Making sense of Covid-19 through art, words, food

In a world thrown off-kilter by the coronavirus, art can be a source of comfort and connection.

In the spirit of soothing and sharing, The Sunday Times asked four artists, a photographer, an aspiring writer and a couple behind a YouTube cooking channel to create works that reflect their thoughts and feelings about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here are their contributions, from a watercolour painting of an empty street to a recipe for comforting hawker centre-style fish soup.

Art

Stay Connected

Simple gestures can go a long way in bringing joy to others, especially those who feel lonely and isolated amid the pandemic.

Illustrator Christine Phang, 23, hopes her art will convey this message and encourage others to explore various ways of reaching out to loved ones, such as through phone calls, texts, e-mails or letters.

Phang is based in California, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in art therapy, with a focus on marriage and family therapy.

She stays in touch with her friends and family in Singapore by calling them.

“Being physically apart does not need to stop us from being emotionally connected,” says Phang, who has also written and illustrated a children’s book, Snowdrop (2018), which encourages readers to be patient with themselves as they discover their gifts in the right season.

Stay Connected and other designs by local artists are available for purchase as postcards from Carry On Caring (@carry.on.caring on Instagram), a campaign that raises funds for Fei Yue Community Services to help those who have been badly affected by the pandemic. Payment is by donation, with a suggested price of $8 for a pack of eight postcards.

Empty Street 

Watercolour artist Rajesh Paravoor, 44, depicts a scene of a country in lockdown in this painting of a pedestrian crossing an empty street.

The India-born artist, who is a visual art tutor at the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, has received awards for his paintings and photography from fine arts academy Kerala Lalithakala Akademi and the Film Employees Federation of Kerala in India.

He says of the painting: “I tried to show the stillness of a busy country.”

Welcoming Portrait Of A New Time

Taken with a long exposure, this image by photographer Lavender Chang, 36, abstractly depicts a subject wearing a mask.

She chose to focus on the action of wearing a mask as it has become a part of everyday life.

“It helps to protect our loved ones and us. It is not just to prevent ourselves from getting infected by this virus,” says Chang, whose works have been exhibited at venues such as the National Museum of Singapore and National Gallery Singapore, and at festivals like the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

The Taiwan-born photographer, who became a Singapore citizen last year, adds: “Regardless of the changes we are experiencing, I want to show that people accept the new world and welcome it. We will adapt to it and carry on with our life as usual eventually.”

Exquisite ‘Box’

 

Artist and educator Terence Lin, 37, drew this with his six-year-old son Tze Ran in charcoal, colour pencil and pen on paper.

It is inspired by Exquisite Corpse, a drawing game started in the early 20th century by Surrealist artists. In the game, participants take turns to draw sections of a body on a sheet of paper, without knowing what the other parts look like.

Lin says the activity created much anticipation for Tze Ran, who waited eagerly for his turn.

“In the end, we laughed at our drawing because it looks so mismatched, like the surreal time we are experiencing,” says Lin, whose illustrations of cars, buses and other vehicles span two walls in Thomson-East Coast Line’s Woodlands station.

The title, given by Tze Ran, was inspired by the boxes in the art.

“Many people, including us, have been cooped up in their own boxes mentally and physically,” adds Lin, who hopes the artwork can help change the way people perceive boxes and themselves.

Distance Between Us

In this image, artist Nhawfal Juma’at , 29, explores the value of distance at a time when people are physically apart from one another.

He says: “It is through distance that we have also learnt to connect with ourselves and especially with the ones who are closest to us at home.

“Time has slowed down for us, so we may be constantly absorbed in the present moment and take the opportunity to reflect on our actions,” adds Nhawfal, whose recent works include group exhibition Pneuma: Of Spirituality In Contemporary Age, held at the Stamford Arts Centre earlier this year.

He is an adjunct lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

He is also an art instructor at Club Heal, a charity that helps individuals with mental-health issues reintegrate into society.

In this image, he looks to the sky, which constantly changes in appearance yet stays the same, for hope and inspiration. He says: “We will pull through no matter what the situation on land is.”

Writing

Seng Ing Le, 14, studies at St Joseph’s Institution International. She enjoys writing and watching musical theatre, comedy and crime shows, and volunteers regularly with the elderly.

She was a finalist for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2019, together with her brother Ian Hao. They co-invented the patented walking stick holder QaneMate, which can be attached to a walking stick so the stick can be secured to a surface, thus preventing it from falling.

Change

The world is in a dire state, with people dying, children suffering and economies failing. As of now, more than 30,000 cases have been reported in Singapore, and over 5.1 million cases in the world have been confirmed.

In this essay, I will be expressing my thoughts on this epidemic and will be exploring the concept of change in this trying time.

I wonder, is the virus really that different from us?

Admittedly, the difference between humans and the virus is vast, and the thought of us even being minutely related to it sounds absurd, but there are some undeniable similarities.

Viruses have the ability to be vicious, but so do humans. Maybe in the form of a nasty comment, a streak of unkindness, a smidgen of antipathy. We are certainly not perfect – we have tendencies to lash out when we feel upset and to act irrationally in times of panic.

Both humans and viruses have the ability to change. As we adapt to this situation, trying to find ways to save more and more lives, the virus is ever-evolving, always trying to find ways to evade our attempts to thwart it.

So, if both species can change, what is the difference in these changes?

I feel that the main difference is that humans mature and grow, while viruses mutate. The definition of mutation is “the act of changing in form or nature”. Viruses mutate and change for the sole purpose of self-preservation and domination.

As humans, we are constantly pushed to change, to do better, to be better, for the sake of not only ourselves, but other people as well.

There is no way to prepare for any given situation, for life is just too unpredictable.

We are consciously trying to change and be generally better people.

In this time of adversity, that becomes even more intense as we protect our peers and family members. This behaviour can be seen through the countless acts of altruism and heroism performed by healthcare workers and Singapore citizens across the island.

What we are going through now is like a journey through a dark tunnel. We might not always have the best reaction to a given situation, but once we emerge from it, we will rise stronger, know more about ourselves and we would have changed.

Before this epidemic, we could do whatever we wanted on impulse, go wherever we wanted, harbour a “me only” mindset. Now, we have to adhere to strict rules, we have to wear masks wherever we go.

Yet, we agree to it, adapting to it for the sake of others around us. This “bigger than myself” mindset – the need to protect others, to be socially responsible – overrides the need for routine, fun and impulsiveness.

Every day, we grow a little older, we mature a little more, our reflection grows taller. The future is out of reach but the past is too far away to revisit. There is no way to prepare for any given situation, for life is just too unpredictable.

The only constant in this ever-changing world is change itself. We cannot change the outcome or the situation handed to us, we can change only our reaction and our intent towards it.

Ing Le’s essay – titled Change – depicts the importance of change and the differences in characteristics between the coronavirus and humans.

She initially had a bad case of writer’s block.

“I would spend hours and hours thinking, ‘What are my thoughts on this? How much do I actually know?'”

However, the eureka moment came when she was brainstorming and thought of an analogy describing the similarities between humans and the virus.

She says: “It slowly transformed into the importance of change after I realised that both species are able to evolve.”

She hopes the essay will convey the importance of change and how people can impact others with their will to become better versions of themselves.

“Although the situation looks bleak for now, we can still make the best of it and keep a positive and responsible mindset.”

Food


Frying the fish before adding the broth makes the fish soup aromatic and milky white without the use of milk.

Mr Lim is a vice-president of sales at audio equipment company Sennheiser Electronic Asia, while his wife is marketing director at cord blood banking company Cordlife.

The couple, who are also behind popular YouTube cooking channel Spice N’ Pans, created a recipe for fish soup as the dish is a lunch-time comfort food on a typical work day and reminds them of the “good old normal days”, says Mr Lim.

Besides using fish, ginger and white peppercorns, which are believed to benefit the respiratory system, the recipe is special as it looks milky but does not contain milk, he adds.

Mr Roland Lim, 49, and Ms Jamie Woon, 44, miss working in their respective offices and going for lunch with colleagues.

“The sweet and flavourful soup is made milky white and aromatic by frying the fish before adding the dried anchovies and chicken feet broth.”

Mr Lim adds that the dish is easy to make, even for novice cooks.

HAWKER CENTRE-STYLE FISH SOUP

INGREDIENTS

2 Tbs white peppercorns

500g chicken feet

2 litres water

50g dried anchovies

800g whole fish (snapper, sea bass, grouper or mackerel), cut in half

30g sliced young ginger

150g shimeji mushrooms (or mushroom of choice)

280g Beijing cabbage

1 slab silken tofu, cut into 6 pieces

1 stalk scallion or spring onion

2 whole tomatoes, quartered

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt, or to taste

1 Tbs Chinese cooking wine (optional)

METHOD

1. Fry the white peppercorns in a pan without oil for three minutes to bring out their fragrance. Use a pestle and mortar to crush the peppercorns, then set aside.

2. Put chicken feet into a pot of cold water. Make sure there is sufficient water to cover the chicken feet and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for a further five minutes. Remove from heat and rinse the chicken feet.

3. In a pot, add two litres of water and the chicken feet. Place the dried anchovies and crushed white peppercorns in a muslin bag and add the bag to the pot.

4. Bring the broth to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer for 45 minutes. If you like your soup to have a stronger peppery taste, boil the broth for an hour.

5. Heat up a wok with a suitable amount of oil over medium heat and fry the fish on both sides for three to four minutes a side, until brown. To prevent the oil from splattering, pat the fish dry before frying. Refrain from moving the fish after placing it in the wok for the first few minutes to avoid breaking its skin.

6. At the same time, add the sliced ginger and fry it for a while on the side to bring out the fragrance.

7. Once the fish has browned on both sides, pour the piping hot broth into the wok and add the mushrooms, cabbage, silken tofu and scallion.

8. Boil the soup over high heat for 10 minutes.

9. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt and Chinese cooking wine, then boil for another minute.

10. Turn the heat off and serve while hot.

Serves four to six as part of a meal with rice

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