WHEN COVID-19 STRUCK in early 2020, I was, like all other people, extremely disoriented. We had to drop our mainstay activities and plans to train students on leadership and soft skills. Our English for logistics course with the Selangor Freight Forwarders and Logistics Association also stalled. As the effects of the pandemic started to seep into all facets of life, I decided to focus on two areas of work that I could do from home:
(1) Collate and disseminate information on this one-in-my-lifetime phenomenon — this resulted in a website with over 1,900 entries on Covid-19 (read here). My plan was to gather the information for a year or so, starting March 2020, a time of much uncertainty about the pandemic, and to taper off once a rich body of information was available. I shared what I gathered with many friends including those who work for the media, and in academia, NGOs and think tanks.
Covid 19 and beyond: Another continuation in form ** Click to read
As the pandemic set in, I began to think about doing something socially-useful. I recalled an old information-sharing project I helped out in when I was with the International Organistion of Consumers Unions in Penang, 1982-83. It was very useful and I thought about doing an updated version.
Called Consumer Currents, it was a classfied digest of information sent to over 150 organsitions worldwide. CC was full of news on “actionable” matters and was especially useful to resource-poor NGOs in the Third World.
When I started to work on it, we did much of the work by hand, select and summarise magazine articles or correspondence, type on stencils and cyclostyle the pages. While I was there we switched to pasting up the copy and using an offset press to print. Later, after I had left, they employed Adobe Pagemaker to layout the pages.
Today’s web engines, even basic ones like Blogger, allow me to do much more. It was in this mindset that I started Covid-19 and Beyond. A year and a half and over 1,900 entries later, I am very glad that I can still retrieve opinion and reporting by writers such Amar Singh, Ed Yong, Jeyakumar Devaraj, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, P Gunasegaram, etc, who contributed greatly to the discourse on the pandemic. Click through their names to read their pieces; I hope the links are still intact.
(2) Repack and catalogue some of my more meaningful belongings. One of them was my art which had been left scattered all over the house.
Going through the pieces, I thought it would be wonderful if I could paint again — it had been over 30 years since I did anything prolonged and in earnest. The thought of having some continuation from the 1980s was also foremost in my mind. As I examined the sketches and uncompleted works more carefully, one piece caught my eye — “Trial Painting Twelve, 1981” in a Venus Art sketchbook, 14.5in by 10.5in in size. I decided to develop it with the aid of some fresh ideas.
A few years back in Singapore, in one of my many failed attempts to restart, I had bought a few sets of Daler-Rowney Aquafine watercolour post cards. Twelve in a set, A6 in size and 300gm in weight, they were a great medium to test out new forms. At the time, I also had some half-dried acrylic paint, a few brushes and a bottle of Rotring drawing ink with a couple of unused pens. I did a trial set over two days and was quite happy with results. **Scroll to the bottom of this page to see the set.
That was in May 2020. With re-ignited enthusiasm, I began to restock my equipment and other supplies from Czip Lee in Bangsar, the nearest and best- stocked shop. As the pandemic worsened, I began to order online and found Lazada and Shopee to be vast reservoirs of art supplies.
Hobby resurgence and the economic order ** Click to read
One striking occurence during the pandemic was the resurgence of hobbies. It was estimated that 59 per cent of Americans picked a new hobby during the period. This is not surprising to historian Steven M Gelber and author of Hobbies: Leisure and the Culture of Work in America.
In a culture imbued with the Protestant work ethic, the foundational belief that hard work is morally good, “hobbies take on this aura of being good, useful, appropriate, and socially sanctioned. Something you should—the word here is should—be doing,” he said. “And if you’re one of those slackers that doesn’t have a hobby, then you are suffering from some kind of a moral weakness or failing.”
It was not surprising therefore that hobbies proliferated in the US when large portions of the population were suddenly displaced from the work force. This happened during the Covid pandemic. It also occurred during the Great Depression and the Second World War.
For more, read Julie Beck, “How hobbies infiltrated American life”, The Atlantic, Jan 4, 2022.
My mini series of 12 post cards took me on to do 10 bigger pieces, all acrylic and drawing ink on paper, about 20in H and 14in W. Displayed in a booklet (click here to download), they represent my attempt at continuation from my works of 1981. They of course also represent change. The 1989-2020 hiatus from art was not my only one. From 1982 to 1987, I also took a break because of work and family commitments.