishka’s TikTok


“When I first started making them, it was more for my family and close friends, mostly talking about my life and things that we go through,” she said. Then she broadened her audience and started making videos that other people could relate to. “I just kind of went from there. I got a lot of positive feedback from my family and my friends. Then I started looking into what the trends are and thought ‘Oh, this is cool, I could make something out of this’.”

For Bishka, the video making process starts with writing down relevant news that inspires her and making a TikTok out of it. “I usually have one or two days where I am making the TikToks all day so I can have enough content to post every day, but there are days where I have an idea and I immediately start shooting,” she said. Bishka shows that there is some work that goes into making TikTok videos, such as the position of the stickers, filters, angles, and matching actions to the desired sound. 

Photo: Bishka’s TikTok setup

“Covid-19 was a good way to get me started on making TikToks,” Bishka said. “After the pandemic is over, I will keep making them. I like that a lot of friends and my family enjoy the videos, and it is a way to stay connected to them. It is nice having people appreciate the things you do. I also think that it’s great that people are experimenting with new mediums of art and they now have the time to explore things they wouldn’t normally.”

Gurkriti Singh, is a fourth year student majoring in Social Sciences with a focus in Anthropology. While she and her family have lived in China for the past 20 years or so, she has stayed in India under lockdown for the past few months and is currently unable to return. She is taking a Leave of Absence and returning in Fall to finish her degree. 

During these months, Gurkriti has explored many traditional forms of expression. Her goal for the quarantine is to stay present, productive, and prioritize time for things she loves. Gurkriti has been writing ever since she was in middle school and it has provided an outlet during this time. To her, writing is not just a way to escape reality but to face it as well.

 “I understand my own emotions more when writing,” she said. “Writing gives me an outlet to know what I need, how to be a calmer person. Exploding on paper, letting out all those fears, it’s extremely organic for me to express.”

She has written two poems, Daze and Heat, the main concepts of which are things she observes and how she feels about them. In Gurkriti’s poems, she reflects in an indirect way on events that have happened in the past. 

“I look back to things that I’ve seen and (what) I’m doing right now, and what they remind me of. If I view something, even if it’s just a wall, it often reminds me of something. Now that I have so much time to think, I overthink.”

(Gurkriti’s poems are attached at the end of the article)

A person sitting in a living room

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Photo: Gurkriti in her work environment

Gurkriti’s poetry represents an internal dialogue, the result of a writing process that may be messy at times. “Sometimes I’m crying, and then I pick up a pen and write what I’m feeling. It’s therapeutic in a journaling-sense.” She has also explored water-color painting.

Gurkriti is currently living in her 100-year-old house with traces of a long family lineage and memories of summers as a child. “I’m reviving my childhood all across. I remember picking mangoes, climbing trees. There is so much nature right outside our doorstep. It’s often a welcoming distraction to notice all the life around me.”

 She painted a dahlia to represent her awareness of the surrounding nature.

A close up of some water

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Photo: Gurkriti’s painting

Gurkriti also has a passion for music and singing. “I’ve been singing since I was 3 years old. Music has always been a part of me.” Right now, she finds herself with no instruments to play but that has not stopped her singing.

“I’ve learned you don’t need instruments to make art all the time, you yourself are enough to make art,” she said. Gurkriti has been getting more in touch with her Indian heritage. Alongside English classics, she also loves older Bollywood tunes. “I try to sing out however and wherever I feel like, while doing dishes, taking a shower. I’ve started recording my singing and sharing it with people”.

Gurkriti predicts her future work will include many reflections from the Covid-19 experience. “It’s become such a part of me, especially as a third-culture kid. I think the pandemic might have a trickle effect on my work, and that it might include undertones inspired by the Covid-19 experience,” she said.

“During this time, people are generally nurturing the skills they’ve lost and finding ways to rebuild what has been lost throughout time. The new ‘normal’ of the ways in which we express ourselves isn’t what it was before Covid-19 struck, just as the global economy, routine livelihoods, and the way we approach our existence won’t be. People’s art will be marked with remnants of this year for generations to come.”

Gurkriti’s poems 

Daze

There’s a budding silence

Amidst all the chaos outside that window.

A disturbing silence. 

Horns screeching

in pleasure

Piglets disrupting sleep 

with no care

Dogs barking 

behind them

Pigeons that intervene 

to chirp out their daily hunger

Men cackling 

to Punjabi pop 

A deafening silence. 

It speaks with no words

It questions you unfairly

for an answer.

It taunts you 

for an answer 

to uncertainty. 

And when you reply,

hesitantly,

no no, it tells you,

the leaflets are fine

soaking up the sun, 

tethered lightly to their barks,

not yet falling.

And when you listen,

put to ease, 

the sun pecking your skin, 

No no, it tells you,

They’ve fallen

with the rains, 

you just don’t see. 

And when you speak to it,

Why do you think?

It says

I don’t.

The world does for me. 

Heat 

It’s not a privilege when winters cold

freeze the insides.

Crushing up the mind piece by piece.
It’s narrow lanes broken 

to stiffness of a conquering kind.

The heart becomes a masterpiece.

A shell comforting every other cell.

It collects its crimson waves,

pools erupting to ones you love. 

Warmth

everywhere else but within you.

You move to a hotter place

from the hollows of a numbing frost.

To palms and suns,

fine golden sands.

Yet still, it rests, safe. 

A cold that yearns for the heat you gave

everywhere else but in you. 

This article was written by Anisa Muça based in Tirana, Albania. Please send an email to am7766@nyu.edu to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Photo by
Image by garageband from Pixabay

One thought on “Exploration of Virus Times Through Creative Expression

  1. Wonderful poems Gurkriti! So expressive!
    Good to see our next generation utilising the time they have at hand …..because of Covid 19 ….so creatively!

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