The artists fighting against coronavirus-related racism

Written by Arts, Latest

The emergence of coronavirus has incited a rise in anti-Asian discrimination around the world as reports of racial abuse have surged on social media causing the hashtag “#IAmNotAVirus” to trend internationally. In response to the increase in anti-Asian sentiment artists are fighting back using one of the only forums still accessible during lockdown, Instagram. 

In an interview with KQED feminist artist Caitlin Blunnie stated, “When trends and memes related to the Coronavirus first started saturating social media, you could just so clearly see racist and xenophobic undertones”. Blunnie went on to say, “Historically, we have always looked for a scapegoat for our issues. It’s so hypocritical that our solution to losing our freedom to autonomy is to demean an entire group of people”. Within Blunnie’s Coronavirus inspired illustration it states, “The Coronavirus isn’t an excuse to be racist”. 

New York journalist Eda Yu has produced a creative series which discusses how masks remain powerfully charged images in the current context. On Yu’s Instagram she states, “People continue to incorrectly assume those of Asian ethnic decent are the sole carriers of the virus – acting out in irrational and xenophobic ways”. 

Other Instagram artists such as Natalia Seth have protested against the “derogatory ‘Corona comments’ from people using COVID-19 as an excuse for racism”. Seth used her skills as a photographer to creatively capture the words “I Am Not A Virus” painted on her cheekbone.

Chinese-American illustrator Rose Wong told KQED, “I feel nervous when I cough in public in transit”. Wong discussed the impact of Coronavirus on Chinatowns all across America and stated “Yes, everyone should wash their hands and try to stay healthy, but let’s not forget that we are all human”. 

Swedish-Korean artist Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom took inspiration from a racist incident which occurred in Gothenburg. During the incident “a 15-year old girl of Singaporean descent, born and raised in Sweden, was tapped on the shoulder by a young woman who, after first mentioning the coronavirus, asked her to get off the tram”. Sjöblom addressed other discriminatory incidents occurring within Sweden such as “Asian children being abused in various Swedish schools” and “Asian customers being denied entrance to restaurants”. Sjöblom concluded, “If you don’t want to come across racist, here’s a tip: Don’t act like a racist”. 

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A few days ago in Gothenburg, Sweden, a 15-year-old girl of Singaporean descent, born and raised in Sweden, was tapped on the shoulder by a young woman who, after first mentioning the coronavirus, asked her to get off the tram: “I don’t want to come across racist, but shouldn’t you perhaps get off this tram?” In the same city a girl of Philippino descent was asked to leave a hairdresser by another customer: “Could you please leave, I don’t want you near me.” There’ve also been reports of Asian children being abused in various Swedish schools, Asian customers being denied entrance to restaurants and people shouting ”virus” after random Asians in public spaces whilst covering their mouths. What’s so astonishing in the midst of all this, is that people get upset with Asians for voicing these encounters and defensively justify racism with the explanation that people are scared and feel the need to protect themselves from a seemingly deadly virus. But tell me in what way shouting “virus” after strangers on the street is a protective measure? And if people only target Asians, doesn’t that suggest that they, on some subconscious level, think that only Asians can be affected by the virus? Otherwise they would be shouting “virus” in all directions. Also, if you don’t want to come across racist, here’s a tip: Don’t act like a racist. #IAmNotAVirus #WashYourHandsAndDontBeARacist

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Alternative illustrators such as Madame Marilou have used their art to say that “The worst virus is systematic racism”. 

French artist Cecile Hoodie used a fortune cookie to provide the world with a piece of advice, “Stop using the virus excuse to express your racist sh*t”. 

Artist Hannah Newsom Doyle channelled the hashtag throughout her work and advocated the message, “DON’T HATE. SANITATE”. 

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DRAW THIS IN YOUR STYLE! DON’T HATE. SANITATE. This is my first time doing one of these, and there is a very important reason I am starting right now. I want to use this DTIYS Challenge as a sort of mini campaign to raise awareness about the racism that has been occurring in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, and to remind people that racism is born out of fear, ignorance, and misinformation. There is a hashtag that has started circulating in response to all of this: #iamnotavirus. I want this challenge to follow that theme. Here are the rules for this challenge: 🧑🏻‍⚕️You can re-interpret my character however you like. Change up the outfit, the angle, the pose, etc. You can even draw a completely different character, as long as it stays within the theme. But I would ask that you please include a face mask and and the hashtag text #iamnotavirus in your design. 🧑🏻‍⚕️Please tag me in your piece so I can see it and share, and please include an image of my original. 🧑🏻‍⚕️Please hashtag your piece with #iamnotavirus, #donthatesanitate, and #DTIYSIAMNOTAVIRUS My mother is an first generation Taiwanese American and also an independent art teacher to mostly Asian children. One of her students recently told her a story about how the mother of a school mate of her’s forbade her from hanging out with her because she is Asian and therefore “might have the coronavirus,” and furthermore, she shouldn’t hang out with ANY Asian people for the time being because they might have the virus. I have since been hearing and reading more and more stories of racism and harassment and physical attacks faced by Asians around the world, especially those who wear face masks, to the point that Asians in the U.S. are too afraid to go out wearing masks. Lastly, please check your sources, and don’t buy into conspiracy theories. (I highly recommend checking out the Sawbones podcast and their episodes on the Coronavirus and Quarantine, as well John Oliver’s piece on the virus.) Wash your hands. Don’t be racist ⛑ #iamnotavirus #dtiys #dtiyschallenge #DTIYSIAMNOTAVIRUS #donthatesanitate #lindoyledtiys #coronavirus #characterdesign #health #illustration #washyourhands #facemask

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Coronavirus has unmercifully swept across the world and taken loved ones too soon. Being concealed within our homes during lockdown and having our worlds turned upside down is incredibly scary. However, we cannot allow fear to incite hatred. This virus is not discriminatory, so why should we be? We cannot stand by and watch those in our community suffer because of ignorance. The world might have changed, but my values have not. We must remain kind. We must speak up as these artists have done. We must reveal what we are truly made of as human beings. 

Last modified: 28th April 2020

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