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With people around the world trapped inside due to coronavirus lockdowns, some have turned to art to express their feelings during this tumultuous time.
Now, Art Painting Lab, a studio in Dubai, is encouraging professional artists and amateurs alike to share their lockdown art on social media. The studio plans to turn the artwork into a series of large public murals across the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The aim of the initiative is to share a message of hope and to commemorate this extraordinary time, Sam Saliba, founder of Art Painting Lab, tells CNN.
“We are spreading optimism, showing that people can come together and make something amazing,” she says.
Like many cities, Dubai has ground to a halt in recent months. The buzzing metropolis transformed into “Sin City on stop mode” since the UAE introduced lockdown measures in early April, says Saliba.
Dubai residents initially required a police permit to leave their homes, but these strict restrictions were relaxed for Ramadan, which started on 23 April. Most people are still self-isolating and only going out once a day for some fresh air, according to Saliba.
The 15 artists working at Art Painting Lab specialize in creating large murals for shopping malls, hotels and other public venues. Among the studio’s most high-profile works are its paintings inside the rooftop bar at Dubai’s Four Seasons hotel.
Art Painting Lab plans to create at least seven murals, one in each of the Emirates, which will be unveiled before the end of the year. It has approached Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and a number of private businesses for support.
Since the project launched on 20 April, submissions have come from people from all walks of life, including healthcare workers and cleaners, as well as professional artists. As of May 28, around 600 people had submitted artworks.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and they are expressing it,” Saliba says of the submissions, which range from cartoons to ink drawings to colorful paintings.
“Some people are using art as a form of escapism. [It is] an exchange of physical freedom for emotional freedom [and] an experience where an adult has a chance to return to childhood,” Saliba says.
Popular themes include holiday scenes, calm landscapes and blue skies, with many artists saying picking up a paintbrush reduces their stress and eases coronavirus anxiety.
Creating art can have many therapeutic benefits, including lowering blood pressure, according to Louis Netter, a senior lecturer in art at the UK’s University of Portsmouth.
“Art making connects us to our world in profound ways; even the act of observation makes us appreciate the beauty around us,” he says.
Netter adds that art therapy is a recognized field, allowing people with mental health issues to “externalize issues in visual form which can then be identified and addressed.”
Some of the people submitting artworks have depicted the threat of coronavirus, by painting masks or scenes of social isolation.
Filipino landscape architect Arriane Fresno submitted a painting titled “Distancing of Adam,” inspired by Michelangelo’s famous fresco “The Creation of Adam,” which depicts God reaching out a hand to Adam, the biblical “first man.” The outstretched hands in Fresno’s painting are gloved and prevented from touching by an ECG heartbeat line, signifying our physical separation and desire for connection, the artist says.
“No matter how everything seems to be falling apart, we try [to] make an effort to be connected and to work hand-in-hand in this challenging time,” Fresno explained in an email to CNN.
Saliba believes the lockdown will change the UAE mindset of “got to build, got to do, got to make” and lead to more creativity and introspection in the long-term. She hopes the project will demonstrate that art is especially relevant during hard times.
“Art is keeping people centered right now,” she says.
This story has been updated to clarify the involvement of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.